Large poultry farm verdict likely months away


The lengthy permitting process for a proposed mega-chicken farm on 63 acres near the intersection of Naylor Mill and North West roads could continue for months, due to requirements from both the county and state.

Permits are required from the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, as well as from the Maryland Department of the Environment and involve several areas, including storm water management, care and feeding of animals and construction.

Zulfiqar Ahmed of Virginia wants to erect 13 chicken houses, creating the largest poultry farm in the county. He and his family bought the land in the spring, paying $377,000, according to public records. They plan to reside on the premises.

David Mister, regional coordinator for operations for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the permitting process won’t be quick, due to a lengthy system of checks and balances.

“Some plans are not feasible. There are a lot of variables. This is not the traditional poultry farm that we have become accustomed to on the Easter Shore, but these farms are larger how and we’re just evolving to that,” he said.

Two weeks ago, residents of the Naylor Mill area attended a Wicomico County Council meeting, opposed the farm, handed in a petition and beseeched the Wicomico County Council to deny approval and let them continue enjoying life as they know it.

This week, County Councilman Marc Kilmer told the Salisbury Independent it’s “not the American way to have leaders sit and approve some things and not others.”

“The county has certain laws, certain zoning and laws. Anybody who complies with those gets it. We (County Council) don’t have any say over that. What we do have is authority to change those laws. I really don’t think we have any power to stop the eight or 13 chicken houses. We don’t have that power,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be right to step in, after somebody has gone through  the process, to step in and say we are going to change the rules. The County Council could change the laws, if inclined — and there is no indication the county would interfere in regulatory process,” he said.

While residents certainly have the right to object to what they perceive as lax county laws, he said, “I don’t think we have the right to stop this one.”

Jack Lenox, Planning & Zoning director, said plans are under review by his department, which is responsible for approving storm water and building permits.

The state also has storm water requirements. Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, is licensed by a federal requirement that the state implements, Lenox explains.

Integrators – or the company that will buy the chickens for processing – also play a role, he said, naming the five in operation locally — Perdue, Tyson, Mount Aire, Allen and Amick.  His understanding is that Tyson would be the integrator for the proposed chicken farm.

Construction in Maryland could fall under the state’s sediment and erosion control plan. Storm water management must be addressed, Mister said.

“If they disturb more than a certain amount of area they have to file a notice of intent to apply for a storm water permit for construction. Storm water has to do with the impervious surface created. Those things combined require a construction permit for storm water,” he said.

Wetlands have to be considered, if they exist on the site.

The applicant could be required to apply for CAFO, as Lenox mentioned, of MAFO, the acronym for Maryland Animal Feed Operation, Mister said. “It would be either one or the other, or neither required,” he said.

Often the applicant will hire a consultant to complete some of the work, then the applicant is responsible for another part of it, he said.

When a person applies, there are two notices of intent, for storm water, and to comply with the discharge permit for animal feeding operations The applicant must get a permit that includes an operation plan.

There will  be a period for public comments, and the MDE is required to hear them, Mister said.

As the complicated process continues, neighbors in the path of the chicken farm remain opposed.

One woman told the County Council she understands the importance of chicken farming to the local economy and that, in fact, her husband works in the chicken industry. But, she said, the huge farm would produce 2.7 million chickens every year, leaving pounds 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, as the audience applauded.

Kilmer said this is an opportunity for the council to “look at and see if things need to be updated.”

“We are an agricultural county. This is an agricultural district. Agriculture gets to exist out there … but that doesn’t mean there doesn’t have to be tightening up of laws. It’s something we have to look at,” he said.





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