CRESWELL – Since the news broke that Foster Farms is applying for a water quality permit renewal, concerned residents and the Creswell City Council are preparing for the Aug. 29 public hearing with the Department of Environmental Quality.
Mayor Dave Stram has compiled these comments into a letter to the DEQ, which was approved by the council at last week’s city council meeting.
The letter, addressed to Trinh Hansen, DEQ water quality permit coordinator, raises concerns around odor, environmental impact and livability.
While this upcoming DEQ meeting is not necessarily intended to be a platform to air out grievances around the potential of a reopening of the plant, council sees it as an opportunity to beat Foster Farms to the punch, should it consider reopening the plant in the future.
“My biggest concern is that if we as citizens of Creswell become complacent and wait until Foster Farm applies to reopen here, it may be too late to stop it,” said resident John Partridge, who attended last week’s council meeting with his wife, Colleen Stewart. “The more people who are aware of the situation, the better off we’ll be.”
After a three-year review, DEQ has approved renewal of the existing wastewater permit, subject to public comment, and improvements to plant infrastructure that would “ensure environmental compliance with regulations were the plant to resume operation.”
The renewal of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit would allow Foster Farms to discharge wastewater to an unnamed tributary of Camas Swale Creek. DEQ last issued this permit in 2015, and the facility holds no other permits from DEQ, according to the department.
Jason Gentemann, Pacific Northwest Division complex manager for Foster Farms, told The Chronicle that the plant pursuing a permit renewal is a housekeeping matter, and that the plant “has nothing to do with us wanting to reopen the facility.” He said that there are no plans in motion to reopen the facility.
The former facility off Harvey Road ceased operation in 2006, after it consolidated its remaining Northwest chicken processing operations to Kelso, Wash. Residents from that era are reminded of the odors when the plant was in operation.
“When Foster Farms previously operated on their property just outside of Creswell, there was a tremendously foul odor emitted, particularly during the summer months,” Stram outlined in his letter. “Many citizens are greatly alarmed about the harm to our air quality and livability.”
Adding to the potential of foul odor, public works director Cliff Bellew said that, of the three open lagoons on the property, one has an ongoing leakage issue. That’s especially bad news for the residents surrounding the former plant property, which has been developed considerably in the past 16 years since the plant ceased operation.
John Young has lived in Creswell for three years, and before that, Eugene for over 25 years. Young remembers the smell of the plant as he drove through Creswell via I-5. Since 2006 when the plant shut down, many homes have been developed in the area, Young said.
“With Foster Farms anticipating potentially reopening (its) slaughterhouse, those who have not lived in Creswell for a long period of time are in for a rude awakening. It’s going to be a huge problem,” Young said.
Whether or not that leakage would seep into local residents’ wells is of great concern, Stram states in the letter.
The permit identifies an unnamed tributary of Camas Swale Creek being used for wastewater discharge. Stram questions whether its discharge would impact the City’s ability to discharge its wastewater, which also flows into the same tributary. He also questions how additional discharge would impact aquatic life in the Willamette River. Stram notes concern for other communities and landowners living downriver from Creswell and how their quality of life might be negatively affected due to the additional discharge.
There is great concern that the resumption of operations at Foster Farms with its accompanying “odor” and increased discharge of wastewater will significantly reduce the attractiveness and property values of Creswell, which Stram bills as “a very ‘livable’ city with generally lower home prices and an easy commute to Eugene and Springfield.”
The Foster Farms Public Hearing is slated for Monday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. The meeting will be held virtually via Zoom and can be accessed here: tinyurl.com/FosterFarmsCreswell. Meeting ID: 859 0180 3739 / Passcode: 081378 / Phone: 888-475-4499
“I hope we as a community will work together to keep our waterways and air clean for many years to come,” Stewart said.