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Missouri Stalls Expansion of Cattle-Feeding Operation Near Powell Gardens

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3 file photo
A packed house in early April, when opponents of the Valley Oaks Steak Company expansion bid showed up to talk to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Updated Aug. 1, 2018

The Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission found lots of reasons to stall the expansion of a feedlot near Powell Gardens last week, among them that the corporation that won the permit to expand does not legally exist.

Valley Oaks Steak Company sought a state permit to expand its operation sevenfold, from about 1,000 to 6,999 head of cattle.

Valley Oaks is in Lone Jack and about 3 miles from Powell Gardens, a botanical garden 40 miles southeast of Kansas City that draws about 100,000 visitors a year. The prospect of building a large-scale animal feeding and meatpacking operation so close made Powell Gardens staff and neighbors raise concerns.

After the permit was grantedin June, the opponents appealed the decision, and the commission revisited the permit. And the commission found lots of issues, which it detailed Thursday in its ruling.

The permit was issued to an entity called Country Club Homes, LLC, which is owned by Valley Oaks cofounder David Ward. The commission's stay said the Missouri Secretary of State’s office has no record of Country Club Homes but that Ward is working to clear up that problem. 

However, the commission also said that the planned expansion wouldn't have enough waste-storage space for what would be created — even if the animals lived on more than two feet of waste inside their confinement structures.

The commission also found that Ward used unsupported and inflated claims for how much hay he could produce on the property; the Missouri Department of Natural Resources requires operators provide realistic production goals in their permit applications.

Lastly, the commission said that Powell Gardens and people living near the operation could face harm from its wastewater. 

The stay delayed the expansion until a second hearing before the Misosuri Administrative Hearing Commission Aug. 27th. 

Valley Oaks Steak Company didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Powell Gardens President and CEO Tabatha Schmidt said the stay is at least a temporary victory.

“It’s still a long fight, but getting this win is so great for Powell Gardens, for the community, for the neighbors, for all the people that are being affected by this operation,” she said.

Meantime, Powell Gardens and adjacent landowners are also suing to keep Valley Oaks Steak Company from expanding the operation.

This story has been corrected to show that Valley Oaks currently has about 1,000, not 600, head of cattle. It also has been corrected to show that the next hearing is in front of the commission, not the Department of Natural Resources. 

Frank Morris is an NPR correspondent and senior editor at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @frank newsman.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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