A whiff of possible victory in Powell Gardens’ fight against feedlot

The winds keep shifting, but for now Powell Gardens and homeowners east of Lone Jack are smelling success in their efforts to stop the proposed expansion of a cattle feedlot.

Citing faulty data and procedural errors in the Valley Oaks Steak Co.’s plans for growth, the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission this week granted Powell Gardens’ request to temporarily prevent the expansion. The commission recommended a state permit be rescinded that would have allowed Valley Oaks operations to swell from present levels — with fewer than 999 head of beef cattle — to as many as 6,999 head.

It’s up to the state’s Clean Water Commission to issue a final decision on expansion plans that have cleaved rural communities southeast of Kansas City. The Clean Water Commission under law has two months to adopt, change or throw out the recommendations of the Administrative Hearing Commission.

“Powell Gardens is thrilled with the outcome after careful deliberation by the AHC,” said Tabitha Schmidt, CEO and president of the nonprofit botanical attraction.

Valley Oaks on Wednesday issued its own statement expressing confidence that the water commission will rule in the feedlot’s favor. The company said the administrative hearing panel’s recommendation “is contrary to the law and the evidence, and improperly focuses on minor, technical issues.”

The regulatory back-and-forth has kept the fate of the feedlot and slaughterhouse unpredictable.

After public shouting matches between owners of sprawling homes downwind of the facility and farm interests supportive of the expansion, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in June issued Valley Oaks a permit to grow — with appeals expected. The department reviewed the plans and impact studies and determined that the enlarged operation would not violate environmental regulations.

But the AHC ruled the meat company failed to provide realistic goals in the processing, spreading and storage of manure from the pens and did not give neighbors adequate notice prior to filing for the permit.

Friends of Powell Gardens, which is three miles east of the feedlot, rallied in sending more than 1,000 letters to the state and with financial gifts to the gardens: One donation of $6,999 for legal costs reflected the number of cattle proposed in the expansion.

Though the feedlot operation is not visible from Powell Gardens, concerns have been voiced about possible odors, water quality and plant-harming parasites drifting from Valley Oaks.

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