Last September, the Environmental Integrity Project put a spotlight on the dramatic increase in the number of industrial scale poultry houses being established on the Delmarva Peninsula. In its report, More Phosphorus, Less Monitoring, the organization found that more than 200 new chicken houses had been permitted on the peninsula since November 2014, including 67 in just one Maryland county (Somerset County, on the state’s lower Eastern Shore). Shortly thereafter the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, supported by the Center for Progressive Reform and other allies, as well as other groups like the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, called on Maryland to issue a temporary moratorium on new chicken houses. The Delmarva Poultry Industry and its allies fired back, and for a few weeks the two sides sparred through the media over the call for a moratorium.
While the two sides were presenting their cases last fall and into this winter, the Maryland Department of the Environment has sat largely silent on the issue. Meanwhile, the expansion continues unabated.
Recent data from MDE show that the growth in the number of new industrial poultry facilities is now spilling over into a third year. In just the last six weeks of 2015, at least 11 new projects representing about 60 new chicken houses entered the pipeline, meaning that the project applicants filed for coverage under Maryland's stormwater construction general permit. These are projects that are now, or soon will be, under construction and put into operation in 2016. Of these projects, four are to be located in Worcester County, with two projects in Wicomico and Caroline counties, and one each in Somerset, Dorchester, and Queen Anne's counties. As viewed on a map, the greatest concentration of houses will be clustered on the lower Eastern Shore. Note that larger circles represent a greater number of proposed houses.
A look at the information included in the permit notices reveals just how damaging these projects will be to local water quality, to nutrient pollution-control efforts in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as to the health and welfare of the surrounding communities. For example, of the 11 proposals, all but two were listed as discharging pollution into streams that the state has already declared are impaired and in need of restoration (the other two discharge to streams that empty directly into bodies of water that are themselves impaired). Additionally, the site plans and project coordinates reveal that more than 100 acres will be paved over, mostly in areas that are now farm fields that will be taken out of production. In all, more than 235 acres of land will be disturbed during the construction of these projects, with soil and sediment erosion possibly spilling into local streams. Perhaps more damaging, the nearly 60 new chicken houses, once built, could be home to more than 1.5 million new broiler chickens each year, producing several hundred tons per year of additional manure that will be exported somewhere, although we will likely never know where, because its destination is regarded as a trade secret.
If anything, the above estimates for the number of chickens, and therefore the tonnage of manure, may be conservative, because they’re based on data from the existing poultry industry on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the greater Delmarva Peninsula today. But increasingly, these new industrial size projects are bigger, and therefore capable of producing many more birds for export than the average operation today. For example, while typical poultry producers in Maryland operate two or three houses per property, several of the new proposals include two, three, or four times as many houses, which could endanger Maryland’s ongoing investments to restore the Chesapeake. A few examples: on November 18th, one applicant applied to construct six new houses to be located on a property in Dorchester County; only five days later, another applied for a permit for 13 new houses in Wicomico County (which caught the attention of the whole Eastern Shore due to the immense size of the proposal); and a few weeks later, another application was submitted to construct six houses in Worcester County. In fact, only one of the 11 proposed projects includes plans to build fewer than four poultry houses.
It is clear that the CAFO expansion on the Eastern Shore is continuing. The size and scale of the new facilities and the scope of the ongoing expansion will make it extremely difficult for the state to properly implement the new Phosphorus Management Tool and for Maryland (and Delaware and Virginia) to fulfill the agricultural pollution reductions they committed to under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL).
Maryland needs a moratorium on these massive new facilities until the state can figure out how to deal with the huge poultry pollution problem that we have already.