This letter was sent to editor of the Cape Charles Mirror:
I am writing you because the Eastern Shore of Virginia is in trouble and no one is paying attention. Our community is being assaulted by hundreds of new poultry houses growing millions of birds and newspapers are just ignoring it. Our waters are our lifeblood and they have no protection from these factory farms.
Things are so bad they are trying to arrest the only person talking about these issues. I heard that the young man who is the Shorekeeper was arrested and his wife was brought to tears in a restaurant by poultry farmers yelling at them. She is a teacher at my child’s school and is a lovely woman. These poor people are being attacked for protecting our home and the bay. Someone needs to tell people about the disaster that is happening out here. I have contacted the Virginian pilot and they ignored us when we told them these houses were built next to our horses. What’s happening is not right and we are begging someone to tell the story.
When we read this letter, we immediately contacted Jay C. Ford, the Executive Director of the aforementioned Shorekeeper to validate this account.
According to Mr. Ford, the account is true, but with many moving parts. Ford told the Mirror that he was walking along a creek with an Accomack property owner, following it along to the source of contamination that had been detected. As they traced the path, they unknowingly crossed onto property owned by Tyson. Ford was later served a warrant for trespassing, and was warned not to enter the property in the future.
Sources tell the Mirror that there were also efforts to have Ford arrested, and that calls were made to the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Board asking that he be removed from his post as Executive Director. Later that week, Ford and his wife were accosted in an Onancock restaurant by poultry farmers that claimed he was attempting to destroy their livelihood.
These encounters, while disturbing, also highlight the fact that Ford and Eastern Shorekeeper’s success in holding Tyson accountable for its clean water violations has hit a nerve with poultry industry. This may also be a serious counter-volley in what could be the Eastern Shore’s version of the ‘Chicken Wars’.
Last July, Shorekeeper contacted the state about a relatively lax penalty of $16,000 for violations that were intentional (the state also failed to fine them for all violations), and the plan to remedy the issues failed to protect Eastern Shore waters from future pollution.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture is the probable cause of polluting more than 145,000 miles of rivers and streams, along with over 1 million acres of lakes, including Eastern Shore coastal waters. Tyson Foods, Inc. is one of the world’s largest producers of meat and poultry, and is a leader in chicken production. Tyson has also been at the top of the list of serial polluters:
-In January 2015, in a settlement with the Attorney General of Missouri, Tyson agreed to pay a fine of $540,000, consisting of natural resource damages, civil penalties, and environmental improvements relating to the Monett, MO facility wastewater discharge incident.
-In May 2014, Missouri attorney general filed a civil lawsuit after incident where feed supplement discharged from Tyson plant in Monett, MO; Criminal investigation launched by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with risk of debarment from Government Contracts.
-In September 2013, United States Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged that one of company’s subsidiaries did not comply with the Clean Water Act with respect to a spill that occurred in North Carolina in January 2010. Settled the allegations and underlying claims for $305,000.
-In April 2013, the company paid $3.95 million and settled a case with the EPA and DOJ after releasing anhydrous ammonia at facilities in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.
-In 2012, Arkansas rice growers filed suit alleging that 3-Nitro, linked to high arsenic levels, was present in chicken litter.
-In 2009, NE Fecal Coliform and nitrates enter Missouri River, violating a permit $2 million civil penalty and $4.1 million fine 2003 20 felony counts for MO Untreated waste into tributary of Lamine River $7.5 million fine to EPA and DOJ.
-In 2001, $7.3 million fine for pollution of drinking water in Tulsa, Ok.
Shorekeeper later wrote to the Department of Environmental Quality about both the penalty and action plan proposed for Tyson. Shorekeeper noted that that a fine of $16,000 did not meet the intent of the Clean Water Act to serve as a deterrent. Given the record, the company appears ready to absorb the cost of fines as part of doing business (this may be cheaper than actually implementing clean water measures).
(DEQ) later notified Shorekeeper that after review, they decided to reassess the fine at $26,000 noting that Tyson was culpable for their actions. DEQ raised Tysons official culpability from “serious” to “high” considering that the violations were foreseeable, and precautions to prevent the violations were not taken. They also required Tyson to rewrite their compliance action plan.
Since the DEQ judgement, there apparently has been little effort made by Tyson in implementing the clean water compliance plan. Shorekeeper has continued to stay engaged, hoping to finally hold Tyson and the poultry industry to the clean water standards that are vital to lower Eastern Shore. What may have once been considered concerned citizen activism, is quietly being redefined in antagonistic terms.
Despite where you fall on the issue of factory farming and poultry processing, companies such as Tyson and Purdue have become ingrained partners with the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Accomack and to a smaller extent Northampton have entered into a bargain with these entities–the stakes are high for rural communities like ours:
The social identities of rural places become susceptible to redefinition as new social groups begin to occupy space once occupied by others. Changes in patterns of land development, use and habitation…serve to alter the socially constructed meaning of those spaces, rewriting the rules of what kinds of people, activities, and social relationships “belong.” – “Chicken wars”, water fights, and other contested ecologies along the rural-urban interface in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills” by Colleen C. Hiner, Texas State University, USA
As has been documented, most recently in Northampton’s Comprehensive Plan Action Committee (CPAC) report, the Shore population is getting older and smaller. The implications of large industrial poultry operations are not just environmental, but also social. As these operations take up a larger and larger geographic footprint, how will that change the social, cultural and environmental landscape for the rest of the Shore?
While it is important for groups like Eastern Virginia Shorekeeper, as well as individuals to remain engaged when it comes to protecting our coastal waters, it is also important for the poultry industry to recognize that as community partners, is not all about providing revenue and jobs (even as important as this is). The industry needs to understand that clean water is more critical here than almost anywhere on the East Coast. While the poultry industry may be able absorb the fines associated with polluting our creeks and streams, the aquaculture and tourism industries do not have the same luxury when it comes to absorbing losses.