Wicomico schedules mega-forum on mega-farms for March 22 at Civic Center

Whether council members wanted it to be or not, chicken houses were on the Wicomico County Council agenda again Tuesday night, with opponents using a public comment session to strongly object to a proposed mega-farm.

In response, the county’s administrative director announced a public forum would be held on the issue.

That meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 22 in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, County Administrator Wayne Strausburg said. Experts from the state departments of agriculture, health and environment will be there, he said.

During the work session Tuesday, Jack Lenox, director of Planning and Zoning, finally made a long-awaited appearance before the County Council. Lenox had been on the council’s agenda two weeks ago, but was directed by the county executive’s office not to go.

Strausburg has attended instead, telling Council members they needed to speak to experts, not to Lenox.

His absence had prompted Council President John Cannon to accuse Strausburg of obstructionism and to call Lenox’s absence an affront.

This week, at Cannon’s request and after discussion about zoning, maps and set-backs, Lenox agreed to put information into “a tighter legislative bill,” a document that will allow numbers to be changed as needed.

“We have to have some facsimile of what it’s going to look like. I’m not saying we’re adopting a bill. I’m saying we need something to look at,” Cannon said.

Councilman Joe Holloway suggested Council members visit area farms “and see how they operate.”

“Let me see, Joe. Let me see what we can put together. It’s a good idea,” Cannon told him.

Prior to the work session, during the Public Comments portion of the Council meeting, several citizens – as they have repeatedly in recent weeks — objected to the mega-farm proposed for North West Road.

One woman read a powerful statement from Bill Twilley, who was too ill to attend.

He wrote about fresh cantaloupes and other ripe, tasty fruit grown and enjoyed locally. He owns 130 acres near the site of the mega farm, is in failing health and, he wrote, hoping he doesn’t live to see it built.

One woman said County Executive Bob Culver “has the authority to stop this project but has not done so.”

There were worries expressed about how a huge chicken farm would affect the quality of life and possibly contaminate the PaleoChannel underground water supply.

“We cannot take the chance of toxins emptying into this water… we would no longer be able to open a window. We hear about vegetated barriers but I don’t know of any barriers that will stop the smell,” a woman said to applause.

Several speakers called for a moratorium and urged County Council members to stop construction.

A long-time science teacher who lives in Bivalve said was imploring the Council to “stop and wait before you make any decision.”

She called on them to approach the matter as something the community can solve together, and to ask experts to carefully study the environmental impact.

“The time to take action is now … please do the right thing,” resident Margaret Barnes said.

“I don’t think anybody can imagine a disaster until after it happens … it’s going to pollute us all in one way or another and we all know it … I can’t even imagine the nightmare our children are going to have to face because of the decisions we make,” she said.

“You work for all people, not just the poultry industry,” another speaker said.

“I am not prepared to live on Canterbury Drive and see an investment go in a ditch because of someone else’s desires to profit. Therefore, Council, please, consider where the placement of these large, industrial CAFOs go,” one man said.

“Don’t put them within a mile or so of five subdivisions. Let’s be smart. If you will not respect what the people are saying to you, there will be consequences, whether it be in the next election or later. It’s up to you,” he said.

“We are begging you. This can be stopped,” another said.

“I truly do not see how having people come from outside of Maryland … how that’s going to help our economy in any way,” a man said to further applause. The family that wants to develop the mega farm lives in Virginia.

After listening to all comments, Cannon promised to review research many of the speakers gave the Council. He said he hopes the Council can soon give them details about the proposed farm “and where it is in the pipeline.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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