For the last few years, Colby Duncan has watched as his rural Colcord neighborhood has changed.

Duncan, who owns more than 100 acres of land near Row Cemetery, has lived on his farm with is wife, Shay, and daughter, Gabby, since 2011.

In 2014, he watched as four chicken houses went up less than 900 feet "to the foot" from the corner of his home.

The number of chicken houses grew to 10 as six more houses were placed on land directly to the west of his home.

He said noise from the exhaust fans, debris blowing in the wind, and the smells emanating from the chicken houses, has limited what his family can do outside of their home.

"I would say it's effected us at least 80 percent of our normal life," Duncan said, explaining how the family's annual Fourth of July celebration was cut short by the smells.

"We have to keep the air on 24-hours a day, because we cannot keep windows open for fresh air because of the debris floating in the air," Duncan said. "We have limited what we cook outdoors because feathers/particles fall on the BBQ."

Duncan said the family tries to plan outdoor events around when the chicken house workers are "rotating the birds."

"Trying to have some type of event or gathering outside is not worth the headache," Duncan said.

Ultimately, Duncan said, he worries less about his health, and more about how this will impact 6-year-old Gabby.

"Do we let her grow up and finish school here, or do we move somewhere else to provide her with a [better] quality of air," Duncan said. "The way our land is situated, it's not possible to move [our home] to another part of the land."

Duncan said he's not against family-run chicken house operations.

"The small local farmer has to try to make a living," he said. "I don't like being overrun by commercial companies shoving [the houses] down our throats.

"We need to look how this effects our children."

Raising concerns

Duncan was just one of more than 130 southern Delaware and northern Cherokee County residents who gathered for a meeting on Sunday, Aug. 12, at the Kansas High School Event Center.

Billed as a group of "concerned citizens about the chicken houses," those present discussed issues surrounding water and air quality, as well as other concerns during a three-hour session.

This is the second meeting organized by Pam Kingfisher and others. The first, took place two weeks ago in Twin Oaks. 

The group - which is growing in number - began meeting after several residents began raising issues with the number of commercial chicken houses being built in the Spring River Watershed.

Kingfisher opened the meeting by encouraging people to take their complaints - about storm water runoff, wells drying out, and air quality, to officials in Oklahoma City.

"We don't want northeast Oklahoma overrun with chicken houses," Kingfisher said. "We need to cooperate with the agencies, be clear, kind and persistent. We need to be curious about what's going on in [our] neighborhoods."

Kingfisher encouraged residents to document what the see, saying ultimately there is a burden on the area citizens to prove there is a problem.

Other speakers

Several representatives from the Cherokee Nation spoke to the gathering including Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources.

Hill reminded those gathered, environmental issues is something state and tribal officials have been dealing with "for a very long time."

She said Cherokee Nation officials are developing a listing of resources, which area residents can utilize for additional information. The listing will be accessible on the Cherokee Nation website within the coming week or so.

She cautioned changes involving chicken houses - and the regulations which control placement - will come slowly.

Testing water

Billy Hicks, also with Cherokee Nation, talked about the water testing which available to Cherokee Nation citizens. 

He said while he's been hearing a lot of antidotal information about water quality issues including wells with low yield outputs or drying up, he is still gathering data to show official trends.

He said Cherokee Nation offers free water testing for its citizens. He said non-Cherokees can have their samples tested at the Tulsa County Health Department. 

Cherokee Nation Tribal Counselors David Walkingstick and Mike Shambaugh also addressed the crowd. 

Shambaugh said he planned to bring the issue before the council on Monday, Aug. 13, to examine what actions the council could take to help its tribal members.

Walkingstick said he was exploring what could be done through the tribe's judicial system including if non-Indians could be sued in tribal courts.

He said his biggest concern revolved around how the chicken houses are impacting the environment within Cherokee Nation. 

"A movement like this, could start in a rural area, then gain [traction[ at the state and then national level," Walkingstick said. "We could be the squeaky wheel. But it will take perseverance, sacrifice and time.

Environmental issues 

Jean R. Lemmon, director of education and reporting, water quality division with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, encouraged attendance at upcoming events designed to train residents to gather data for the conservation department.

The first in September, will provide an introduction to the Blue Thumb program. The second, in November, will focus on how to gather information from fields and streams.  

Beth Rooney with the Spring Creek Coalition talked about how the organization has been working to protect the creek since 1994. 

The organization has a Facebook group "Spring Creek Guardians" to help serve as an information source for those interested in the cause.

"We are made up of those who live on the creek, own property on the creek or care about the creek," Rooney said. "This is the most pristine creek in Oklahoma. If we lose it, it will be impossible to come back."

Legislative Response

Sen. Wayne Shaw (R-Grove) talked about the legislative process and how it will take time to work through the legislature. 

He reminded residents he is just one member of the entire legislative process.

At times, Shaw's comments were met with boos and jeers, as he told those gathered he was elected to be the senator for both sides of the issue.

He encouraged the residents to find ways to settle the issue with policy and negotiation, rather than litigation. 

His idea included developing a chicken expansion task force to look at all of the rules and regulations concerning the issue.

He also suggested bringing in researchers from Oklahoma State University and University of Arkansas, to examine the questions and policies on both sides of the state line.

Martin Kirk, the county commissioner for the area, said the three-member commission is working to find solutions within the laws concerning chicken houses.

He said the commission is limited, in some ways, because county-wide zoning does not exist.  

What's next

Kingfisher said the group plans to meet again, within the next month. The location and time of the meeting was still pending as of press time.