Wicomico County council votes to restrict biosolid tanks
SALISBURY, Md. — The Wicomico County Council voted last week to restrict the construction of storage facilities for poultry biosolids known as DAF tanks.
After a public hearing, the council voted 5-2 on Oct. 4 to approve changes to county zoning law that would prohibit additional tank construction though it permits a farmer or farming business in the county’s agricultural district to temporarily store sludge on land the farmer owns or leases.
It could only be used by the farmer or farming business on the same land, and storage would be limited to a closed, mobile container for no more than 45 days.
The vote concludes a years-long council debate over the construction of such facilities used primarily 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 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. Holly Porter, executive director of the association, urged the council to continue permitting large DAF tanks, with smaller restrictions. The state recognizes the material as a legal soil amendment used by regional farmers, she said.
“We cannot stress enough the concern of what this might mean for the future when the county council questions other parts of agriculture that are no longer in the interests of the county, or to protect the citizens from the perceived adverse effects like manure storage structures or chicken houses,” Porter said. “There is a better way for this council to support all citizens of this county, including those in agriculture.”
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.
Michelle Protani-Chesnik, a county poultry farmer, said she was “dismayed and ashamed of this council.” She said the bill was inspired by the existing tank — one “bad actor” — but would affect the entire agricultural community.
“You look around this county, you see Perdue Stadium. You see the Perdue business school. You see Guerrieri Hall,” she said. “You see the things that these companies have done and these growers and crop farmers and grain farmers to make this a viable, successful county. And what you’re doing tonight is just tearing it apart.”
But the county Farm Bureau has said the tanks alienate residents from the farming community. The bureau has no problem with farmers spreading DAF on county cropland but draws the line at storing it in mass quantities, county Farm Bureau President Geno Lowe said.
At least two farmers spoke in favor of the bill, saying DAF tanks are simply too noxious for the county. Some farmers in the county have also been spreading DAF for years without any need for large-scale storage.
The council had also considered bills that would ban DAF tanks entirely or restrict them to industrial-zoned land. Existing facilities are grandfathered into the legislation.