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Simmons at work on environment

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Simmons Foods, a chicken processing company based in Siloam Springs, Ark., is working on resolving environmental concerns at its Southwest City plant.

Simmons is now negotiating with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources over a discharge permit the DNR issued it in June of 1997, said Mark Simmons, chairman of Simmons Foods.

The company appealed some conditions of that permit, which placed a limit on the nitrates the company discharges into the water of the Cave Springs Branch, which flows into Honey Creek, Simmons said. The company and the DNR are currently in negotiations on the appeal, said Harry D. Bozoian, assistant attorney general for the state of Missouri.

"The appeal is over about 16 different items. There are a lot of items of concern to the company in this appeal, and to the department. Where we're at now is in trying to strike some agreements. Maybe there's some common ground in these requests. Maybe some of them can be resolved, and maybe some of them can't," Bozoian said.

The June 1997 permit was to become effective Aug. 1, 1998, Simmons said. Once Simmons appealed the permit, it was granted a stay of some of the permit requirements by the Missouri Clean Water Commission until the appeal is complete.

The Clean Water Commission is the agency to which an appeal is made of a discharge permit like this one.

Simmons issued a press release July 22 stating that it had obtained a preliminary court order in Jefferson City to enforce the stay granted by the Missouri Clean Water Commission.

"We've got a stay on the schedule until we get a permit. The court order just enforces that stay that will be in place until the appeal process is complete," Simmons said.

Bozoian said it is the state of Missouri's position that "nothing has been stayed. They've obtained a preliminary order and prohibition until Aug. 11, and that's all they have."

Bruce Martin, who heads the Department of Natural Resources office in Springfield, said the permit issued will specify any pollutants allowed to be discharged in the waterways.

"The process doesn't eliminate the discharge of these materials, but it defines a maximum level. It will define what are those pollutants, what is the purpose for the discharge. It is a very specific legal document," Martin said.

Permits are normally issued for five years. Permits are renewed after their allotted time, Martin said. It was a permit renewal that led to the Simmons situation, Simmons said.

If a company has concerns with the permit, then it can appeal the permit to the Missouri Clean Water Commission, Martin said.

If the company does not receive satisfaction through that appeal, it can then appeal to the circuit court system.

Other than the permit issue, Simmons and the state are also involved in a lawsuit that is pending in McDonald County Circuit Court, Bozoian said.

The attorney general's office filed a petition in May 1997 asserting that Simmons had committed some violations with regard to

its discharge into the Cave Springs Branch.

Part of that lawsuit resulted in the court's issuing an order in June that says the company will build an addition to its treatment plant.

Since the plant does not have a discharge permit in place now because of

the appeal process, "it was difficult for us to get a construction permit," Simmons said.

The court order will allow the company to begin construction and complete

the addition by Feb. 25, 1999, Simmons said.

Simmons Foods was started about 50 years ago in Siloam Springs, which is home to its hatchery, two processing plants and its home office, Simmons said. The company also has processing plants in Oklahoma, Van Buren, Ark., and Southwest City.

Simmons said the nitrate limits are stayed until the appeal is resolved, and the company is meeting its current permit obligations for its wastewater discharge.

He added that the company is building the additional treatment facilities "as fast as possible to further improve water quality in the Cave Springs Branch."

"The water currently being discharged from the plant is the best we have ever produced. We worked for days and nights for months, and invested millions of dollars to improve the water, and it is worth the effort," Simmons said.

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