Trial Date Inked In Case Settlement Talks Unsuccessful

BERLIN — The ongoing legal battle between a Berlin family farm, Perdue and an environmental watchdog group over alleged pollution runoff violations is headed for an October trial unless a settlement can be reached.

In March 2010, the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, along with the Assateague Coastkeeper and the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT), 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 above 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 in March, but no middle ground was met. With no resolution apparently forthcoming, a trial date has been set for Oct. 9.

Both sides were blaming each other for the failed negotiations thus far this week.

“We were very surprised to learn from Perdue’s own statement that the company has broken off settlement talks a full six months before the beginning of trial, despite the judge’s urging that the parties engage in the mediation process,” said ACT President Dr. Tom Jones in a prepared statement. “We remain interested in reaching a solution that ends the pollution. Nonetheless, we are prepared to put this case before the court where it will be judged not by angry rhetoric, but by facts, evidence and law.”

However, Perdue spokesperson Julie DeYoung said the company never made the “official” statement referred to by ACT. Instead, DeYoung said Perdue had similar misgivings about the lack of a potential settlement.

“While both Perdue and the Hudsons were prepared to go to trial as early as next month, an early trial date was not available,” she said. “Despite the court’s strong encouragement to settle this lawsuit and good faith efforts by Perdue and the Hudsons, it does not appear that the case will settle and we are, therefore, preparing for trial. We are very disappointed that we and the Hudsons will now have to wait another six months to have our day in court.”