MDE hosts hearing on poultry farm in Cecil Co.
ELKTON, Md. (Sept. 12, 2017) — Local residents and farmers argued last week over a proposed Cecil County organic poultry operation.
Residents filled a public hearing room Sept. 6 in the county government’s headquarters and said that a 151,000-bird farm in North East could harm nearby water and air quality.
The Maryland Department of the Environment held the hearing after giving the project preliminary approval for two discharge permits.
Galen Horst of Zion Acres Poultry LLC has applied to build four houses on 144,000 square feet on England Creamery Road.
Poultry operations are increasingly necessary to sustain agriculture in rural Cecil County as other farm sectors become less profitable, said Jonathan Quinn president of the county Farm Bureau.
“The dairy industry seems to be fading,” he said. “The chicken industry seems to be filling that void.”
But residents said they felt the large operation was too close to nearby homes and other buildings such as schools and a nursing home.
They said they feared ammonia from the houses would harm nearby air quality, and poultry litter would leach into residents’ groundwater and nearby streams.
They also said they were concerned the poultry houses could negatively impact surrounding property values.
“When a farm becomes a CAFO, it becomes a factory instead of a farm,” said Lynn Orndorf, using the acronym for concentrated animal feeding operation. “I like your place as a farm. I don’t like it as a CAFO.”
Some farmers and agricultural advocates responded that poultry house technology has improved to such a degree that water and air quality issues are less likely.
“These new houses, you don’t even know birds are in these houses,” Quinn said.
The permit is a “zero-discharge” permit, he said, so water quality shouldn’t be an issue.
But some residents questioned the local and state government’s ability to enforce such standards.
“The county doesn’t have the resources or the knowledge base to regulate the impacts to human health,” and the state government is unlikely to fill in the gap, said Cindy Smith of North East.
David Beste, an attorney for a local neighborhood alliance, said he didn’t understand how a poultry house with space for chickens to walk around outside could be considered “zero-discharge.”
Manure will inevitably end up in the ground, he said. Those questions aren’t addressed in the application.
“As thick as this (application) is, I shouldn’t have questions,” he said.
The county, however, supports the proposed operation, said Dan Schneckenburger, vice president of the county council.
To oppose the poultry operation is to jeopardize the county’s rural culture, Quinn said.
“If you want to see open farmland, this is part of it,” he said. “It’s either this or houses.”
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