Missouri approves permit to expand cattle feedlot by Powell Gardens; appeal expected

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has issued a permit to a Lone Jack feedlot that could bring thousands of beef cattle to a location bordering $350,000 homes and just three miles upwind from Powell Gardens.

Currently housing fewer than 999 head, the Valley Oaks Steak Co. facility was classified as a Class II animal feeding operation. But the state's approval of a Class IB operating permit allows the feedlot and slaughterhouse to house up to 6,999 cattle in roofed, open-air structures.

A DNR news release on Friday said that "parties adversely affected or aggrieved by the department’s decision ... may appeal to the Administrative Hearing Commission by filing a written petition" before July 16.

"I can confidently say we're going to appeal," said lawyer and lobbyist Woody Cozad, retained by Powell Gardens to fight the feedlot's expansion.

Though the operation will not be visible from Powell Gardens, supporters of the botanical attraction worry about possible odor, water quality and plant-harming parasites drifting from the livestock facility.

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Valley Oaks Steaks located in 2016 on the edge of Johnson County, Missouri, just east of Lone Jack's city limits. The company has said its operations are and will be among the most environmentally friendly of any concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, in the nation.

According to its permit request, the company would blend the feedlot's manure with wood chips and stored in a warehouse to be processed into marketable fertilizer.

"There will be zero runoff," said Missouri Cattlemen's Association executive Mike Deering.

But many neighbors are furious. More than 800 homes stand within a three-mile radius of the plant, dozens of them sporting anti-CAFO yard signs. The residents already contend with foul odors carried by the wind, and opponents to the expansion estimate 6,999 cattle would produce 290 tons of manure daily.

The DNR said plans proposed by Valley Oaks were within the Missouri Clean Water Law and Missouri Clean Water Commission regulations.

Powell Gardens' chief executive Tabitha Schmidt said Friday that the DNR ruling, despite the regulator's stated aims, was "against the interests of natural resources and public health." In its review of the feedlot's request, the department received more than 1,000 letters mostly opposed to the expansion.

Schmidt said Powell Gardens will pursue "all available resources to protect our public treasure."

Supporters of Valley Oaks anticipate its growth will add more than 50 jobs to the area and spike local demand for grain to feed the cattle. The steak company has maintained that the Kansas City region would benefit from stores stocking more local beef grown in a controlled, "stress-free environment."

Calls to Valley Oaks were not returned Friday.

Expected appeals of the permit issuance are apt to stretch out for months. DNR procedures call for the seven-member Missouri Clean Water Commission to review the matter, a department spokeswoman said, and further appeals could go through the court system.