Muddying the waters of Long Green Creek

Some blame farm for pollution, stench


Standing in ankle-deep water, Scott McGill jabbed a hand into Long Green Creek and picked up a cantaloupe-sized rock. He was looking for bugs, but he wasn't having much luck.

"There's always going to be insects trying to make a living there," said McGill, an environmental consultant and trout preservationist, as he held the glistening rock in the September sunlight. "If you come to a stream like this and you don't find many insects, it's indicative of a problem."

Over his shoulder, in the distance, were the rolling pastures of Whitelyn Farm.

At least four times in the past 18 months - most recently in August - residents in this largely rural corner of Baltimore County have reported seeing black muck in the stream. They say an unbearable stench has also engulfed the creek from time to time over the years.

The state has ordered the owners of Whitelyn Farm to plug ditches that might carry runoff into the creek. But environmental officials continue to inspect the farm, and a meeting is set for later this month to discuss the results of water quality tests.

Long Green Creek, one of the few Maryland streams that is home to prized brown trout, meanders four miles through the rolling pastures of northern Baltimore County, passing through Boordy Vineyards and lush farmland on its way to Gunpowder Falls.

Worries about its health have galvanized residents in Long Green Valley, a community of farms and single-family homes, where many residents have sold their development rights to ensure land preservation.

"In this area, everybody is concerned with the environment," said Carol Trela, secretary of the Long Green Valley Association. "I've never seen an issue that people focused on as much as this."

Some residents have started a "Save the Long Green Creek" campaign, with a Web log and $16.99 T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "You're the Solution to Water Pollution."

When residents look at potential causes of pollution, they look toward Whitelyn Farm, where the White family has run a dairy operation for decades. At one point, they delivered to the Whites a petition signed by more than 50 residents detailing community concerns.

In August, more than 80 residents packed the Long Green firehouse and accused the Whites of dumping cow manure into the stream.

But John Rhoderick of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, who attended the meeting, said the substance is juice seeping from decaying fruit at the farm. Rhoderick said he has no reason to believe the Whites purposely dumped waste in the stream.

Dorothy White, who owns Whitelyn Farm with her husband, Milton White Jr., declined to comment for this article.

Her son, Milton "Mickey" White III, told state agriculture officials last year that the community dispute is related to his family's refusal to sell their development rights and enter the farm into a conservation program, according to state records.

Mickey White confirmed that the family is seeking to sell the 500-acre farm. He declined to comment further, saying a family attorney has advised against speaking to the media.

The environmental mystery began in the spring of 2004, when residents complained to the state Department of Agriculture about muck in the stream.

Officials said the stream was clear when they arrived. But during three subsequent visits to the area, they inspected Whitelyn Farm and documented several "concerns," according to Agriculture Department records. Among them was the potential for juices from pineapple rinds and other fruits to seep from a holding pit into a stream tributary. The Whites feed the fruit to their cows, state officials said.

A year ago, the state agreed, under a cost-sharing program, to pay $7,500 toward a $112,000 holding pit on the farm to ensure that cow feed did not seep into the creek, records show.

Construction had not been completed in early August, when residents again reported muck in the stream. "It was so bad, within a mile you could smell it," said resident Robert Ambrose.

In response to complaints in August, agriculture officials confirmed the presence of a black substance in the creek just below Whitelyn Farm, Rhoderick said. They ordered the Whites to plug all their drainage ditches. No pollution has been reported since.

"We took a drastic course of action," said Rhoderick, addressing criticism from residents that the state has been slow to respond to the pollution. "We contained everything coming off that farm."

He added that cows from nearby farms, some owned by people hurling accusations at the Whites, have milled about in the creek.

Since August, officials have been inspecting the farm daily for potential runoff. They have tested the water for contaminants and expect results this month. Construction of the holding pit was to have been completed last week.

Residents say they worry about the long-term health of the creek.

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