Berlin Spray Irrigation Site Approved

SNOW HILL – Berlin’s new spray irrigation site in the Newark area was given the go ahead by the County Commissioners this week, despite the efforts of several neighbors of the site who it could harm them or their livelihoods.

Berlin went before the commissioners on Tuesday afternoon to apply for a water and sewer plan amendment, a necessary step before other permits can be sought, for a spray irrigation operation on the Newark property it has bought for that purpose on Five Mile Branch Rd., known as the Bounds Farm.

Mark Prouty, engineer for Berlin, said the sprayed effluent would be high quality and would reduce nitrogen in the groundwater on the farm by dilution. The flow of groundwater off the irrigation site will not go under any other property on its way to the Pocomoke River, Prouty said.

“The residents feel that the selection of the Bounds Farm may have been the easy path,” said Steve Smethurst, representing the Newark neighbors. “Isn’t there another site closer to Berlin not impacting a neighborhood far removed from Berlin?”

There are no other sites in the county or surrounding area that compare to the Bounds Farm’s ability to handle irrigation, said Prouty.

“I’ve been looking at irrigation sites for 30 years. This is one of the best sites I have ever seen,” Prouty said.

The town looked at many properties, and further analyzed three, before settling on the Bounds Farm, town attorney Joe Moore said. Some properties that looked like a good prospect were not available for sale, he said.

“It is a fact that the property is the most beneficial and has the potential to do the best job,” Moore said.

Berlin has been looking for more spray land for at least 22 years, town officials said, and the only alternative to the Bounds Farm is to buy many properties with a small capacity which would cost tens of millions of dollars.

The Bounds Farm has been analyzed in detail, with monitoring wells on the property for the last year.

The town also responded to a letter, written on behalf of the site’s neighbors, by Richard Klein of Community and Environmental Defense Services, alleging that the town is mismanaging its current spray irrigation site in Libertytown.

The two Libertytown monitoring wells showing high levels of nutrients appear to have structural problems and are not reliable indicators of nutrient levels, Prouty said. The other wells on that site show acceptable levels of nutrients.

There has never been a case of spray-borne disease from a spray irrigation site, Prouty said, which has been studied extensively, starting with a study from 1899.

The county also has three golf courses approved to use treated effluent via spray irrigation to water the greens, which people directly access every day without sickness, Moore said.

A public hearing held after the town’s presentation gave the site’s neighbors a chance to present their arguments.

The Newark area residents expressed concern over health issues, the affect of geese attracted by the spray on other birds and a cattle-raising operation, and whether the town had sought sites closer to the town itself.

Brandon Age, who lives next to the Bounds Farm and has hunted on the property, showed the commissioners several photographs of flooding on the farm, within 50 yards of the planned spray irrigation area, which makes the site unsuitable for effluent disposal.

Ted Bradford raises certified organic, hormone free, Angus beef cattle near the Bounds Farm, and said he is concerned because geese like to frequent spray lagoons and his cattle could contract giardia from eating grass covered with goose droppings. He is also concerned that area farmers will not be able to raise a wheat crop with so many geese in the area.

“It’s going to affect their livelihood. It’s going to affect my livelihood,” Bradford said.

Bill Sirman, Jr., who grows grain and runs a refuge shooting area, offering guided duck and goose hunts, said he is concerned about the spray lagoon attracting wild geese or ducks carrying avian diseases, forcing him to destroy his flocks.

When the Libertytown spray site was planned 17 years ago, area residents had some of the same concerns, but in the last 14 years of operation, the town has not received one complaint from the neighbors about that spray site, Moore said.      

Not all the commissioners supported the project.

“We’re trying to shove something down their throats we don’t want,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger, who could not believe Berlin could not find a suitable site closer to town.

“This is a Berlin problem, not a Newark problem,” said Cowger. “I just don’t think they’re treating the people of Newark right.”

“It sounds like we have a lot to do as far as educating people in the whole county,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “It truly will be good for our water and our county to have spray irrigation instead of discharge into the bays.”

Every new development is being asked to use spray irrigation, said Commissioner Linda Busick, and this is an extension of that idea.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley objected to the site’s proximity to the Pocomoke River, saying that as a farmer, he has to bend over backward to prevent run-off from chicken manure getting into the river.

The commissioners voted 4-2 to approve the amendment, with Cowger and Shockley opposing.