Monday, June 15, 2015

"Sometimes You've Got To Make A Little Bit of Good Trouble"

Last week I attended my 9thWaterkeeper Alliance Annual Conference.   As I type that first sentence I thought I had counted incorrectly so I defaulted to the reliable finger count.   And darn, there it was – this is my 9th year as a Waterkeeper!  

My first Waterkeeper conference was in New Orleans, LA a mere two years after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the 9th Ward and downtown NOLA.  It was an experience I won’t ever forget, for not only was I tossed into the brilliant chaos of keynote speakers, workshops, networking, happy hours and late night camaraderie that is the annual Waterkeeper Alliance conference, but I was also tossed head on, face to face, with the total devastation that was Katrina, and what happens when irresponsible development, and human intervention of natural water systems, disrupts natural safety nets.  Water diversion canals combined with the loss of important cypress forests and wetlands was a recipe for disaster.  Our conference that year was a great opportunity for reflection, education, and a call to action to save the ecosystems of the Gulf Coast.  Ironic that 3 years later our Gulf Coast Waterkeepers were dealing with the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as the world’s thirst for fossil fuel energy sources exacerbates climate change and the possibility of storms worse than Katrina. 

This year, our annual Conference was held in Boulder, CO and the Colorado River was the focus for a week of workshops, panels and guest speakers centered on Energy, Climate Change, Industrial Agriculture, and diversifying our movement. A stellar line up of panel discussions and workshops laid the foundation for an inspiring week of networking and sharing stories with Waterkeepers from 29 countries and 257 programs around the world.

I was a panelist for the workshop exploring National and International Industrial Agriculture pollution impacts to local waterways, and joined Waterkeepers from North Carolina, Idaho, Maryland, Guatemala, and China on this international panel.

My presentation was about the work Assateague Coastal Trust has been doing with residents of local communities in Somerset County who asked our help approaching their county Planning Department to ask for stronger zoning codes that would protect rural residential neighborhoods from industrial scale poultry house developments.

Somerset County has a combined residential/agriculture zoning district, so in many places throughout the county subdivisions have been built next to corn and soybean fields.  Families moving into this rural ag/residential area knew they were moving into an agricultural community and indeed most didn't mind living next to a farm, even a poultry farm.  Unfortunately, some people on Palmetto Church Road in Princess Anne, MD built their homes next to a traditional small family farm only to find a few years later it was sold and the red barn, white farm house and little chicken coop was replaced with twenty six industrial scale poultry houses surrounding their homes.

Today there is a new model of poultry production on the Eastern Shore, and it is a far cry from the small family farmer trying to earn extra income by setting up three or four poultry houses on their family farm.
Today we have international corporations using local developers who are purchasing prime agricultural parcels at top dollar and building six to twelve, or in one instance twenty-six,  60' x 600' industrial scale poultry houses on these parcels.
Think Walmart Supercenter and its parking lots.  That's the density of poultry house construction taking place throughout our rural lower Eastern Shore.   These developers contract with Perdue, Tyson or Mountaire,  set up the operation, put a manager on site in a trailer, and then move down the road to purchase another parcel and build another industrial scale poultry development.

Each of these houses holds up to 30,000 birds at a time and usually rotate 5-6 flocks a year.  That's a lot of chicken, a lot of manure (with nowhere to go because these CAFO developers don't farm the land,) and a lot of ammonia, feathers, dust and other particulates being blown out of industrial fans into the air of neighboring communities.

This poses a direct health impact to anyone living near these facilities. Assateague Coastal Trust, with assistance from the Johns Hopkins Center For A Livable Future and the University of Maryland School of Public Health,  compiled a package of health studies, research, and other information to submit to the Somerset County Planning Commission for review. 

Unfortunately the County Health Department Director dismissed the entire packet as not relevant because it was not research from a Somerset County source.  Well, I guess they're right on that point, despite one of the peer reviewed papers having been written by a Nobel Laureate.  Mr. Bill Satterfield, of Delmarva Poultry Industry, publicly dismissed the body of research as 'bunk.'

