Sides In Hudson Case Unable To Reach Settlement

BERLIN — Despite a lengthy settlement conference on Wednesday, there was no resolution this week in the ongoing legal battle between a Berlin family farm and an environmental watchdog group over alleged pollution runoff violations.

In March 2010, the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, along with the Assateague Coastkeeper and the Assateague Coastal Trust, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Perdue and Berlin’s Hudson Farm, a contract Perdue factory farm operation of about 80,000 birds. The suit was filed when sampling in ditches adjacent to the property allegedly revealed high levels of harmful bacteria including fecal coliform and E. Coli in concentrations that exceed state limits.

The Waterkeeper Alliance filed suit in federal court accusing the Hudson Farm of violating the state’s Clean Water Act. The Assateague Coastkeeper and the Assateague Coastal Trust were later dismissed as plaintiffs in the case. After months and months of legal wrangling, both sides met for a settlement conference on Wednesday, but no middle ground was apparently met and consequently no immediate resolution of the case appears to be forthcoming.

“I have been advised by Judge Grimm that a settlement has not been reached, but that some progress has been made,” said Senior U.S. District Judge William Nickerson yesterday in a letter to counsel on both sides advising them he has scheduled a telephone status conference in the case for April 18.

Nickerson said the status conference is necessary “in order to secure a trial date in the not too distant future.”

In a ruling earlier this month, Nickerson urged both parties to move toward striking a settlement.

“… the Court would certainly try to accommodate a request of the parties to meet again with a magistrate to attempt to resolve this dispute now that the case is more completely developed and before additional litigation resources are expended,” Nickerson wrote in his order.

Following the judge’s order on March 1, the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) issued its own statement supporting a negotiated settlement if one could be reached.

“ACT remains interested in seeing both sides pursue this course,” said ACT President Dr. Tom Jones. “However, if they are unable to settle the case, we are ready to support Waterkeeper Alliance in their preparations for trial.”