At a public hearing in Snow Hill on April 24 hosted by Maryland Department of the Environment, to take public comment on a proposed Water Discharge Permit for a poultry Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), we were made aware of the failure of Worcester County elected officials to protect the public health of their constituents, as well as the design of a permitting process that intentionally restricts the input of those whose only concern is the health of family and neighbors.
Nearly every citizen who stepped to the podium to voice alarm about a chicken factory farm planned for Peerless Road expressed frustration that they were left in the dark, purposefully, about the prospect of the pollution and health hazard until the last of the permits was about the be rubber stamped by the MDE. Those at the hearing learned that the CAFO was to be forced upon them only days before the final permit was to be inked. Had one concerned citizen not demanded the hearing, it would not have happened.
How is it possible that an operation that will expel up to 12 tons of ammonia annually, to say nothing of the airborne particulates that contribute to asthma and other respiratory diseases, could be permitted by the county without giving those whose lives are most likely to be adversely impacted the privilege of reviewing what is clearly a major health hazard, and voicing their concern?
The wording of the permit itself is designed to camouflage the potential of a disastrous situation for those among us who are the most vulnerable – children and senior citizens. It describes the poultry factory as a “zero emission” operation. This industrial chicken factory will grow half a million chickens a year, have three 600-foot long houses on a piece of property far too small and too close to Shingle Landing Prong, a stressed tributary of the St. Martin River.
Anyone who has ever driven by a chicken factory farm with their windows down knows that this is beyond absurd; it is downright deceitful. There is no such thing as a “zero emission” poultry CAFO, as two citizens who were raised on chicken farm factories testified. This CAFO is not a farm, it is an industrial use and should not be placed within three miles of schools, churches, a daycare center, and Ocean Pines, the county’s most populous community.
There are too many reasons why this is a disastrous decision for those who live in the St. Martin watershed to list in this letter. Suffice it to say the St. Martin, a river that is so badly degraded shellfishing is off limits because of health hazards, is also a river that is on the mend following the 2006 closing of a poultry processing center in Showell. It cannot bear this assault, nor can those who recreate on it or who live along and nearby its shoreline.
The meeting room in Snow Hill was standing room only, representing a small fraction of those who felt themselves betrayed by officials and a system rigged against them. Regardless of whether one approves of or objects to the expansion of poultry factories near residential neighborhoods and population centers, everyone deserves the right to be advised of such plans in time to learn the facts and voice either concern or support.
Ronald W. Pilling