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March 28th, 2007 William Crawford | News Stories
 

Carrion baggage

Dead cows, roadkill and North Portland. Oh my.

     
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Hide park: North Portlanders have their state rep's ear over dead cows like this one in the neighborhood.
IMAGE: Jan Kelley
State Rep. Tina Kotek has introduced a bill that might seem of greater interest to Eastern Oregon than metro Portland.

But the North Portland Democrat says her bill addressing work done by animal-disposal companies, HB 3477, is also important to her constituents in North Portland's Kenton neighborhood.

The measure would increase penalties from $242—a "slap on the wrist," Kotek says—to $1,500 per day for two animal-disposal companies in her district and several others in Oregon who don't do their smelly work in a sanitary way.

"It's primarily a public-health issue," Kotek says. "When you think of carcasses not being disposed of properly, your mind can run wild."

The minds of Kotek's constituents have indeed long been troubled by the presence of two adjoining "transfer stations" on North Hurst Avenue that deal with everything from dead cows on farms to deer from roadkill.

The stations take in small loads of those dead animals, as well as wasted meat and vegetable grease from supermarkets, grocery stores and restaurants, then ship them out in larger loads for out-of-state processing into such items as tallow and yellow grease.

Both substances can be used in the production of biodiesel, says Baker Commodities Executive Vice President Dennis Luckey.

Residents in the working-class Kenton neighborhood have complained since 1990 about a rancid-meat smell that emanates from the two plants, operated separately by Baker Commodities and Darling International. Residents also have traded rumors that the companies agreed to dispose of cattle infected with mad cow disease.

That rumor is false, according to state veterinarian Don Hansen. He says Baker Commodities had a contract for surveillance of all dead cows to see if they had mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Of the 7,400 or so cows observed at Baker and two other participating companies between June 2004 and August 2006, none had mad cow.

And Hansen says there hasn't been a single violation upheld by the state Agriculture Department against either company in the last nine years.

Kotek says her bill remains a must because of other neighborhood complaints.

State Department of Environmental Quality reports show at least 13 complaints over that nine-year period. Among them: general bad odors, bloated dead cows left out all weekend and crows dropping bits of pilfered meat on complainants.

"In the summertime I couldn't use my backyard because the smell was so strong," resident Jan Kelley told WW.

The Kenton neighborhood, once a hub of the cattle trade on the West Coast, began its industrial boom in 1909 as a company town of the Swift meat-packing company.

Neither Luckey nor Darling International spokesman Phil Anderson say they're too concerned about Kotek's bill, now in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. Both say their companies follow the law.

"It won't really affect us," Anderson says. "It'll affect only the people who leave their dead animals around."

 
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