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Oak Cliff Columbia Packing Tells Pig Blood Story On YouTube

Owners of the Columbia Meat Packing Company in Oak Cliff say they will close their slaughterhouse. They want to get back to work making sausage and processing meat. The company was shut down after pig blood was found in a nearby creek that flows into the Trinity River. KERA’s BJ Austin says the company is now speaking out on YouTube.

Aerial photography showed Cedar Creek “blood red” running behind Columbia Packing on East 11th. An investigation found pig blood and other products in the creek.

Company owners, the Ondrusek family, posted what they call “Our Side of the Story” on YouTube Monday.

“Columbia Packing was started 99 years ago in Deep Ellum …”

Joe Ondrusek, President of Columbia, says it was a clogged city sewer pipe that caused the overflow into the creek. He says the city knew the pipe was clogged in early December but didn’t tell Columbia.

Ondrusek: From that time until when we were contacted on January 19th, that’s 40-something days that all of this could have been eliminated.

Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway there was a reason the city didn’t tell Columbia – an ongoing city, state and federal investigation.

Caraway: You don’t send up a smoke signal to tell them here we come.

Caraway says Columbia is not being willingly transparent. He says there’s a serious issue with removing a pipe near the creek.

Caraway: They removed the evidence and they removed it without supervision.

Columbia’s Carl Ondrusek says that was a pipe to nowhere.

Ondrusek: It was filled full of brick, full of dirt, full of chunks of concrete, did not make a connection on either end.

The city of Dallas is not buying that and says the pipe in question bypassed the city’s monitoring device in the sanitary sewer line, allowing discharge of pig blood and other waste without city oversight.

Carl Ondrusek says Columbia has been a good citizen and employs 120 people. The city’s Board of Adjustment will hold hearings on whether the plant will be shuttered.

Update 10:53am Columbia Packing sent a letter to customers this morning announcing the closure of its Oak Cliff slaughterhouse operation. This comes after an ongoing investigation by government officials and the City of Dallas following allegations the company dumped pig blood into a creek that flowed into the Trinity river. A video featuring interviews with the Ondrusek family was posted on Youtube concurrent with the announcement. 

The City of Dallas responds to the letter and video statement issued by Columbia Packing. 

To: Media From: City of Dallas PIO Re: Columbia Packing   The City will use all legal means possible to ensure that Columbia Packing, or any company in the City, is not allowed to continue to discharge illicit waste and potentially harm the public and the environment. Columbia Packing officials, on video, focus on a hidden pipe on their property that they claim was clogged with brick and other material.  What company officials do not address is another hidden pipe discovered that was installed to bypass the City’s monitoring device in the sanitary sewer line.  The installation of that bypass allowed the discharge of pig blood and other unsanitary waste materials without City oversight.  Columbia Packing has failed to document when and how this bypass was installed.  The bypass pipe appeared to be of recent vintage.    The search warrant and associated affidavit speak for themselves and clearly outline daily investigatory activities on the part of the City and other investigators from the day the situation was brought to the City’s attention.

Below are the video and letter a representative from Columbia Packing sent via email this morning:

Dear Valued Customer, I am Joe Ondrusek, President of Columbia Packing Co., Inc.  My family has operated this business for 99 years, and we now have the fifth generation of our family working in the business. We value our reputation of tradition and quality. Columbia Packing is our family’s heritage and legacy and we will fight to stay in business. Columbia Packing is not closing its doors. My great grandfather named our company Columbia, which means “new beginnings”. After almost 100 years in business, again we will embark on a new beginning. Columbia will voluntarily close its slaughter house operation in Oak Cliff.   Our family has always said, “Business goes where it’s invited and stays where it is well treated.”  We are eager to get back to work. Even though we have been operating legally and we have done nothing wrong, we recognize a long zoning fight to continue the slaughter operation could mean months or years before we could get back to serving our customers.  For our valued customers, nothing will change. We will continue to offer our complete product line and we will continue to proudly bring consumers our expertise in finding and making fresh cut pork, box beef, cheese and our old fashion smoked ham. The industry of pork processing is a highly regulated business.  We have two USDA inspectors in our plant each day of operation.  We have regular USDA inspections, and we are required to keep detailed records of all pork processed in our plant.  We have an excellent record of safety and quality.  The city of Dallas has never previously cited us for health or code violations. We have created 120 jobs in South Dallas and we pride ourselves on being good corporate citizens.  WHAT HAPPENED On Thursday, January 19, 2012, approximately 50 individuals from various governmental agencies executed a search warrant at our plant. The search warrant accused Columbia Packing of intentionally dumping waste into the creek located a couple of hundred yards behind our plant. Let me be very clear: Columbia Packing did not and has not intentionally or knowingly polluted or illegally dumped hazardous materials. Our sewer line ties into a City of Dallas sewer main.  It does NOT dump into the creek as has been alleged. There was a clog in the sewer line near a cleanout valve.  When water was used (i.e. washing down after production), the sewer line was backing up causing water to come out an overflow/vent pipe.  The city of Dallas apparently knew there was a problem on December 9th, but allowed it to continue and did not notify us until 41 days later when government agencies served search warrants. Two days before the warrants were served, a Columbia lawn mowing crew discovered the sewer overflow. We immediately called a plumber and took swift action to begin stopping the overflow. The clog was cleared and the line was open and running cleanly into the city’s sewer main in less than 24 hours. If the city had contacted us on December 9th, the problem would have been fixed the same day. Instead, the city knowingly allowed this overflow to continue for 41 days.  Government officials did something my family never would have done- they allowed products to contaminate the Trinity River for more than a month without taking corrective action.  The City has full access to our property at all times to test the sewer line. At any time, officials could have entered our property to find the source of the overflow. There is no cross connection between our sewer line and storm water. The City has now dye-tested and camera inspected our sewer lines, and our sewer line is clear and goes to the city sewer main.  The city maintains a box on our sewer line that has for years monitored the amount of waste water going through the line and the substances contained in the waste water.  The city monitors this locked box on its own schedule. When the City searched our property they found 18 possible code violations. Within 30 days we addressed and repaired each issue the City brought to our attention. Keep in mind, our Oak Cliff facility has been in operation since the early 1930’s, and the City of Dallas has never cited us for any violations in the past. ABANDONED PIPE You may have read in the newspaper or seen on television accusations that Columbia had a “hidden pipe” on our property. This is a false characterization. What the city of Dallas is alleging is factually incorrect and legally wrong. During the search of our property, authorities dug many holes looking for a source of contamination. A buried pipe was dug up, but it was an abandoned pipe- not a hidden pipe. The pipe in question was 100 yards away from our plant and was not physically connected in any way to our facility. In fact, when the pipe was removed, it was so compacted with dirt and brick, nothing could have flowed through it.  The pipe was so old that we were not even aware it existed.  The pipe did not have a use, so we removed it from the property in the presence the Dallas City Attorney’s office.  Additionally, the City video taped the abandoned pipe’s removal, so there is proof that this was not a functioning pipe. We have served our loyal customers for almost a century and we plan to continue offering quality products for the next 100 years to come.  Columbia Packing isn’t just a business to us- it’s our family. Sincerely, Joe Ondrusek President, Columbia Packing Co.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.