Environmentalists, farmers seek limit on chicken houses Two-year moratorium suggested to task force

October 16, 1997|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A coalition of environmental groups and farmers called yesterday for a two-year moratorium on construction of commercial chicken houses, saying the ban would allow better conditions for researching the outbreak of the toxic microorganism Pfiesteria piscicida.

That suggestion and several others went to the governor's Pfiesteria task force, which is considering possible options for dealing with the microbe.

Pfiesteria has been blamed for causing sickness in humans and fish in tributaries of the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Runoff of nutrients from chicken farms remains the chief suspect in the outbreaks, provoking tensions between environmentalists and farmers.

But in two recent meetings on the Eastern Shore, the environmentalists and a few local farmers agreed to work together, said Chris Bedford of the Maryland Conservation Council.

"We were very surprised about how much common ground there really was," said Bedford.

One of those farmers was Christine Johnson, co-owner of a 120-acre organic vegetable farm in Marion. She raises as many as 300,000 chickens a year under a contract with Perdue.

Although many chicken farmers worry that the state will enact costly regulations on them, Johnson said she is confident that the state will first pressure the Perdues and Tysons and other large chicken processors to take responsibility for pollution controls.

In her 15 years of farming, "The state has always tried to help the small farmers out," she said. "They've had some pretty progressive programs -- funding compost bins and manure shelters.

"We're willing to do our part. If we don't take care of our soil, we're out of business," Johnson said.

Gathering outside the Statehouse in Annapolis yesterday, representatives from about a dozen groups, including the Maryland Sierra Club and Haztrak Coalition, also called for:

Full and immediate implementation of an existing state pollution control program.

A moratorium on aerial spraying of pesticides over water.

An investigation of reports of illegal dumping at sewage treatment plants on the Eastern Shore.

Although the task force has held several public meetings on the Pfiesteria issue, the activists in Annapolis yesterday urged more accessibility. None of the coalition members had attended the commission meetings because they learned about them too late, they said. Others said the daytime meetings made it impossible for most working people to attend.

Former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who heads the task force, could not be reached for comment on the proposals late yesterday. But a member of the group, state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat, supported the call for a moratorium.

"I think it makes sense," said Frosh. "All the evidence is that chicken manure or animal waste is the single biggest source of nutrient loading for the Chesapeake Bay."

To permit more chicken-raising operations on the Delmarva Peninsula, he said, "while we're fighting the Pfiesteria problem doesn't make sense."

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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