Questions Remain Over Berlin Discharge Permit

BERLIN – A public
hearing on a clean water discharge permit for the old Tyson chicken plant in
Berlin last week failed to clear up questions over why the owner was seeking a
permit despite the lack of discharge.

“We have an unusual
situation here,” said Ed Gertler, industrial discharge permit manager for
Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). 

 MDE is considering an unusual form of permit
only allowing ambient water, from precipitation or groundwater that filters
into pipes and lagoons, to be discharged. That permit would not be valid for
any change in use or discharge.

“Before anything can
happen the applicant must submit a request for a modification which is
equivalent to asking for a new permit,” Gertler said.

The public hearing
attracted about 20 people, but only a handful spoke.

“We just want to make
sure this is not in any way going to endanger the creek,” said Tommy Davis, who
lives on Trappe Creek, which receives the plant’s discharge.

Flooding and erosion
along the creek are already bad, he said. Since Tyson stopped discharging,
water quality has improved.

“The water is nicer and
cleaner. There’s plenty of wildlife. Fish and crabs are abundant now that
weren’t 10 years ago,” Davis said.

“Half of my marsh is
already washed out,” Thomas H. Davis III said. He has already lost seven acres
of marsh.

“I’m just worried why
they need an 800,000 gallon permit when they need nothing,” Davis III said.

The ditches bordering
his land collect all the water from Berlin’s ditches and timber on the shore is
falling over, he said.

“To us, this whole
process is a mystery,” said Russell Stevenson, a lawyer representing Assateague
Coastal Trust (ACT) and the Assateague Coastkeeper.

The plant is no longer
operating or discharging, noted Stevenson, and the previous permit has expired.
The proper procedure, Stevenson felt, would be for a purchaser or user of the
plant to apply for a new permit, not seek to amend, “what is essentially a

Stevenson said he could
not find anything in the record explaining why the application for renewal is
going forward. At a minimum, ACT wants to understand what is going on, he said.

Jim Dieter, of Daft
McCune Walker, representing Berlin Properties North (BPN), the property owner,
said BPN simply wants to keep all options on the table.

“There is no plan at the
present time on the development of the property … there is no underlying cause
here which is driving this,” Dieter said.

All options are on the
table, whether commercial, industrial or a mix including residential, according
to Dieter.

BPN would work with a
purchaser or renter to promote reclaiming wastewater for industrial purposes,
and to minimize discharge, Dieter said.

BPN supports the new
permit as written by MDE, to assist in marketing the Tyson property, Dieter

Stevenson countered with
concerns that the applicant might be attempting to establish an entitlement to

some amount of discharge by applying for this unique permit.      

“It is that exactly we
object to … a new discharge should be treated as a new discharge,” Stevenson
said. He added, “It is bad policy. It is a waste of everyone’s time.”

MDE will continue
accepting comments on the permit until Sept. 17.