According to new records that reveal numerous setbacks, the firm that acquired a struggling giant dairy facility in northern Oregon several years ago may be prepared to give up on its attempts toward reopening it.
According to The Tri-City Herald, Easterday Dairy has received numerous warnings for failing to control nitrate levels in water at the farm east of Portland near Boardman, even when no animals were present.
As a result of the past owners’ failure to complete the site cleanup, Easterday is now suing them for breach of contract. Easterday Dairy is requesting millions in damages or to have the purchase agreement terminated.
After Cody Easterday entered a guilty plea in a “ghost cattle” scheme that defrauded Tyson Foods and other companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars, their other companies, Easterday Farms and Easterday Ranches, based in the Tri-Cities region of Washington, are currently embroiled in a significant bankruptcy lawsuit.
The main issue in the dispute is a permit that Oregon agriculture officials have so far rejected but which would allow Easterday’s son Cole to reopen the dairy business in Oregon.
Until the nitrate levels in the groundwater are brought back into compliance and a strategy for maintaining safe levels is approved, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has declined to issue a permit for Confined Animal Feeding Operations.
The National Institute for Health states that there is evidence connecting nitrate poisoning of groundwater to an increased risk of cancer, thyroid disorders, and birth defects.
According to records, the state has periodically visited the location over the last two years and made recommendations for actions that Easterday Dairy failed to take quickly enough. As a result, checks revealed that they had been breaking the nitrate levels every month from November 2020 to November 2021. According to documents from the Department of Agriculture, the nitrate levels were brought within a reasonable range by December 2021.
In February, the government sent Easterday notice that they must keep sending in water samples until they can demonstrate that the nitrate levels have been under acceptable limits for nine months in a row. Easterday appears to be blaming the current owner of the next farm as well as the prior owners in a lawsuit that was filed this month. Easterday’s attorneys assert that the two organizations’ purposeful and continuous actions have barred them from complying with state regulations.
Because the water supply for the dairy is an aquifer that is especially vulnerable to contamination, Tarah Heinzen, the legal director for the charity Food and Water Watch, expressed her optimism that the state will keep holding Easterday responsible. Her group focuses on governmental and corporate responsibility for food and water.
Mega dairies, according to Heinzen, are a significant source of nitrate contamination.
The state will need to keep pressuring Easterday or potential owners to safeguard the water supply, she said, adding that while the current lawsuit might give Easterday a way out of the dairy, the risk of water contamination still exists.
Easterday is suing Canyon Farm and Fall Line Capital, which acquired the massive dairy when another business filed for bankruptcy. Easterday is requesting the site’s $10.5 million purchase price back in addition to an additional $4 million to cover their investment.
The lawsuit’s response from Fall Line has not yet been submitted.
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