Wicomico Council hears from poultry mega-farm opponents

Residents who live just north of the Naylor Mill area turned out Tuesday night to voice opposition to a poultry mega-farm proposed on 63 acres there off North and West roads.

Several people beseeched the Wicomico County Council to help block the farm’s approval and let them continue enjoying life as they know it.

Also at the council meeting, a petition bearing more than 60 signatures was handed in.

After listening to comments from about a dozen people, Council President John Cannon thanked and assured them he and his colleagues would carefully weigh their words.

“It’s still in a very preliminary stage,” Cannon said. “It does make a difference to hear from all of you individually.”

Planned is a farm with 13 chicken houses – the largest in the county if OK’d — north of Naylor Mill Road. The applicants are a family from Ashburn, Va.

Zulfiqar Ahmed filed building permit and storm water applications with the county; the documents will be reviewed by the Public Works Department, said Jack Lennox, director of the county’s Planning and Zoning Department.

Ahmed did not return calls seeking comment.

Lennox said both the county and state would have to grant various approvals before poultry structures could be built, but he wouldn’t estimate a timeline.

State officials heard about the chicken farm before county leaders, Lennox said, when Ahmed applied for a soil erosion permit. Mostly, the state reviews requests for erosion sediment control, Lennox said.

There are also Confined Animal and Feeding Operations, or CAFO, regulations, Lennox said.

According to public records, Ahmed and his family bought the land in the spring, paying $377,000. They plan to reside on the tract.

At Tuesday night’s County Council meeting, a woman whose husband works in the chicken industry said she realizes how important the business is for the economy, but said 2.7 million chickens would be grown there every year, leaving tons of excrement.

“Where do you think that is going to go? Are they going to truck it out of the county? It will affect all of Salisbury city … we plead with you, please reconsider what has been done. I understand. I am from a farming area. I know how important farming is. I know how important chickens are … but at what cost?” she said.

“By giving over to big business who doesn’t care what is there, they will use it until it is wasted, then they will move on, just as they are trying to do right now,” she said to hearty applause.

Monica Brooks of Fox Meadow, off Naylor Mill Road, said the farm would be a few feet from her home and is most unwelcome.

“One of my joys about being in a more rural community is enjoying the environment … I love the fresh air.  I love that I have well water. I love that there are few contaminants. … there are so many things I love in this area. I love my property values and I do not want these chicken farms,” she said.

She called a chicken farm in a neighbor “absurd.”

Roy Lewis, who has lived on the Shore for more than 30 years, said the neighborhood is so attractive that his daughter and in-laws live near him. “We have chicken houses in the area now and we can smell them in the summer, but you learn to live with that,” he said, asking the Council not to approve another, especially not a sizable one.

Phillip Ross of Cook Drive, who moved to the area from New York City, stressed the importance of protecting the water table.

“That would affect my water supply, my well. That’s why they don’t need to be here. If they want it, keep it in Virginia. This is our property, our property. We don’t need anybody coming in and exploiting us,” he said as the audience applauded.

One man characterized the mature forest there as “irreplaceable” and called for no interference.

A neighbor and friend of Council Councilman Ernie Davis said he can’t imagine the truck traffic the farm would bring and worried about local run-off into local waterways and the PaleoChannel.

He said he and his 15-year-old son are outdoorsmen and regularly notice the abundant wildlife.

“If this project is allowed to materialize, that’s gone forever,” he said.

Barry Johansson, director of the Wicomico County Environmental Trust, told the council that the farm would be too large and asked for a delay until further study about ways to protect the water supply.

Kathy Phillips of Assateague Coastal Trust said that since officials at the Delmarva Poultry Industry had an opportunity to consult with the council, community members should have the same right.

“I hope you’ll respond to your citizens and give them an opportunity to meet with you,” she said.

“I agree with everything they said, plus it would ruin the view of the sunset out of my window,” area resident Brent Cole said after the meeting.

“I can’t imagine why anybody would want to put a mess like that out there especially when that area is naturally going to grow. Wouldn’t it be nice to remember Salisbury as the place that smells, right before you get to Ocean City? There are just a million reasons not to put that there,” Cole said, adding restaurants in the area will surely object.

“I think I looked out this window of mine a dozen times and imagined what it would be like. I know in summertime the smell from those places isn’t too good,” he said.

“Now, I look out my window and it’s all natural. I watch the sunset. I am signing the petition against it. I’d rather see something else rather than a chicken house. There are plenty of places if you want to build chicken houses,” he said.

Also opposed was Steve Shores, who circulated 200 flyers asking neighbors to sign the petition if they, too, were worried about effects on the PaleoChannel, his main concern.

“It would be right on our road, so we’re talking smell, truck traffic, what is airborne when they blow out the chicken houses, not to mention the eyesore,” Shores said.

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