Don Tyson was a close buddy of then governor Bill Clinton, and everything was easy for him when he wanted to set up huge chicken houses on ridge-tops above the War-Eagle, Kings and Illinois Rivers in Northwest Arkansas. When wells in the Alpena, Green Forest and Huntsville area became so polluted from the chicken plants that the water was dangerous to drink, the company just offered to give the country folks with bad wells some money to buy water with. To most of those people, who never had much in their entire life, the money was enough to stop all the complaining.
In the early 1980’s, Steve Filapek, a biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission did a testing and sampling of the waters of the War-Eagle River.
There was a section of the river he was not allowed to test or sample because a very wealthy large-scale landowner well placed politically, who had hog and chicken operations that were badly polluting that section of the stream. Large numbers of cattle were causing erosion of the bank, and muck covered the gravel over a large area. Filapek said it was an area where pollution was so bad that fish numbers were being affected, so he had to avoid it according to orders from his superiors. At the time, I couldn’t even mention it in my column, just to protect his job.
But it wasn’t hard to see, and I wrote often of my own observations. I lived in north Arkansas at the time and had fished the War Eagle and Kings hard, since 1973, when the fishing was so good it was like we were the first float fishermen to find it.
The Kings was full of smallmouth and rock bass, and the War-Eagle had those fish and a heavy concentration of Kentucky, or spotted bass, as well. By the mid to late 1980’s the fishing had become very poor, and the water itself showed the pollution from those chicken processing plants.
I knew some very poor people from Batavia, Arkansas who obtained jobs there at a Green Forest chicken processing plant, and they said the work, gutting chickens all day long, and wading in guts and blood in knee high boots they had to wear, made you come home about half sick. Tyson had a hard time keeping local workers because he paid so poorly, but he had the answer… he brought in hundreds and hundreds of workers from Mexico who would work even cheaper.
When Tyson died a couple of years ago, his obituary carried accounts of large purchases of land in Europe and Mexico over the years. He had grown tremendously rich while polluting northwest Arkansas, and taking advantage of the poor, and their desperate need of work. Not long ago I floated the James River in southern Missouri, and passed a ridge top where several long chicken houses perched on a nearby ridge top. More than a hundred black vultures, which are suppose to migrate south in the dead of winter, were circling and landing beside one of them, likely feeding on dead chickens. What a boon to the buzzards, now they do not have to migrate.
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