Loudon officials to take closer look at landfill, cattle deaths

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com 

LOUDON — Loudon County commissioners are taking a closer look at the report of 26 head of cattle dying in 2010 on a farm near the Matlock Bend landfill.

Loudon farmer Jerry Hughes recently told the county’s Solid Waste Commission that manages the landfill that he believes his cattle were poisoned by runoff from the landfill.

At a workshop Monday, commissioners questioned Gordon Harless, who in 2010 was in charge of the animal shelter and emergency management for the county.

Harless said he was on site the day after the cattle were reported dead in a field leased by Hughes. He said the cows were being fed low nutritional value sage grass, which may have contributed to malnutrition and eventually death. He said that a necropsy performed at the University of Tennessee confirmed the cows died of malnutrition.

The commission heard local resident Aileen Longmire read from a Loudon County Sheriff’s Office report that said the deputy investigating suspected tainted water and even took samples of the water. She wondered why the water was not tested.

“So nobody tested the water?” asked Commissioner Rosemary Quillen.

“We should get samples of that water,” Commissioner Don Miller said.

Solid Waste Commission Chairman Steve Field told commissioners that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regularly tests the water in the retention pond and areas around the landfill. He said his panel has been monitoring the situation closely.

Commissioner David Meers said he thought that all residents on well water living around the landfill should be given the opportunity to have their water tested and suggested that Santek Waste Management, the company that manages the landfill, should pay for the testing.

Contacted after the meeting, Hughes denied that the cows were underfed. He also said he doesn’t know where Harless got the information about the sage grass. He said his cows were fed hay that he grew and baled himself. He also accused Harless of selectively interpreting the necropsy report and leaving out important information.

At the top of the UT necropsy it says that a calf that was examined had been cared for in the barn for several days and given antibiotics, Hughes said. The report also says the calf was refusing food for several days.

“Does a farmer that is neglecting his animals give them medicine and care for them? Does a calf that’s starving to death refuse food for days?” he asked.

Hughes said that the cows were an investment. Many were having calves and were a valuable resource. He said that in his 40 years of raising cows none of his animals have ever died from neglect.

Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough said she was uncomfortable with the notion of blaming the farmer, Hughes, for neglecting his animals.