Chicken fight

Neigh­bors ex­press con­cerns over pro­posed chicken farm

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— More than 100 peo­ple gath­ered at the Amer­i­can Le­gion on East Main Street on Mon­day night to voice their con­cerns about the pend­ing con­struc­tion of four large chicken houses on Ebenezer Church Road.

RIS­ING SUN

The con­struc­tion project would see four large broiler house built on the 209-acre, agri­cul­tural-zoned site, which is owned by Galen and Crys­tal Horst, who are trans­form­ing their for­mer cat­tle farm into an or­ganic broiler op­er­a­tion on be­half of Per­due Farms. But many peo­ple who came out on Mon­day night were up­set that they’d re­ceived very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about a project tak­ing place so close to their prop­er­ties.

Along with lower prop­erty val­ues, the crowd wor­ried about health and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, and wa­ter sup­ply if the project gets ap­proved.

Julie DeYoung, spokes­woman for Per­due, said on Tues­day that the Horsts will build and main­tain the houses and hire staff to care for the chick­ens. Per­due will pro­vide the chick­ens, or­ganic feed, ve­teri­nary ser­vices and man­age­ment ad­vice, she added.

A sim­i­lar op­er­a­tion on Au­gus­tine Her­man High­way in Ear­leville is near­ing com­ple­tion, but the Meck Farm will only have two of these 63-by-600-foot houses, while four houses are planned for the Horst farm.

Brian Frymi­are or­ga­nized the meet­ing to in­form his neigh­bors and strate­gize their plan of ac­tion to fight the project. He urged them to “keep it le­gal and take the high road first.”

“Go knock on the Horsts’ door. Be po­lite, be gen­tle. Tell them what you think,” Frymi­are said. “Go to the county and talk to them. Go to whomever you can talk to. I called the gov­er­nor.”

Frymi­are said the risks are too high.

“Lit­tle North­east Creek is right there,” he said, quot­ing the statistic that 52 per­cent of the con­tam­i­nants go­ing into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay are from chicken farms. “We’re also wor­ried about its prox­im­ity to Calvert Manor Health Care, Ris­ing Sun High School and Calvert Ele­men­tary School. (The nurs­ing home has) peo­ple with com­pro­mised re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tems and you’re go­ing to put it 1.5 miles from there.”

But DeYoung said on Tues­day that there are mis­con­cep­tions about these types of op­er­a­tions. She ac­knowl­edged there was a gap in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, but adds she is work­ing now to meet with these prop­erty own­ers, hear their con­cerns and ex­plain how these new projects would op­er­ate.

Sev­eral in the room re­called the last chicken house in the area, which can still be seen along Ja­cob Tome High­way near the traf­fic cir­cle. Re­ferred to de­ri­sively as “Flyville,” the op­er­a­tion was shut down in the 1980s. Al­though now va­cant, when it was in op­er­a­tion the chicken house forced neigh­bors to keep win­dows closed be­cause of the high in­sect pop­u­la­tion and odors while the dense fly dan­der dam­aged sid­ing on houses.

But DeYoung said neigh­bors won’t have the same ex­pe­ri­ence thanks to mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

“Today’s poul­try houses are bet- ter de­signed to pro­vide not only a good grow­ing en­vi­ron­ment for the chick­ens, but also di­min­ishes the odors,” DeYoung said.

Com­put­er­ized con­trols keep the houses at the cor­rect tem­per­a­ture through­out the life cy­cle and it also keeps am­mo­nia lev­els down.

Chicks will ar­rive at the houses a day after hatch­ing. DeYoung said the chicks will spend seven weeks at the free-range or­ganic fa­cil­ity where they will be fed and wa­tered. Once reach­ing seven weeks old, the birds would be shipped to Milford, Del., for pro­cess­ing. At that time, the houses would be cleaned and pre­pared for the next new ar­rivals.

“There are no an­tibi­otics ex­cept to treat a sick flock,” DeYoung said. “The birds will have outdoor ac­cess. We pro­vide food and wa­ter out­doors and pro­vide shaded ar­eas to en­cour­age the birds to go out­side.”

She said both male and fe­male birds are raised in a hu­mane fash­ion, adding no beaks are trimmed.

“The houses are de­signed to pro­vide a good en­vi­ron­ment and good ven­ti­la­tion,” she said.

Per­due ac­quired Cole­man Or­ganic in 2011, DeYoung said, not­ing the com­pany aims to be pre­dom­i­nantly or­ganic.

“We are ac­tively seek­ing ad­di­tional grow­ers for our or­ganic prod­uct,” she said. “Per­due con­tin­ues to raise chick­ens in coun­ties sur­round­ing our har­vest fa­cil­i­ties in Mary­land. We are seek­ing new houses in those ar­eas as well as in Ce­cil County, to re­place poul­try houses that have been ‘re­tired.’”

