Farmer, State Settle Pollution Complaint

BISHOPVILLE — Avoiding what would have been the largest penalty of its kind, a Bishopville poultry farm recently reached a settlement with the state for a groundwater pollution complaint.

In June, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) filed an administrative complaint against the Jacobs Farm, a poultry operation in Bishopville, seeking a $30,000 fine, which would have been the largest ever handed down by the department for the alleged unauthorized discharge of animal-related pollutants into state waters. However, Jacobs Farm officials were able to remediate the alleged infractions, allowing the facility to negotiate a much lower settlement of $9,600 with MDE.

In September 2010, three inches of rain fell on northern Worcester County in a short amount of time, flooding the Jacobs Farm poultry operation in Bishopville including one of its chicken houses. Instead of running the risk of allowing contaminated flood waters to run off into local waterways, Jacobs Farm officials dug three large pits on the property to capture and store the contaminated water.

MDE officials investigated the short-term fix and determined the farm’s action potentially allowed 4,500 gallons of liquid poultry manure to leech into the groundwater from the unlined pits. In response, the MDE issued an administrative complaint seeking a $30,000 fine.

Jacobs Farm then appealed the proposed penalty, arguing it did not pump manure into any water body and instead took remedial action to prevent the contaminated stormwater runoff from reaching any nearby creeks and streams that ultimately reach the coastal bays. However, MDE countered the make-shift procedure allowed manure to contaminate groundwater in the area illegally.

According to the final settlement agreement and consent order obtained from MDE this week, the department alleged Jacobs Farm, “placed poultry litter in unlined earthen pits in a position where it discharged or was likely to discharge to surface and/or ground waters of the state,” and that Jacobs Farm also “placed liquid poultry litter in a dry manure storage shed where it discharged or was likely to discharge to surface and/or ground waters of the state.”

However, because Jacobs Farm “performed the remedial activities ordered by the department to correct the violations alleged in the administrative complaint, settlement discussion have now resulted in an agreement to resolve this matter for the benefit of the citizens of Maryland.”