Sludge by drainage ditch brings $4,000 fine

State environmental agency ends investigation of Shore farm

March 27, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler

State officials announced Friday that they had fined an Eastern Shore farm couple $4,000 for improperly piling sewage sludge near a drainage ditch. But the Department of the Environment declared it had closed its investigation of the Hudson farm in Berlin with no further action because its inspectors could not say the farm was responsible for pollution found in the ditches draining its land.

State inspectors had detected high levels of bacteria and nutrients in the ditches, which ultimately drain into the Pocomoke River. But department spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus said they could not identify the source of the pollutants.

"We do not have conclusive evidence linking that to the farm," she said. "From what we observed and saw, the farm could have been a contributor, but also wildlife, geese and deer could also contribute, and we did not feel we had a strong enough case to pursue a [water pollution case] in a court of law."

Alan Hudson referred questions to his lawyer, who could not be reached.

The state's action comes three weeks after two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Hudson farm and Perdue Farms, the Salisbury company for which the farm raises chickens, of polluting the ditches. The case prompted lawmakers to move to restrict funds to the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic, which is helping to represent the groups.

The Assateague Coastkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance published an aerial photograph in December of what they said was chicken manure on the farm draining into a ditch, and said water sampled downstream showed high levels of bacteria, nutrients and ammonia. State inspectors subsequently identified the pile as sewage sludge from Ocean City, and required it to be moved back from the ditch and covered.

But the spokeswoman for the state environmental agency said sampling of the sludge pile did not find high levels of bacteria, and inspectors saw no other obvious sources of pollution. She noted that a separate study of another stream in the area had determined that more than 70 percent of the bacteria found in it came from wildlife.

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