Tulsa World (Oklahoma)
BYLINE: Kevin Canfield, Tulsa World, Okla.
Lift a glass to Lou Reynolds and Jim Cameron and be sure it’s full of city tap water.
Without their contributions to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, city officials past and present say Tulsa’s legal fight to rid its water supply of chicken litter would never have succeeded.
“It truly was the efforts of those two people in the lawsuit that made a difference in us getting a settlement,” said Charles Hardt, the city’s retired Public Works director. “They truly deserve recognition.”
In March, the city of Tulsa, six poultry companies and the city of Decatur, Ark., reached a supplemental settlement agreement in federal court, setting in motion a process for creating a permanent index to control the amount of chicken litter spread in the city’s watershed.
The agreement is seen as the likely final chapter in a legal saga that began in 2001, when the city sued the poultry companies and the city of Decatur. The city claimed they were responsible for millions of pounds of phosphorus-rich chicken waste going into the city watershed each year through creeks and streams flowing into Lake Eucha, which feeds Lake Spavinaw, the source of Tulsa’s water.
“We didn’t have anything to bring to the table, we had done everything we could,” Cameron said of the city’s decision to sue. “Our backs were against the wall.”
Reynolds said that in the mid- to late 1990s, Tulsa was spending millions to retrofit its water treatment plant and improve the filtering system. It had reached the point of buying water from the Grand River Dam Authority.
“It had a musty, dirt taste,” Reynolds said. “I think it was a rather skunky odor.”
Cameron and Reynolds were appointed to the utility authority by former Mayor Susan Savage and have served as the point people during the poultry dispute.
“I had worked with the two of them for several years and knew them to be very analytical, extremely tough-minded and they would not only do the hard work but be really, really smart about it,” Savage said. “I think they are outstanding representatives of what community service means.”
Neither Reynolds, 55, nor Cameron, 70, was born in Oklahoma, but each attended the University of Tulsa. Reynolds became an attorney, and Cameron owns a glass fabrication company.
Both have served on other city boards, including the Tulsa Authority for Recovery of Energy, and say they do so for the community.
Cameron said overseeing the city’s water supply is “about the highest level of fiduciary responsibility a citizen can handle to become a trustee of a public trust.”
Reynolds said he and Cameron have “been blessed in this community.”
For the past decade, the two have volunteered dozens of hours a month — and a day a week in federal court during the lawsuit — to the authority’s work.
“It was all difficult because we were working to effectuate a change in long-term behavior,” Reynolds said. “To me, it was rather stimulating and invigorating.”
The pair proudly points out the legal challenge cost taxpayers very little, thanks to the $7.5 million the poultry companies were required to pay the city as part of the original 2003 settlement.
Reynolds and Cameron insist they aren’t the only ones who deserve credit for the city’s clean water supply. They praise Savage, their fellow authority members and the city’s legal team, including Oklahoma City attorneys Robert Roark and Ken McKinney.
“We had a really good team of people,” Cameron said.
The poultry lawsuit
After several years of failed negotiations with poultry producers and the city of Decatur, Ark., the city of Tulsa in 2001 filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the phosphorus contamination of Lakes Eucha and Spavinaw caused by the tons of chicken litter spread in the watershed that feeds the city’s lakes.
In 2003, a settlement was reached that prohibited the spreading of poultry litter until a phosphorus index could be put into place limiting the amount of poultry litter to be spread on the land. The settlement also required the city of Decatur to reduce the amount of phosphorus discharged by its wastewater treatment plant.
Since 2004, an interim phosphorus index, approved by the court, has been in place and has contributed to a significant reduction in the amount of litter applied in the watershed.
In 2007, the city of Tulsa filed a motion asking the court to revise and update the phosphorus index to address certain omissions or shortcomings with the interim index.
In March, a supplemental settlement agreement was reached by the parties calling for the revision, updating and testing of the phosphorus index over the next 18 months. The revised index is intended to become the permanent index controlling the spreading of poultry litter in the watershed.
Copyright 2012 Tulsa World