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Top Story, May 2017

Worcester Co. commission approves new poultry regs

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Associate Editor

SNOW HILL, Md. — Worcester County’s commissioners unanimously approved new regulations on poultry farming last week, joining several other local governments responding to the industry’s recent expansion across the Eastern Shore with new rules.
The bill, which passed April 25 with little comment from commissioners, limits the number of poultry houses permitted on a single parcel to eight and requires 200-foot setbacks from property boundaries. Vegetative buffers are also required.
The new regulations require poultry operations to be zoned separately from other agricultural land uses and establish “material changes in the way poultry is regulated in the county,” said Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and planning.
Poultry industry supporters mostly praised the regulations with some reservations.
Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., said he hoped commissioners would allow farmers to receive a required certificate of occupancy before a buffer is installed on the farm rather than after.
Regardless, he said, the regulations were an improvement from previous proposals, and he didn’t consider them harmful to the industry.
“We appreciate the commissioners for coming up with a reasonable plan,” he said.
Virgil Shockley, a poultry farmer, said he didn’t understand the need to create vegetative buffers if there was no one nearby the property.
“Yeah, because you don’t know if there’s going to be someone there later,” Commissioner Madison Bunting said.
Alan Hudson, a Berlin poultry farmer, said he believed limiting poultry houses on a parcel could ultimately hurt the county’s economy.
“I just don’t like putting a cap on anything,” he said.
The regulations did receive pushback from some residents and environmental activists, however. An elderly woman from Pocomoke City said she recently realized a “mega-chicken farm” is planned for the property adjacent to hers.
“We thought we’d retire in Worcester County never dreaming that someone would put chicken houses in our backyard,” she said. “It’s going to affect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we live on, and we’re old people.”
Commissioners said that the project was most likely approved before the new regulations were passed, but Commissioner James “Budd” C. Church said perhaps the county could encourage the farmer to install buffers between the houses and her property.
“We can’t make them do that, and I’m not sure it is our position to do that,” he said.
Farmers could conceivably also buy adjacent parcels to make massive poultry house operations that would be legal but violate the bill’s intent, said Kathy Phillips, executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust, which is a regional environmental organization.
She also suggested the county regulate farms’ ammonia emissions.
“Is this the direction we want to take in Worcester County?” she said. “The proposed zoning regulations are deficient in a number of areas.”
Several counties across the region have passed regulations in response to growing poultry house construction on the Eastern Shore.
Wicomico and Accomack counties approved similar regulations within the last year.