Pfiesteria cleanup expected to be costly Projected outlays run into millions

January 07, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY -- The state is beginning to count up the potential cost of dealing with the Pfiesteria problem and -- as taxpayers could learn -- it won't be cheap.

Just the cost of enrolling all state farms in nutrient-management plans by 2000 could total $9 million over the next two years, according to the state's new agriculture secretary, Henry A. Virts.

To meet the goal, he said, the state will have to hire 129 people. Salary and operating costs were estimated at $4.5 million a year.

It could take another $14 million for poultry processors to install equipment to produce a new type of chicken meal that would reduce the phosphorus level in chicken manure.

It's estimated that the price tag of additional manure storage sheds will top $2 million, and it will cost between $2 million and $3.5 million a year to supply farmers with a cover crop designed to prevent hazardous nutrients from entering the bay and its tributaries.

Virts was a participant in a town meeting Monday night at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center where approximately 600 farmers showed up to voice their opinions on proposed regulations to reduce farm runoff into Chesapeake Bay, which is believed to be a factor in the toxic Pfiesteria outbreak.

He said the department's estimates of the costs of implementing the recommendations of the state's commission on Pfiesteria headed by former Gov. Harry R. Hughes were prepared for Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin.

The commission also encouraged the state to provide "an dTC appropriate and meaningful level of support" to the Agriculture Department and the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service to assist farmers in the use of best management practices.

This would require an additional 22 people and cost $1 million a year.

"This is the cost to taxpayers to implement the [Hughes commission] plan as it is written," said Royden Powell III, deputy agriculture secretary.

"We tried to make it as realistic as possible. We didn't want to inflate the numbers nor did we want to underestimate the cost."

The governor has not determined which of the panel's recommendations he plans to adopt.

There are other costs associated with the commission plan to be determined, including the price of developing alternative uses for manure and the development of a plan aimed at transporting chicken manure from the lower Eastern Shore.

Kay Richardson, past president of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., the industry's trade association, said chicken processors may be required to build additional feed factories to make an enzyme-treated chicken meal.

Adding the enzyme phytase helps improve the digestion of phosphorus by chickens and reduces the amount excreted.

But, Richardson said, adding phytase also slows the feed production process and companies many have to build additional plants to meet feed requirements.

The Hughes commission recommends that Maryland and surrounding states establish cost-sharing programs to assist in the conversion of feed mills.

Griffin told farmers at the meeting that the governor is prepared to "put the money where his mouth is" in addressing the Pfiesteria outbreak last summer.

Griffin declined to be specific, but he told the group that they "would not be disappointed" with the governor's funding request from the General Assembly to help cover the costs of adopting at least some of the Hughes commission recommendations.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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