Lack of ethics on Cecil County Council
I predicted the outcome of this CAFO committee before it ever stood up on the social media site. It appears that they are going to use the Delmarva Poultry Industry’s standard, among the lowest of anywhere, including Perdue which surpasses it by 100 feet in setback distances. For Cecil County, our council is planning on adopting a setback of 400 feet from occupied dwellings. Perdue’s setback minimum is 500 feet. There will be no study on health impacts at this time.
The actions of the council seem criminal to me and surely constitute an ethics issue. In a Citizens Corner in June, Council President Joyce Bowlsbey indicated there would be no special committee, “That’s our job,” she said. I was there.
Then shortly after this, in July, the council cancelled the July and August Citizens Corner meetings, and announced the forming of a CAFO committee. The membership was set out in the ad hoc resolution. Then, mysteriously, Council Vice President Dan Schneckenburger invited the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) Executive Director Bill Satterfield to be part of the Cecil County committee. This is especially appalling because last winter when Satterfield’s own subdivision was going to get a four-house CAFO unit, they rallied and bought out the rights to the neighboring farm and put a restriction on it that no CAFOs could be built there. And Satterfield’s house was 3,500 feet away. So here is Satterfield, who could not convince his own neighborhood about how safe CAFOs are, driving 100 miles here to Cecil County to tell us how safe they are. Does that make any sense in anyone’s book?
The ad hoc CAFO meetings were supposed to be run by a facilitator, but by decree the council members were all part of the voting committee by what they called ex-officio, as outlined in the ad hoc committee resolution. “Ex-offico” means they are part of the ad hoc committee by virtue of holding office.
During the second CAFO meeting, while Cindy Smith, an environmental engineer for 35 years, was speaking about the large amounts of ammonia that come out of CAFOs, and how filters can reduce this tremendously, Council President Bowlsbey made a statement that there were chemicals that could be put on the litter inside the houses to reduce the ammonia. She went on to say, “I have a son that works in the ...” At that, Schneckenburger pulled the microphone away from her and abruptly changed the subject.
And so it turns out the Cecil County Council president does have a son who works for USALCO and one of their product lines is a chemical that is put on poultry litter to reduce the amount of volatile ammonia made, decreasing the likelihood of harmful bacteria.
After she made this inadvertent admission, and we published this on the social media site, she came back at the third and final CAFO meeting and indicated that she must have had a “senior moment,” and that council were not voting members of the recommendations. Although that is not what the ad hoc committee resolution says.
At each turn as they get caught in the lies, they tell more. All along for 15 months, the council did not indicate that the council president had family working in the field that could put her in a conflict of interest.
In addition, the lack of due diligence is appalling. Even the mentioning of these chemicals that Bowlsbey’s son’s company produces makes no sense. Why? Because the poultry coming to Cecil is free-range and organic, meaning it goes outside and that these chemicals cannot be used on organic poultry barns, according to USALCO. Fifteen months of study and the council didn’t know this?
The fact that Schneckenburger took the microphone immediately and forcefully changed the subject shows us all he knew the conflict of interest all along.
Council can still do the right thing with getting some science or hiring a study to be done. It’s not a one-size-fitsall. There are highly-effective filters and UV lights that can remove ammonia, and all the other things coming out of these houses, but it just costs a little more money. In some cases maybe a standoff distance is enough, and maybe when you are at 400 feet you need to put filters or lights on. We don’t know, and neither does council. They say there is no science, and yet they won’t hire any science. That is irresponsible. They want to gamble on your children’s health and safety. And by the way, it is true that children consume much more air and oxygen that adults for their size.
The solution? Fund a study. Find out where risk lies and at what distance, and use a combination of filters, distance of houses, density, siting, UV lights, and other mechanisms to grow poultry safely. If we can put a man on the moon 50 years ago, we can probably grow chickens safely with a tiny bit of science and maybe a little money for filters, etc.
This whole CAFO fan is similar to the old smokestacks and how diluting the pollution or blowing it away made bigger problems. A filter to a tunnel vent fan is similar to the scrubbers they put on coal burning plants.
Finally, it’s election season. Not just this one time, but every two years. And this issue isn’t going away until it’s studied the right way. Council should fix this once properly rather have a group of 10 people come together on only three nights after 15 months of kicking the can down the road, and decide what’s best for Cecil County.
This ad hoc committee was heavily weighted from the start and did not have nearly enough time to study this issue. It’s a gimmick to give Schneckenburger and his henchmen a way out by saying the independent committee came up with these idea. It’s gives them the plausible deniability for any legislation. But we all know that council creates the legislation. You own it. We don’t envy you either, but it’s going to be your legacy and we aren’t going to let you get away with blaming the committee.
Schneckenburger does not want to do a study. Why? He says there is no money.
There was no money for he Wicomico study either, and then there study mysteriously appeared and the authors said they did it “on their own time.” Does the Wicomico County Health Department charge a different state of Maryland than does our Cecil County Health Department? Why on God’s green earth is the council so afraid of doing a health impact assessment?
I think we all know the answer and I hope you vote in the June primaries.