Against the recommendation of the state Water Resources Board staff last week, the agency's nine-member governing board approved Seaboard's application to draw underground water, and now State Senator Paul Muegge is questioning why the permit was approved in the first place.
In a vote of 5-2, the board opted to ignore the staff's recommendation to deny Seaboard's water permit, stating that the Bethel Church of God near Wakefield Sow Farms failed to effectively argue its legal case. Under the state law passed in 1998, a hog farm is prohibited from locating less than 3 miles from property used by a non-profit organization for a camp or recreation site. Moreover, the law prohibits licensed managed feeding operations to locate within 3 miles of any designated scenic river area, a national park designated by the US Department of the Interior National Park Service, an outside boundary of any historic property or museum owned by the State of Oklahoma, or of a public drinking water well.
Seaboard reportedly invested over $10 million in the location before the company actually had permits necessary to legally operate such a facility. The Board had been warned repeatedly by legal counsel that the permits needed to be issued before proceeding.
"It's incredible how Seaboard has hastily assumed so much freedom in this process," said Senator Muegge. "And for the Board to ignore both the law and the recommendations of its staff is blatantly irresponsible. The Board has exacerbated the problem by choosing to ignore the law. It's not only insulting to the lawmakers who passed the legislation to protect against this very situation, but it's a slap in the face to those people living near these facilities."
The Bethel Church of God has been a cornerstone of the community since 1928 and falls within the 3-mile radius that is protected under HB 1175 because the church uses the land for activities like picnics. Under the law, Seaboard could agree with the adjoining landowners to waive the parameters of the setback, but the effort was never made to reach such a compromise with the Bethel church.
"It's very interesting that Seaboard maintains they are exempt from the law because they owned the land before the law went into effect," said Muegge. "However, on that premise, the Bethel church has more right to maintain the condition of its surroundings as they have for over 70 years. There's really no logic to Seaboard's argument."
Senator Muegge questions how the Board could condone, or even support Seaboard's practice of jumping the gun.
"Seaboard was advised against moving forward until the permits were officially on paper, but they chose to operate just with oral approval from some of the Board members," Muegge said. "Because of the lack of prudent judgement on the part of both parties, the law has been compromised and consequentially, weakened for future situations in dealing with corporate farms and their effect on Oklahoma's environment."