Tulsa World editorial: The state’s starting to pay attention to eastern Oklahoma concerns about chicken houses

Tulsa World editorial: The state’s starting to pay attention to eastern Oklahoma concerns about chicken houses

· From World’s Editorial Writers

· Nov 24, 2018 Updated Nov 24, 2018

With the chicken already out of the barn, the state agriculture department is starting to pay attention to the door.

An explosion of new eastern Oklahoma chicken houses has led nearby residents to complain about their impact on water quality and supply, property values, road maintenance and air quality.

The latest expression of public concern: The Agriculture Board held a short-notice meeting in Kansas, Oklahoma, last week. The meeting — which Agriculture Commissioner Jim Reese conceded was planned inappropriately — was only scheduled to go an hour, but the Tulsa World’s Kelly Bostian reported that it rolled into 90 minutes as board members got an earful from locals in five-minute bursts of grass-roots anger.

“What is proper? What is right? I’m coming away with a lot more questions than I have answers,” board member Karen Dodson said. “I want to do right by Oklahomans, do right by the responsibilities in the purview that I am given. What’s fair? What’s the right thing to do?”

Good questions all, if asked a bit late in the process.

Bostian reports that agriculture department data show that 41 site applications were processed, for a total of 207 new poultry houses, in the past 12 months in eastern Oklahoma, most in the northeast and the vast majority, 120, in Delaware County.

That’s a heavy load on the local environment, and it’s troubling that the agriculture department hasn’t been more attuned to the concerns of the people who live there. The law determines how and when the state permits chicken houses, but the board’s purpose in the process is to represent the people and to pull the alarm before things get out of hand.

Faced with a rural uprising that was getting the attention of the politically powerful Cherokee Nation and the governor’s office, the Agriculture Department has announced a moratorium on processing permits for additional chicken houses. That’s a good move, although it would have been a lot better months ago.

We hope agriculture board members came away from last week’s hearing with a better idea of the intense concerns of eastern Oklahoma residents, who are, after all, the people whose interest they are supposed to be representing.