Wicomico County Council to hold public hearing on construction of DAF storage facilities
SALISBURY, Md. — The Wicomico County Council will hold a public hearing and potentially vote this week on a bill that would restrict the construction of storage facilities for poultry biosolids known as DAF tanks.
The Oct. 4 hearing will be held for an amendment to county zoning law that would prohibit additional tank construction unless a farmer or farming business builds it in the county’s agricultural district on land the farmer owns or leases. It could only be used by the farmer or farming business.
If approved, the bill would settle a years-long debate on the council over the construction of such facilities used to store sludge from processors — poultry solids skimmed from plant wastewater through a process known as dissolved air flotation. The sludge can then be used as a soil amendment on farms across the region.
Debate over the bill has also split the agricultural community. The county’s Farm Bureau doesn’t support further construction of DAF tanks whereas the Delmarva Chicken Association has urged the county not to place additional restrictions on farm activity.
The fetid tanks would alienate residents from the farming community, county Farm Bureau President Geno Lowe said. The bureau has no problem with farmers spreading DAF on county cropland but draws the line at storing it in mass quantities, he said.
“It is foul stuff,” he said. “I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever smelled.”
But any restrictions the council passes are a slippery slope that could lead to the further erosion of agricultural rights in the county, said Holly Porter, executive director of the Delmarva Chicken Association. The state recognizes the material as a legal soil amendment used by regional farmers, she said.
“This is an ag product that is being stored in an ag structure,” she said.
There are no current proposals for additional storage tanks in the county, but the debate over their use began in 2019 when the county allowed the construction of a multi-million-gallon tank on Porter Mill Road that sparked protest from some residents as well as a lawsuit. The tank receives sludge from facilities in several states.
Storage facilities are essential on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, however, because the state restricts the spreading of nutrients on cropland from Dec. 16 to Feb. 28, Porter said. Poultry integrators continue to process poultry during that period, requiring storage tanks large enough to accommodate the resultant sludge. Storage closer to farms is ideal, she said.
“There were many people in the community who were complaining about the (field) application,” she said. “Well, the faster we can get it into the ground, the shorter the time for those smells as well.”
The council has also considered bills that would ban DAF tanks entirely or restrict them to industrial-zoned land. Only the bill restricting their construction to agricultural-zoned land was on the agenda for the council’s meeting this week. Any existing facilities would be grandfathered into the legislation.
Previous debates about tank restrictions suggest they’re supported by the council’s majority. It’s been debated since Republican Nicole Acle won the District 2 seat in 2019.
“It’s been a very long time, and I feel like we’ve explored every option,” she said.
The council will meet in Room 301 in the Government Office building at 6 p.m.