Editorial: November-December 2012
‘The Battle for Chesapeake Bay’
By Marg Land
In early October, testimony finally began in a lawsuit that pitted the Waterkeeper Alliance of New York City against Hudson Farm, a small poultry operation in Maryland, and Perdue, the poultry integrator the farm produced for.
I first started writing about this fiasco back in late 2009. At that time, the Wall Street Journal featured an article on what I described as the poultry poop police, a group of “volunteers” who fly over the Delmarva looking for piles of chicken manure, photograph them, and then sample the surrounding streams and ditches looking for elevated bacterial levels. I expressed alarm at this, likening it to a person being presumed guilty until proven innocent.
A few months later, I wrote of how the poultry poop police plot was thickening. At that time, the Assateague Coastkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance had just filed notice to sue Hudson Farm and Perdue, citing violations of the Clean Water Act.
Then the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) became involved and inspected the Berlin-area poultry and beef operation. Inspectors discovered the pile wasn’t poultry litter but Class A biosolids from a local municipality. Alan and Kristin Hudson were ordered to move the biosolids away from a nearby drainage ditch and repair the area where the pile had originally been situated. They were also issued a $4,000 administrative penalty for improper storage of sludge, a fine they later had removed under appeal.
According to the MDE, “while sampling results showed elevated bacterial levels at the Hudson Farm, levels in the area immediately adjacent and downstream of the sludge were not as high as levels further downstream. The source of the bacteria was not conclusively identified.”
This didn’t stop the Waterkeeper Alliance from continuing on with its ridiculous lawsuit, claiming instead that poultry litter is contaminating water through exhaust fan dust and bacteria tracked out of the barns on boots. To add insult to injury, the group is having its legal representation provided free of charge by the taxpayer-funded University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic – a situation described by Maryland’s governor Martin O’Malley as an “injustice.”
Meanwhile, the Hudson family has been relying on donations and money raised through the Save Farm Families organization to help pay its legal bills, which are estimated at more than $300,000.
Testimony for the lawsuit wrapped up in mid-October and final arguments are scheduled for the end of November.
There is some hope justice will prevail for the Hudson family. In pretrial court documentation, Senior United States District Judge William M. Nickerson stated: “there are elements of this litigation that the Court finds disturbing … it seems clear that the original Plaintiffs in this action were looking for an opportunity to bring a citizen suit under the CWA against some chicken production operation under contract with a major poultry integrator.”
He added that once a farm was found, they acted like they had found their “bad apple.
“(The) Plaintiffs’ case has now gone from a large pile of uncovered chicken manure to small amounts of airborne litter from the exhaust fans, trace amounts brought out on shoes and tires, and a dustpan of litter left on the heavy use pads.”
It would appear Judge Nickerson isn’t having the wool pulled over his eyes, adding that the court can award attorney fees to the “prevailing defendant.”
A decision in the case is anticipated before Christmas. Hopefully it will result in a happy gift for the Hudsons, who have suffered enough.