SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The company that bought a troubled mega dairy plant in northern Oregon several years ago may be ready to give up their efforts toward reopening it, according to new documents that show repeated setbacks.
Easterday Dairy has been repeatedly cited for failing to bring nitrate levels in water at the site east of Portland in Boardman under control, even without cattle, The Tri-City Herald reported.
Now Easterday is suing the former owners for breach of contract, saying it’s their fault site cleanup hasn't been accomplished. Easterday Dairy is asking for millions in damages or to be released from the purchase agreement.
Their other businesses Easterday Farms and Easterday Ranches, based in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, are in the midst of a massive bankruptcy lawsuit after Cody Easterday pleaded guilty in a “ghost cattle” scheme that defrauded Tyson Foods and other businesses out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the crux of the conflict is a permit so far denied by Oregon agriculture officials that would allow Easterday's son Cole to reopen the Oregon dairy facility.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture has refused to issue a permit for Confined Animal Feeding Operations until the nitrate levels in the ground water are brought back into compliance and a plan for maintaining safe levels is approved.
According to the National Institute for Health, nitrate contamination in ground water has been linked to increased risk of cancer, thyroid disease and birth defects.
Over the past two years, documents show that the state has repeatedly inspected the site and recommended courses of action, which Easterday Dairy failed to implement quickly enough. That led to inspections showing they were in violation of nitrate levels monthly from November 2020 through November 2021. The Department of Agriculture documents show they brought the nitrate levels within acceptable range by December 2021.
The department ordered Easterday in February to continue to submit water samples until they can show the nitrate levels are within acceptable range for nine consecutive months. In a lawsuit filed this month, Easterday appears to be placing the blame for the poor water quality on the previous owners, and a farm currently leasing the adjoining property. Lawyers for Easterday claim that ongoing and deliberate action by the two groups has prevented them from meeting state standards.
Tarah Heinzen, the legal director for nonprofit Food and Water Watch, said she hopes the state will continue to hold Easterday accountable because the water source for the dairy is an aquifer at particularly high risk for contamination. Her organization focuses on corporate and governmental accountability relating to food and water.
Heinzen said mega dairies are huge contributors to nitrate contamination.
She said the new lawsuit could provide Easterday an exit from the dairy, but the risk of water contamination remains high and the state will need to continue to press Easterday or future owners to protect the water source.
Easterday is suing Fall Line Capital and Canyon Farm, who bought the mega dairy after another company went into bankruptcy. Easterday is asking for the $10.5 million it has paid for the site to be returned and up to $4 million in addition to offset their investment.
Fall Line has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.