State requirements to control poultry farm pollution are put on hold

January 24, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

Maryland's move to better control polluted runoff from its largest poultry farms has been put on hold, officials said yesterday, because environmentalists and an Eastern Shore farmer have challenged the state's requirements.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based environmental group with state branches, and Blair Ranneberger, a Wicomico County chicken farmer, filed separate requests to review the requirements as they were about to take effect Wednesday, according to Robert Summers, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The alliance contends that the state's rules are not stringent enough to ensure that chicken waste won't get into streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Ranneberger, meanwhile, argues that the state's requirements are "unscientific" and will hurt his business.

With agriculture the largest single source of pollution fouling the bay, the state had announced late last month that it would begin requiring up to 100 of the largest farms - those with 125,000 or more birds - to get state permits to ensure that the animals' waste does not get into the water. Another 100 medium-sized farms would have had to certify they were taking the same precautions, which include limiting how long manure is piled outdoors and taking steps to prevent rainwater from washing it into streams. Farms would have had to pay an annual fee of up to $1,200, submit reports and be subject to state inspection.

Farmers will not have to apply for a state permit until the challenges are adjudicated, which could take months or even a year or more. Summers stress- ed that at least some of the state's largest poultry growers are still bound by less-stringent federal regulations governing large farm animal operations. They may have to apply for a federal permit by next month. For more information, consult the MDE Web site at www.mde.state.md.us on Monday.

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