Wicomico Bans Ag Storage Tanks

SALISBURY – Officials voted last week to prohibit dissolved air flotation (DAF) storage in Wicomico County.

Following a public hearing Oct. 4, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to approve legislation banning the storage of liquid organic fertilizer or soil amendments.

The passage of the bill, one of three presented to the council last month, concludes a three-year effort by local elected officials and county residents to address concerns associated with DAF storage.

“This [bill] came about after it was decided prohibition may be possible,” council attorney Andrew Mitchell said this week. “I was directed to determine whether it was within the authority of the council to do that. I provided a legal opinion, and the brief answer was the Wicomico County Council can exercise those powers granted by the state of Maryland not limited by the county charter and does have the authority to prohibit and regulate the storage of DAF within the county.”

The topic of DAF storage was first introduced in 2019, when a building permit was issued to allow a local farmer to construct a multi-million-gallon DAF tank on Porter Mill Road. Several nearby residents and environmental advocacy groups, however, have since shared their concerns with the council regarding the smells and potential hazards associated with the tank. There has also been litigation in Wicomico County Circuit Court challenging the validity of that storage tank and the permit issued for its construction.

In the years since the issue was first brought to the council’s attention, the legislative body has enacted – and extended – a moratorium on the issuance of building permits related to the construction of DAF tanks.

In September, however, the council was presented with three legislative bills – one to prohibit DAF tanks, one permitting DAF tanks in the I-2 heavy industrial zone with certain restrictions, and one permitting DAF tanks in the A-1 agricultural-rural zone with certain restrictions.

“What we’re trying to do here is come up with some sort of reasonable compromise …,” Council President John Cannon said at the time. “We don’t want to compromise an industry, but we certainly don’t want to subject neighborhoods to the issues and problems that have come before us.”

Last month, the council ultimately voted to introduce legislation banning open-top DAF storage.

Back on the agenda for a public hearing last week, Holly Porter, director of the Delmarva Chicken Association, said her organization was in opposition to the ban.

“We ask the council to consider the proposal of allow this structure in A-1 with the special exceptions, and even with restrictions, even though some were not quite science based,” she said. “There is a better way for this council to support all citizens of this county, including those in agriculture.”

Farmer Lee Richardson, however, said he supported the ban.

“I’m standing in front of a county council that is well aware of agriculture and has known agriculture for a long time, and I think you are doing the right thing with this bill …,” he said. “I will fight for the poultry industry the rest of my life, but it will be for the right thing … This bill needs to be passed, and it needs to be passed sooner than later.”

Mitchell said the county could enact laws related to zoning for the health and welfare of its citizens. He also addressed concerns relating to right-to-farm laws and the ability to enact a ban.

“I did not see that it affected the right to farm …,” he said. “To show it’s an unconstitutional taking, you have to show all the beneficial use of the property has been taken away. That’s certainly not the case here. If someone had farmland, or any other land, and they wanted to use it for a DAF tank, that’s not a taking. They would’ve already had to have had it there and have it taken away or have no other use they can make of the property.”

After further discussion, the council voted 5-2, with Cannon and Councilman Joe Holloway opposed, to approve a bill banning DAF storage with several amendments.

“Where we are right now, I’m not in favor of this bill,” Cannon said. “But I will vote in favor of the amendments because if this bill passes I want it to be the best bill we can possibility get out of here.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.