BERLIN — After three years of often tense legal wrangling, closing arguments were heard last Friday in the landmark civil suit filed against a Berlin farm family and Perdue over alleged pollution violations dating back to 2009.
Testimony ended in mid-October in the civil suit pitting the defendants, Berlin’s Hudson Farm and Perdue, against an environmental watchdog group the Waterkeeper Alliance after a 10-day trial. Earlier in November, each side submitted its findings of fact and conclusions of law in advance of closing arguments. U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson, who presided over the trial, is expected to hand down his ruling by the end of the year.
After closing arguments last Friday, each side issued statements claiming their counterparts failed to prove their case during the trial. In its statement, the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) asserted at the heart of the case was an effort to stem the alleged pollution violations at the Hudson Farm in Berlin.
“This case has always been about stopping water pollution,” the ACT statement reads. “Assateague Coastal Trust initiated it to address the continuing pollution coming off the Hudson’s farm in more than a dozen water samples taken over a seven-month period.”
In its statement, ACT points out the Perdue is as much or more responsible for the alleged pollution coming from the Berlin farm as the independent family farmers.
“We also initiated it because we think poultry integrators have the duty to share the burden created by manure generated by the flocks they grow,” the statement reads. “We feel it is unfair to leave individual farmers the nearly impossible job of handling the manure in an environmentally responsible way.”
In a larger sense, ACT officials in their statement asserted the specific action against the Hudson Farm and Perdue opened a broader discussion on the handling of poultry waste on the Eastern Shore and across Maryland.
“This trial has reinvigorated the public discourse on the matter of poultry waste management in the state of Maryland,” the statement reads. “It has shone a bright light on the way integrators control growers, and it has exposed weaknesses in the process of regulating agricultural waste. The testimony of Perdue employees showed that every aspect of the operation of the poultry business on the Hudson Farm was controlled by Perdue.”
The ACT statement points out regardless of the judge’s final decision, the trial has forced state and federal officials to open their eyes to the fragile balance between agriculture and the environment.
“We all have a right to clean water, and our organization, Assateague Coastal Trust, will continue to defend that right,” the statement reads. Meanwhile, in its own post-trial statement released this week, Perdue asserted the case was less about the alleged Clean Water Act violations at the Hudson farm and more about the environmental groups’ larger war on the poultry industry.
“In closing arguments today, Perdue’s attorneys reiterated that this lawsuit is not about stopping pollution, but part of the Waterkeeper Alliance’s war on the poultry industry declared at the Eastern Shore poultry summit in 2007,” Perdue’s statement reads. “We are confident the judge will see that the Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastal Trust came to court to advance an agenda rather than right a wrong.”
The Perdue statement points out the plaintiffs changed their attack in mid-stream after it was determined the alleged pollution source on the Hudson farm was not what is appeared to be at first.
“This case should have ended three years ago when the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Waterkeeper Alliance found out that they incorrectly identified legal biosolids as a pile of chicken manure,” the statement reads. “Instead, these radical environmental activists used the taxpayer-funded University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic to wage a campaign against contemporary animal agriculture and against a hardworking Maryland farm family.”
The Save Farm Families coalition formed to provide support for the Hudson Farm specifically during the case and to represent all farm families in the face of legal challenges issued their own statement following closing arguments in the case last week.
“All along we’ve said that this lawsuit threatens family farms across the country and the trial revealed the true agenda of the groups and of the individuals involved in the case- to use trumped up pollution charges to attack poultry farms,” the statement reads.
Save Farm Families took exception to the use of the tax-payer funded University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic against the Hudson Farm and Perdue.
“To add insult to injury, two of three lawyers at the plaintiff’s table the past three weeks have been Maryland state employees,” the statement reads. “The Waterkeepers’ use of the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic as a tool in its publicly announced hard-nosed litigation tactics against a Maryland citizen and Maryland corporation is, as Governor O’Malley has already stated, an injustice.”