By John L. Moore
The Morning News
SPRINGDALE -- Farmers fighting warrants that demand extensive soil tests on their land will have to go to Oklahoma County district court to pursue their claims.
Judge Robert G. Haney, Delaware County District Court, ordered the change in venue Thursday.
The Oklahoma Department of Food, Forestry and Agriculture obtained warrants to test the soil on the four farms in Delaware County on Oct. 18, but the farmers refused to allow them on the site and filed a lawsuit.
The poultry companies that contract with the four farmers have also filed a motion to quash, or do away with, the warrants.
Ken Williams, an attorney with Hall Estill Law Firm of Tulsa, represents the farmers. State law does not grant the department the authority to "test for anything in the world," Williams said.
"Our clients regularly comply with their poultry registration requirements by providing soil and litter samples. The Oklahoma Department of Food, Forestry and Agriculture does not need to kick their doors in to get this information," he said.
Farmers and poultry companies also said they were concerned about the spread of poultry diseases from one farm to the next.
Haney grouped the lawsuits together to handle as a single issue, but attorneys for the state argued that lawsuits against state agencies have to be dealt with in Oklahoma County, the district where the state capital is. Haney, after reading briefs from both sides this week, agreed with the department and ordered the suits moved to Oklahoma County District Court.
Jack Carson, a spokesman for the department, said the soil tests were needed to determine definitively what kind of substance and how much of those substances are being spread on the farms.
The soil tests were initially requested by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson who filed a lawsuit against the poultry companies in June.
Edmondson maintains the nutrients and other pollutants spread on farms and fields in Oklahoma and Arkansas are polluting the state's scenic rivers, including the Illinois River.
"We are disappointed that the legal hearings on the issues will not be done in Delaware County where the farmers who were issued the warrants reside," said Bev Saunders, a spokeswoman for Poultry Partners Inc., a group of more than 350 Oklahoma and Arkansas farmers.
Williams and Saunders both said they thought they would get a fair hearing in Oklahoma County.