Wicomico seeks new direction on poultry houses


As controversy surrounding chicken mega farms continues, County Council members are committed to passing legislation that will both allow poultry growing while answering neighbors’ concerns.

Next week, the County Council will meet with officials from Somerset and Accomack counties. “We asked them to attend, to talk to us and give us an idea of what’s best for us,” County Council President John Cannon said.

Opponents of the mega farm proposed for North West Road – many who want a moratorium on the farms until possible health threats can be studied – have asked to get on a Council work session agenda. Cannon said that request is under consideration.

Those who object to the huge operations worry about everything from the smell to decreased property values to run-off contaminating the underground water supply. They say it’s only fair to allow them on a work session agenda, to speak to Council members, since the Council has already met with Bill Satterfield, director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry.

But Cannon said Satterfield represents an industry and can help Council members understand details and possible impacts. Residents are always allowed to speak during the Public Comments portion of any meeting, he said.

Because a major concern is impact on the PaleoChannel underground water source, Cannon said he was pleased to learn County Executive Bob Culver asked an hydrologist to study the matter.

“When we’re talking about the PaleoChannel and health issues we should depend on the experts, like those at the Department of the Environment. In regard to the PaleoChannel, I hope the process is in place, guaranteeing assurances we need that it is protected,” Cannon said.

Councilman Marc Kilmer this week said it’s important to “figure out the best thing to do for people who live near these poultry farms, as well as for the farmers.”

“Personally, I don’t support banning CAFOs. I don’t support a moratorium. There may be a way to put more sensible zoning rules in place that take into account the bigger chicken houses that exist and that are going to be built here,” he said.

Neither does he want Wicomico to copy Accomack County’s zoning laws.

Council members received input about buffers and setbacks at a recent meeting with the Wicomico Farm Bureau and he is inclined to “support something along the lines of these recommendations,” he said.

“I would like new zoning rules to apply only in areas of the county that, when we enact a state-mandated tier map, would be areas where future development would take place, generally close to the city of Salisbury. It doesn’t make sense to have the same zoning rules on ag land that is surrounded by fields and forests as on ag land that may be next to a housing development.

County Council members don’t yet have a preliminary legislative to regulate mega farms, but started reviewing what the legal department gave them “as an idea of what zoning rules could look like based on what  Accomack has done, based on what the farm bureau has done,” Kilmer said.

“There is no rush to enact these rules; we have to take our time and get them right. And whatever we do, we have to ensure that farming — including chicken farming — remains a thriving industry in our county,” Kilmer said.

“My mind is not closed on this issue, but from what I can tell so far I am not concerned the farms will jeopardize our health because of state regulations,” he said.

“We’re all learning what the processes are. We’re all trying to work together on this and find ways to address legislative concerns and make sure agriculture is not negatively impacted. There is an increase in the desire for chicken for worldwide consumption. I do support farming and our economy. To say it’s not beneficial is absurd,” he said.

Agreeing, Cannon said he believes, “we can find a suitable compromise.”

Another concern among opponents is what will become of tons of chicken manure produced on large farms.

Kilmer said it will either be trucked off site, spread and tilled under the ground or stored. Retention ponds are not cesspools or manure pits, as some fear. They are storm water ponds, regulated by state law, he said.

“Under Wicomico law, if a neighbor thinks something is a nuisance there is a county board that can judicate the issue. That’s been around since the ’90s. These chicken farms will be under tight scrutiny. If there are violations, no doubt the state will be called very quickly,” he said.

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