Forum on poultry and public health scheduled Tuesday

As this week’s public forum on poultry houses nears, Wicomico County Council members have been visiting local farms to familiarize themselves with operations.

A couple weeks ago, at the suggestion of Councilman Joe Holloway, the Council planned a field trip to farms, but it was canceled due to conflicting schedules, so they are visiting independently, according to County Executive Bob Culver’s office.

On Tuesday, there will be a public forum on chicken houses with experts from state and county departments, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

In the original news release announcing the meeting, sent  from Culver’s office, experts were listed as Hilary Miller, acting director of land management administration and Gary Kelman, chief animal feeding operation  program manager, both representing the department of the environment; and Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of environmental health bureau in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

On Tuesday this week, Culver’s office issued a news release announcing they would be joined by Lori Brewster, Wicomico County health officer; Dennis DiCintio, Wicomico County director of Environmental Health; Dave Mister, MDA Eastern  Shore regional coordinator; John Grace, MDE’s chief of the Source Protection and Appropriations Division; Hussain Alhija, MDE’s program manager for the Resource Management Program; Harry Hunsicker, MDE’s program director of the Compliance Program; Otto Schlicht, district manager of MDE’s Eastern Shore Regional District; and Steve Dawson, Eastern Shore Region chief of the Non-Tidal Wetland Division.

Culver said the public meeting was scheduled because, although the poultry industry has been a viable part of the county’s economy for decades, many residents have expressed concern about larger poultry houses. Those concerns will be addressed at the meeting.

Culver said concerns include proximity to residences and environmental impact.

Meantime, the county’s planning and permitting office has received more requests.

A five-house farm was requested by owner Dan Parsons and the permit was approved, said Jack Lenox, director of the county’s planning department. It’s located off Snow Hill Road near Airport Road.

A farm owned by Choudhry Asif, in the area of Old Fruitland Road, has four houses in operation and a permit was  granted to build four more, Lenox said.

A request was submitted for a new, four-house farm with manure shed on Waller Road. The application was received the week of March 7, but the permit hasn’t been issued yet, so Lenox said the name couldn’t be released.

The eight-house farm on North West Road, the current target of outspoken opponents who have objected at recent County Council meetings, is in the redesign phase. Originally, the owner applied for 10 houses, but reduced it to eight. No new permit applications have been received, Lenox said.

Opponents say they are worried about the farm causing increased traffic and bad odors and being a threat to 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

“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,” one man said.

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

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