De­spite this, neigh­bors were still wor­ried that their wells would be­come con­tam­i­nated and that the wa­ter lev­els would be de­pleted by the com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion.

Frymi­are men­tioned that the es­ti­mated 201,000 chick­ens each drink­ing a gal­lon of wa­ter per day would have an ef­fect on the wells at homes sur­round­ing the farm.

Phillip Fowler, mean­while, wor­ried about the amount of ma­nure each flock would cre­ate.

“Chicken ma­nure is hot. It’s full of ni­tro­gen,” Fowler said. “It’s go­ing to eat that ground up.”

Frymi­are added that in three years the ground where the ma­nure would be ap­plied will be­come sat­u­rated, and “that’s when the prob­lem be­gins,” he said.

But Andy Wood­ell fig­ures he won’t have to wait that long.

“I’m right next door and down wind of it,” he said. “I’m ba­si­cally at ground zero.”

DeYoung, the Per­due spokes­woman, said the ma­nure, which Per­due con­sid­ers the prop­erty of the Horsts, would be stored on site in a cov­ered fa­cil­ity un­til ap­plied us­ing reg­u­lated man­age­ment prac­tices.

“The lit­ter does not have a high nu­tri­ent con­tent,” she said. “It’s also low in ni­tro­gen.”

Dry lit­ter also has al­most no odor, she added.

DeYoung said this or­ganic, freerange fa­cil­ity would have a bed­ding ma­te­rial on the floor which would be mixed in with the chicken ma­nure. (Chick­ens do not uri­nate.)

A re­port from the Ce­cil County Health Depart­ment shows that the build­ings would be set on the 209acre prop­erty in such a way that they would be more than 600 feet from any neigh­bor­ing prop­erty line.

Us­ing guid­ance from the Wi­comico County Health Depart­ment, where the Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment has per­mit­ted more than 100 poul­try “An­i­mal Feed­ing Op­er­a­tions” or AFOs, the ef­fects on the air out­side the chicken houses are un­clear, but that health depart­ment “could find no cor­re­la­tion be­tween the lo­ca­tions of AFOs and wells with high ni­trates.”

The re­port also states that Ce­cil Soil Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict rep­re­sen­ta­tives have been work­ing with the Horsts on the nu­tri­ent man­age­ment and best man­age­ment prac­tices.

“In sum­mary, the Horst chicken house pro­posal ex­ceeds reg­u­la­tory and rec­om­mended stan­dards for place­ment of the chicken houses and will have a com­pre­hen­sive re­view of its han­dling of ma­nure and live­stock be­fore place­ment of birds can oc­cur,” the re­port reads. “It has been de­signed to min­i­mize health and aes­thetic im­pacts on neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties.”

How­ever, in a let­ter sent to the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture about the Horst Farm, the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for a Liv­able Fu­ture main­tains there are in­her­ent risks as­so­ci­ated with liv­ing in the vicin­ity of such an op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing air­borne pathogens. Work­ers in such fa­cil­i­ties on the Del­marva Penin­sula have higher risk of car­ry­ing gen­tam­icin-re­sis­tant E.coli and me­thi­cillin-re­sis­tant Staphy­lo­coc­cus au­reus, or MRSA. Neigh­bors could also be ex­posed to that and more through el­e­vated fly pres­ence.

Par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the air, and leach­ing into the soil of con­tam­i­nants such as am­mo­nia, methanol, ethanol and other volatile or­ganic com­pounds have also been blamed on these fa­cil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Hop­kins let­ter.

“A grow­ing body of ev­i­dence sug­gests that in­dus­trial broiler pro­duc­tion con­trib­utes to the spread of in­fec­tious dis­eases, the gen­er­a­tion and re­lease of air pol­lu­tion, and con­tam­i­na­tion of ground and sur­face wa­ters,” the let­ter con­cludes.

On Mon­day night, vol­un­teers in the crowd took on sev­eral jobs ahead of the next meet­ing, in­clud­ing ob­tain­ing yard signs, find­ing a larger meet­ing venue and con­nect­ing with leg­is­la­tors and or­ga­ni­za­tions that could aid their cause.

The Horsts are seek­ing USDA fund­ing for the project.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

The chicken op­er­a­tion pro­posed for Ebenezer Church Road in Zion is ex­pected to be sim­i­lar to this op­er­a­tion un­der con­struc­tion in Ear­leville. This two-house project is owned by Cole­man Or­ganic out of North Carolina and will pro­duce broil­ers for Per­due.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

The chicken op­er­a­tion pro­posed for Ebenezer Church Road in Zion is ex­pected to be sim­i­lar to this op­er­a­tion un­der con­struc­tion in Ear­leville. This two-house project is owned by Cole­man Or­ganic out of North Carolina and will pro­duce broil­ers for Per­due.

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