JOHNSON COUNTY, Mo.— Weeks after the Missouri Department of Natural Resources approved a permit for a metro meat company’s controversial expansion plan, the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission granted a stay on Thursday and put the project on hold.
Valley Oaks Steak Company, based in Johnson County, Missouri, wanted to expand its facilities and increase the number of its cattle more than seven times. The expansion will allow the company to hold just under 7,000 cattle.
However, opponents have brought up numerous concerns with the project.
Some residents have said it will lead to unpleasant odors in the area, possible environmental concerns, and negative impacts on property values.
Staff at Powell Gardens, a botanical garden located less than three miles from the Valley Oaks site, have also raised concerns about runoff from the expansion leading to groundwater contamination and harmful impacts to the land.
A month after seeing the permit for Valley Oaks get approved, opponents received surprising news on Thursday.
In a decision released by the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission, the expansion was put on hold.
The commission argued that the project raised environmental concerns, with the size of the facilities possibly leading to manure overflow and drinking sources for the cattle possibly being buried underneath the piles.
The report also outlined the possible impact to Valley Oaks if a stay is issued.
The company has already invested $20 million into the project with another $10 million needed for completion.
The owner was planning on adding 2,600 head of cattle to the site by the end of the year and had entered into a $55 million five-year contract with a food delivery service in Kansas.
The report noted that if a stay is put in place, “costs for debt services and utilities will not cease” for Valley Oaks.
It added that the company may need to lay off almost 50 employees, with the owner saying that a stay could possibly lead to Valley Oaks going bankrupt.
However, with so much controversy and concerns surrounding the plans, opponents welcomed the developments this week.
“I cried happy tears,” explained Johnson County (MO) resident Tasha Stephens. “We had a brief celebration.”
Stephens’s family has lived in the Lone Jack area for seven generations and her current home sits less than two miles from the Valley Oaks site.
The expansion can be seen after a short walk from her property and has led to worry for her.
“My largest concern is the disease, the bacteria, the antibiotics in the water and the pollution of the ground,” she explained. “What does that do to our environment? What does that do for future generations?”
While many neighbors have spoken out against the expansion, others have voiced support for the project.
The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association has touted the economic impact & jobs the expansion would bring to the area and Valley Oaks said the project could help cut down on the transport of cattle.
With a stay now in place, Stephens told 41 Action News that neighbors will continue gathering data and support to try and stop the expansion from happening.
She said a hearing scheduled for late August in Jefferson City dealing with the stay and the attempt to revoke the permit will be the next big step in the case.
“The reality is it’s not done,” she explained. “I just don’t think we’ll give up. I think that we will take this as far and as long as we possibly can.”