A recent video interview with Somerset County resident Tom Kerchner, on The Daily Times website, captured the feeling of these residents when Tom explained his decision to sell his little house in the woods and move away from the Eastern Shore.  Watch the video here. (My apologies, makes you watch a 15 second commercial first.)

Somerset County has the highest density of poultry houses on the lower Shore, and it is also the poorest county in the State of Maryland.  These poultry 'jobs' are not helping Somerset County climb out of its economic slump. 
Indeed, as a once thriving waterman's industry fades into history and the tourism dollars that industry brought to the county dry up, County officials seem to be inviting anything that has to do with poultry into their county:  70 new poultry house projects are in the pipeline; there is a proposed chicken manure-to-energy power plant trying to find a parcel of land to call home; a chemical plant will process hatchery waste (bedding litter, dead hens/chicks, infertile eggs, etc.) into products used for make-up, fragrances, and 'natural flavorings'……yum!

On behalf of Assateague Coastal Trust, it has been my privilege to help facilitate a dialog between residents, county officials and yes, even the poultry industry, in an effort to find a pro-active solution for a growing problem on Delmarva - too little space and too many chickens.

As Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley said, during the closing ceremony of the 2015 Waterkeeper Annual Conference, when he praised Waterkeepers everywhere for their passion and their work to protect their local communities and waterways from pollution, "Sometimes you've got to make a little bit of good trouble."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Community Health Debate in Somerset County


MAY 5, 2015


Residents fear May 7 Planning Commission meeting will ignore their demand County protect the public health from industrial scale poultry factories.

Princess Anne, MD, May 5, 2015– On Thursday May 7th at 7 pm, the Somerset County Planning Commission will be addressing the extremely contentious discussion about the expansion of poultry CAFO complexes and public health concerns, as they decide if the county should adopt a Public Health Ordinance.  The meeting will be held at 11916 Somerset Ave. in Princess Anne, MD. 

Residents of Somerset County had met with their PlanningCommission members in November 2014 about their concerns related to the expansion of new industrial scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) complexes in their rural communities, and are now concerned that their request for a stakeholder workgroup to discuss the human health impacts from large scale animal operations close to residential neighborhoods has been ignored.  

They are concerned the Planning Commission has by-passed their request to let residents, county health department, county staff, and agriculture representatives work together to make recommendations to county planning staff for changes to county zoning codes related to public health and CAFO developments.

Lisa Inzerillo, a resident of Backbone Road near Princess Anne, expressed her concern,  “We asked specifically for residents and the county health department to be part of a stakeholder group that would make recommendations to the County Commissioners.  As a fourth generation farm owner, I have serious concerns about the Delmarva Poultry Industry’s credentials when dealing with public health.”
On November 6, 2014, a panel of speakers, including representatives from Johns Hopkins Center For a Livable Future and the Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health, spoke to the Planning Commission about county residents’ concerns related to the health impacts from large scale animal feeding operations and about the how the Somerset County family farmer is being replaced by “CAFO Developers” who are often outside investors with seemingly no attachment to the land.  Panelists and citizens raised concerns about the cumulative impacts of air emissions, disease transmission, water quality impacts and withdraws, the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and family safety because of increased tractor-trailer traffic on narrow back roads in their communities.

Tom Kerchner, a former resident of Wicomico County who moved to Somerset County for its rural landscape but is now selling his Princess Anne home asked: “What about our seat at the table? The residents asked for two things-to be part of the stakeholder process for a public health ordinance that addresses cumulative impacts from these million bird CAFO complexes moving next to residential neighborhoods, and for a moratorium on new CAFO developments until this process was completed. We got neither.” questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming meeting and noting the appointed , not elected, Planning Commission members, some who have a direct interest in the poultry industry, could make a final recommendation to the County Commissioners with no further public comment or discussion allowed at the May 7 meeting.
Maria Payan, Community Organizer for Assateague Coastal Trust stated:  “ When Delmarva Poultry Institute, the biggest trade group for the industry is submitting voluntary “BMP’s For Good Neighbor Relations” as a health recommendation-the problem in Somerset County goes way beyond public health. A serious health concern has been turned over to a special interest group whose function is for promotion of this industry. The residents are insulted by the arrogance and condescending remarks in DPI’s brief proposal to the Planning Commission, such as “Following snow storms, growers should offer to plow out neighbors. “

