WINCHESTER, Oklahoma – Just south of Duck Creek Casino, the town of Winchester and local residents are preparing to sue the Muscogee Nation, the Looped Square Meat Processing Company and Muscogee Nation Business Enterprises, LLC in addition to Principal Chief David Hill, Second Chief Del Beaver, Director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Trent Kissee and all National Council Representatives.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys David Page and Cheryl Thigpen sent each defendant a Notice of Intent to Sue and filed a Citizens Suit under Section 505(a)(1) of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) for violations of Sections 404 and 301; and under Section 304(b) of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) for Violations of Sections 111, 112, 502(a), and 503(a). The notice was dated Aug. 25.
According to the Notice, the town of Winchester was incorporated and platted under Oklahoma Law in 1974, which the plaintiffs claim the meat plant facilities are located in those boundaries.
Mayor of Winchester Debbie Atkinson claimed the residential town of around 220 households rely on well water as the main source of water and the facilities could affect the quality of the natural resource.
Atkinson also stated the residents near the facility are all on artesian wells, meaning the water table is high in the area.
This is apparently water the residents use domestically and in caring for animals.
The Notice also states the facilities reside in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) designated flood plain. The Notice goes on to say the sanitary wastewater, industrial wastewater and the industrial storm water discharged from the facilities flow to an earthen walled and floored wastewater lagoon system releasing into Eagle Creek, which runs through the middle of the facilities and the underlying groundwater.
“There’s not a lot of communities that are totally on water wells like ours, so that our biggest concern,” Atkinson said. “Along with the pathogens, the bacteria and the nuisances of the whole disposal of animals.”
The plaintiffs are claiming since construction of the facilities began, Eagle Creek has flooded several times as well as the bank area eroding due to the widening and building of a bridge over the creek with new culverts.
Atkinson said the town and its residents feel as though the Muscogee Nation is not following environmental federal law on water treatment.
According to Atkinson, another issue of the community’s concern is the quality of air due to pathogens being released.
Before the construction started, Atkinson claimed there was a single meeting that took place in February 2020 over Zoom between the town and the Nation.
The meeting also included the lawyer for the town David Page, along with an environmentalist and geologist who had done research on behalf of Winchester.
“We showed them what we were concerned with, with the flood zone and our water issues and the environmental issues and that was it,” Atkinson said. “They showed us what they were doing, we showed what our concerns were, and when we reached back out a second time to find out how they were going to address our concerns, they told our lawyer not to contact them again.”
Page has alleged the Nation has not filed for state or federal permits required for this type of facility.
“By building and operating the Facilities, the Defendants have willfully and intentionally taken a course of action that uniformly violates the environmental and human health principles and policies of the Muscogee Nation, the United States and the state of Oklahoma intended to protect the very Muscogee Citizens they purportedly represent,” Page stated in the Notice.
According to Atkinson, the intent of the lawsuit is to shut down the Looped Square Meat Processing Facility.
The Notice concludes in stating the defendants have 60 days to “cure and correct” violations or the plaintiffs will pursue litigation in federal court.
A statement released by the Muscogee Nation claimed the entity strives to be good neighbors and has listened to the concerns of Winchester while taking them into consideration.
“During the meeting, our experts provided information and illustrated features and decisions that were made in coordination with the Nation’s Environmental Services Office to meet all compliance and regulatory conditions. Despite our efforts, it seems as though we were unable to assuage their concerns,” Muscogee Nation said.
The statement also said the Nation has always been good stewards for the environment.
“We have the utmost respect for our environment and the future of all Oklahomans. This project’s design reflects that, and we stand behind its quality.”
Muscogee Nation Director of Agriculture and Natural Resources Trent Kissee claimed no short cuts were made in the process and development of the facilities.
Over the next couple of weeks Kissee said he will be fully staffed and start training employees with plans to open doors to the public on Nov. 1.