updated 5/26/2005 12:17:38 PM ET 2005-05-26T16:17:38

Arkansas and Oklahoma, which have been at odds for years over poultry-farm pollution flowing into the rivers they share, are squabbling again after Oklahoma researchers secretly slipped across the state line and set up water-quality monitors in Arkansas.

County work crews in northwestern Arkansas recently discovered the water monitors and traced them back to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is gathering information for a lawsuit against Arkansas farms over runoff.

“The political gamesmanship of the Oklahoma attorney general is getting more pungent than any perceived pollution he thinks is coming from Arkansas,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee complained. “Rather than operating in good faith to solve problems, he had rather continue disparaging Arkansas farmers and communities in order to keep his name in the paper.”

Oklahoma has long complained that phosphorus-rich chicken waste, often used as fertilizer, runs off Arkansas farms and into Oklahoma streams.

Oklahoma says it was a mistake
Charlie Price, a spokesman for Edmondson, blamed the furor over the monitors on an environmental consulting firm hired by the Oklahoma attorney general. Price said the attorney general did not intend for the devices to be placed along Arkansas waterways without notifying local Arkansas authorities.

“We were shocked to learn (the monitoring) has been going on without the knowledge of anybody in our state,” said Janet Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for five poultry companies, including Tyson Foods, the world’s largest poultry producer.

Arkansas officials have agreed to let the monitoring devices remain, on the condition that Oklahoma share any data gathered.

The eight monitors were contained in floating 55-gallon drums that were tethered to the stream bottoms. The monitors continuously sample the water.

Washington County, Ark., Judge Jerry Hunton, who also is a poultry farmer, said Edmondson confirmed his role only after the county spent days trying to trace the barrels.

“It took a little while before they ’fessed up. At that point we were getting frustrated, we told them we were going to collect all the barrels. We told them we were opposed to it being done by stealth,” Hunton said. “I think the issue is that the chief lawmaker of that state has no understanding of property rights and trespass laws. It’s a bit of stretch on his part.”

Mediation soon
Edmondson and representatives of nine Arkansas poultry companies, including Tyson, are scheduled to meet in Tulsa, Okla., beginning June 7 in negotiations mediated by a retired federal judge. Edmondson said he will sue if the parties cannot find a way to reduce the runoff.

The threatened lawsuit is the latest water dispute between the two states. In 2002, Arkansas and Oklahoma agreed to new water standards designed to reduce phosphorus in Oklahoma rivers.

Shawn Shrum, Washington County’s environmental affairs director, said the pressure from Oklahoma threatens Arkansas’ billion-dollar poultry industry.

“To get the phosphorous levels down, what they are going to cause in order to do that, is the possibility of putting farmers out of business. Who says Tyson won’t pack up and go to Mexico and it will put a lot of people out of jobs?” he said.

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