Somerset residents not only have to worry about increased density of poultry complexes but also about the state-supported plan to site a poultry litter incinerator in the County. Manure incineration would be another black eye for a Somerset community that already suffers from over-industrialization.  Air emissions inventories from the only poultry litter incinerator in the country reveal that these facilities produce as much, or more, toxic emissions than Maryland’s coal plants. Many of the pollutants also have been tied to adverse reproductive, cancer and respiratory outcomes.  Equally disturbing are the environmental justice implications of the incineration siting since Somerset County is the poorest County in the State with one of the highest African-American populations on the Eastern Shore.

Clifton Harcum, a social entrepreneur and community organizer, commented:  “There is not only a public health problem, but there is a democracy problem, and an environmental justice problem. One only needs to look at the demographics of leadership and the decisions they make about where industry is located in the County. It’s very clear. ”

Dr. Kirkland Hall, of Somerset County, is urging residents to come out to the Planning Commission Meeting on Thursday at 7pm and be included in any discussions.

Dr. Hall stated:  “Environmental Justice is an extension of the work I’ve done my whole life as a Community Civil Rights and Human Relations Activist. We are already overburdened with disproportionate pollution. We don’t need to replace our family farms with industrial CAFO developers and we need to stop greenwashing manure incineration. Smokestacks with carcinogenic toxins spewing into our children’s lungs is not a solution.”

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If you live in Somerset County, or have an interest in this issue, you should attend the Somerset County Planning Commission meeting in Princess Anne at 7pm on Thursday, May 7.  Meeting is being held at the County Govt. office building: 11916 Somerset Ave., Princess Anne, MD 21853.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Statement from Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Local Waterkeeper Response to Train Derailment & Toxic Oil Spill on James River

May 1, 2014
Contact: Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director
m. 202-­‐423-­‐0504

Statement from Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Local Waterkeeper Response to Train Derailment & Toxic Oil Spill on James River

Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake issued this statement about the CSX train derailment and crude oil spill and explosion on the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia yesterday:

“Our thoughts are with the residents of Lynchburg and first responders as they deal with this explosion and toxic oil spill. Thankfully no one was injured.

Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert has an office about 150 yards from the crash site. He and Lower James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow responded immediately and are now assisted by staff from Waterkeeper Alliance, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and other local Waterkeepers. They will monitor the impact on the river and assist in the clean up and future mitigation of this toxic oil spill.

This train derailment in downtown Lynchburg is a stark reminder that we need a national discussion about the safety and regulatory oversight of the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas and sensitive environmental areas, especially along rivers that supply drinking water to cities such as Richmond.

We agree with Pat Calvert, Upper James Riverkeeper, who wants to see a larger discussion on what is appropriate for us to be transporting by rail, especially along our rivers. The amount of crude oil being transported by rail has grown exponentially due to the fracking boom. The federal rule making and oversight has not kept up.

In addition to the Lynchburg derailment, yesterday our region experienced a coal train derailment near Bowie, Maryland, and a sink hole that compromised CSX train tracks near Baltimore. These incidents along with the other train explosions involving crude oil in the U.S. and Canada over the past year are more than enough of a wake up call. We need a true assessment of the risks and  costs of our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and real protections for our waterways.”

Read James River Association’s statement here:­‐we-­‐ do/Publications/press-­‐release/TrainDerailmentPressStatement.pdf

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Waterkeepers Chesapeake is a coalition of nineteen independent programs working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. We amplify the voices of each Waterkeeper and mobilize our organizations to fight pollution and champion clean water. The members of Waterkeepers Chesapeake work locally, using grassroots action and advocacy to protect their communities and their waters, as well as regionally to expand each Waterkeeper’s capacity for on the water, citizen-­‐based enforcement of environmental laws in the Chesapeake region.

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