Cleanup Progress Reported On Embattled Farm

BERLIN – Progress has been made in cleaning up the Hudson Farm poultry operation targeted by national and local environmental organizations for violating the national Clean Water Act, those agencies announced this week, but improvements are still needed.

The Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastal Trust put Hudson Farms poultry grower Alan Hudson and Hudson Farms’ contract holder Perdue Chicken on notice in mid-December that they would face a lawsuit over farm run-off polluting local waters leading to the Chesapeake Bay if the farm did not clean up the problem.

The Hudson Farm, a confined animal feeding operation with 80,000 birds on site, was polluting state waters and threatening human health by allowing the run-off into the drainage ditch, the environmental groups contended.

The notice of intent to file a lawsuit came in the wake of scientific testing of waters in a ditch leading off Hudson Farm to Franklin Branch, which empties into the water quality-impaired Pocomoke River, which empties in turn into the Chesapeake Bay.

Tests on water in the drainage ditch showed fecal coliform bacteria levels 100 to 200 times higher than federal Environmental Protection Agency standards, as well as high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous.

In the last four weeks, the fecal coliform levels have fallen below those numbers, but bacteria levels are still high enough to damage water quality, according to the Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastal Trust.

“We sampled it again on Dec. 29 and they were significantly lower but they’re still high, still way above the legal limit for that farm,” said Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips. “There has been some movement in the right direction. We’re going to continue to sample.”

Aerial photographs show changes on the property since the notice of intent was sent four weeks ago.

The apparent manure pile, once though to be chicken waste but later identified by the farm owner as treated human sewage sludge from Ocean City, has been moved. The pile of waste material has been moved away from the drainage ditch and is covered with a tarp. The trenches dug from the pile directly to the ditch have also been filled in, according to an aerial survey.

The clean up happened, Phillips noted, after a Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) inspector visited the farm in response to the notice of intent to file a lawsuit.

“It goes without saying that none of these actions would have been taken by MDE or Perdue in the absence of a real pollution problem. As such, the proof of the validity of our concerns is not just in the water samples, but also in the fact that the parties apparently felt compelled to take such immediate action,” Phillips said.

Controversy continues over the farm, with the Waterkeepers recently filing a Public Information Act request for all MDE records on Hudson Farm.

The Waterkeepers have questions over unclear statements made by MDE on the extent and results of sampling and testing done on the Hudson Farm drainage ditch. The Waterkeepers are also seeking information on whether the waste pile near the ditch was removed from Hudson Farm entirely or whether it was relocated to a position on the farm without easy access to the ditch.

“The Public Information Act request was necessary because MDE will not disclose to us voluntarily what is going on at the Perdue site, how long the state knew about it, what if any testing was done, and what kind of pressure the state faced from the federal EPA to clean this up and related problems,” Phillips said.

Scott Edwards, director of advocacy for the Waterkeeper Alliance, said that MDE might not have done any sampling of the materials on site to determine levels of bacteria of composition.

Edwards said he was told an MDE inspector visually inspected the site, then sent someone out to sample materials, but someone reportedly on the Hudson Farm refused to let that MDE employee onto the farm.

“That was pretty shocking for us,” said Edwards. “It’s been confirmed to us by folks at MDE.”

Edwards also said that reports that the pile of material discharging to the drainage ditch, said by Hudson Farm to be treated sewer sludge, has not been sent to a landfill, but is still on site, despite recent MDE reports to the contrary.

“It’s still sitting on that farm,” said Edwards. “It hasn’t been removed.”

The issue at stake, however, is not so much what that pile of material was composed of, but the effect of farm run-off on water quality.

“There’s nothing I would like more than to see no pollution in that ditch at the end of 60 days,” said Edwards. “Our goal is to stop pollution. If a notice of intent stops pollution, than no one is happier than we are.”