The former Foster Farms facility off Harvey Road in Creswell has applied for a water quality permit renewal, prompting residents to wonder what's next for the plant. Photos by Bobby Stevens

CRESWELL – There are no immediate plans for the Foster Farms chicken plant to reopen in Creswell; however, when an application for a water quality permit renewal surfaced, it ruffled some feathers in anticipation of what more may come.

Jason Gentemann, Pacific Northwest Division complex manager for Foster Farms, said that applying for this permit renewal “has nothing to do with us wanting to reopen the facility. There is no intention right now for us to reopen the facility.”

Right now? “There's no plan to reopen it,” Gentemann clarified. “It was just the decision to keep it permitted.”

Once one of the largest employers in Creswell, the former facility off Harvey Road ceased operation in 2006, after it consolidated its remaining Northwest chicken processing operations to Kelso, Wash., according to a 2006 article in the Longview Daily News.

After a three-year review, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality 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, according to an official statement provided by Foster Farms on Tuesday. 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 on April 20, 2015, and the facility holds no other permits from DEQ, according to the department.

Gentemann said it is common for companies to keep its operations permitted, even if facilities are not actively using them.

Renewing the permit “maintains the value to the operation. Without having a permit, the operation is of less value if one were going to sell the property, or use it somewhere down the road,” Gentemann said. “But again, there is no plan to operate it or sell it. This was just a permit that we applied for in 2019. It just so happens that the DEQ is wanting to review it now.”

The DEQ assured Heather Buch, East Lane County commissioner, that “it is a standard renewal of a permit license,” noting that application did not include the necessary information in the permitting process to eventually reopen the plant – only to renew one of the existing licenses.

“If Foster Farms were anticipating reopening the plant, the permit would have been more expansive than submitted,” Buch said. “I don't know what Foster Farms’ anticipation of that facility truly is. … At this time, we haven't gotten any information at the county level that it is interested in reopening and redeveloping the facility.”

Should the permit be renewed, there “should be no change in activity on the property,” Gentemann said.

“The permit would outline the steps needed to be taken before the operation could start up – if that were to happen. But because there are no plans for Foster Farms to start back up, there should be no activity on the site, no changes in our operation.”

However, citizens are concerned this is simply the first step toward reopening the plant.

Creswell City Council on Monday fielded those concerns, and raised some of its own.

Colleen Stewart, a Creswell resident for 17 years, raised concerns should the plant eventually reopen, outlining the potential contamination of waterways and wells; the endangerment of fish habitats; air pollution and putrid-smelling air; clogging up roadways with big trucks; and bringing in undesirable jobs that “none of us would ever want to do.”

The future of the Foster Farms facility at 33464 E. West Lane off of Harvey Road in Creswell is a topic among some city councilors and residents. Council plans to send a letter to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality outlining citizen concerns.

Mindy Williams moved to Creswell shortly after the plant closed down in 2006. She said she’s been to the Kelso, Wash. location, and said it is “not something we want in this town.” She painted a scene of feathers plastered on the sidewalks, trucks full of chickens driving through town that “litter the streets with chicken feet and severed heads” as they pass through. She is also concerned about the amount of water that would be needed in the facility, and the potential devaluation of residents’ properties.

Theresé Brubaker has lived in Creswell for 24 years and echoed similar concerns. “This will ruin the quality of our lives here,” Brubaker said, noting that it could also undermine improvements made with nearby school routes.

“Foster Farms is applying for this permit. If they think they're going to open it again, that's a joke,” she said. “That's the first step, and we need to fight it head on.”

Buch has been fielding these concerns herself.

“There's lots of other concerns that I don't have answers for yet,” Buch said. “It will take some time to reveal what all the ramifications would be should they reopen in the future. We just don't know what they all are yet, but I'm doing the research.”

Council president Kevin Prociw said that he “has concerns that ‘no immediate plans’ can easily become plans and not that much time.”

The DEQ is calling for written public comment on the conditions of the Foster Poultry Farms Inc. proposed water quality permit, and council agreed to draft up a statement to send to DEQ encapsulating these concerns.

“It’s a preemptive strike,” Prociw said.

The contents of the letter aim to include citizen concerns around quality of life; odor and smell; maintaining clean waterways and not disrupting aquatic life; overall environmental concerns; property values; and maintaining a family-friendly environment.

City staff will draft this letter for council consideration at its August meeting.

There will be a virtual DEQ public hearing to learn more about the permit application on Monday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. A link will be made available on the DEQ website.

Questions and comments can be sent to Trinh Hansen, DEQ water quality permit coordinator, 4026 Fairview Industrial Drive SE, Salem, OR 97302, and trinh. [email protected] You may also reach Hansen at 503-378- 5055 or 800-349-7677.