Controversial Linn County chicken ranch put on hold following permit withdrawal

By Alejandro Figueroa (OPB)
April 25, 2024 12:16 a.m.

Construction plans for a large-scale facility proposing to raise 3.4 million chickens per year near Scio in Linn County, Oregon, will be put on hold. That follows a state decision to temporarily withdraw the facility’s permit ahead of a challenge that was scheduled to go on trial in early May.

It’s the last of three large chicken farms a coalition of local residents and farmers have fought against since 2020. The other two, which had each proposed to raise 4.3 million broiler chickens per year for Foster Farms, have already scrapped plans to develop there. Foster Farms is one of the largest poultry producers on the West Coast.

FILE: A sign declares opposition to large chicken grow-out facilities planned in Scio, Ore., east of Salem in this Dec. 9, 2022, photo.

FILE: A sign declares opposition to large chicken grow-out facilities planned in Scio, Ore., east of Salem in this Dec. 9, 2022, photo.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

At issue is a confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO permit, granted to J-S Ranch by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality. Environmental groups and farmers argue the operation would produce harmful air and water pollutants.

A CAFO permit is intended to protect surface and ground water by limiting the amount of manure, wastewater and nutrients that can be discharged from a farm.

But the permit issued to the farm only addresses groundwater. Kendra Kimbirauskas, a Scio farmer and a member of Farmers Against Foster Farms, a group opposing J-S Ranch, said it should have included stronger requirements to protect surface waters.


“We contend that the site for the operation is a terrible site. It basically has standing water all winter long,” Kimbirauskas said. “It’s approximately 400 yards from the North Santiam River, which is a beautiful river that so many people recreate on. And it’s a drinking water source for communities like Jefferson and the city of Albany.”

If allowed to move forward, the J-S Ranch would build 11 large barns, and expects to produce 4,500 tons of manure per year, which would be sold to other farmers as fertilizer.

A petition filed in Linn County is asking the county circuit court to reverse the state’s decision to grant a permit, or to have ODA and DEQ add stronger requirements. The case was supposed to go on trial in early May, though the state’s temporary permit withdrawal gives the agencies a pause, said Amy van Saun, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, representing the petitioners.

“It means that they take a pause and a timeout to look back and reconsider, ‘Did we make the correct decision?’” van Saun said. “An Oregon law gives them expressly this ability, if they’re taken to court on an action, to say ‘Time out, we want to think about it more and we might affirm, do the same thing or modify what we did or we might totally reverse what we did.’”

The decision means J-S Ranch cannot yet begin construction on the site. In a brief response to OPB, Eric Simon, the owner and operator of J-S Ranch said the decision is frustrating. Simon added he was getting ready to begin construction this summer.

“I’m disappointed,” Simon said. “And I’m not sure how we’re going to move forward.”

The state has until Oct. 31 to decide whether it will make any changes to the permit, like keep it as it is, amend it or revoke it.

Kimbirauskas said for now, she and other farmers in the area can let out a sigh of relief.

“We are going to remain vigilant and we are committed to fighting any proposal of this magnitude on that location,” Kimbirauskas.