Cape Charles Mirror Report – Wayne Creed
At Monday’s Northampton Board of Supervisor’s work session, Bill Satterfield of the Delmarva Poultry Association was on hand to answer any questions the board may have had relative to how the industry operates on the Eastern Shore. Melissa Kellam presented a rundown of the current ordinance, which importantly noted that ammonia scrubbers are currently required to capture odors. Consensus language in the proposed zoning maintaing or enhancing setbacks as well as ammonia scrubbers, would make it improbable that intensive poultry farming could be viable in the county.
When asked about ammonia scrubbers, Satterfield replied, “I don’t know of any commercial chicken houses in America that grow broilers that have ammonia scrubbers. The are used in Europe but not in America because they are terribly expensive to install and operate.”
According to the Poultry group, using the current buffers program to deal with air quality and prevent the movement of dust smells and ammonia feathers, was the superior method for dealing with odor issues from chicken houses for neighboring properties. Buffers deal with air emission, and trees take up nutrients in soil, “Who’s against trees, everyone loves trees? With buffers we do not feel there is a need for additional mechanical scrubbers. An expense that would not be well accepted,” Satterfield said.
Administrator Nunez asked, “How are our setbacks viewed from an industry perspective compared to other localities? What is the reaction of other localities?”
Satterfield responded, “The only one I understand that is interested in growing chickens in Northampton is Tyson.”
A Tyson representative added, “In comparing the Shore to the rest of Delmarva, it is far more stringent and virtually impossible to build in Northampton County, and no place else is even close; our buffers, our setbacks are more stringent than what is required by Accomack. We try to be a good neighbor to exceed the local standards, but in Northampton it is impossible; ammonia scrubbers would be a deal breaker. You cannot cash flow this business with that equipment. Financially it is unfavorable for us to be further south than Exmore, it is too expensive to haul feed this far south.”
Supervisor Hogg questioned Satterfield about the process of disposing birds, in case of an outbreak of Avian flu, “If you had to euthanize one whole house of chickens, how is the current practice working?”
“We will compost them in the house, and will not move the carcasses until they are fully composted.”
Hogg followed, “Once they decompose, how many cubic yards are you dealing with? You foam them?”
“If we find avian flu, we euthanize with 24 hours, once we have foamed them, we build a row pile that needs to reach 115 degrees in fifteen days, then the pile is turned and it must reach 131 degrees in fifteen days, this is part of USDA regulations which dictate this. If this 30 day cycle is done correctly, there is no more carcass. At that point it can be removed from the house and put in the litter shed. Then it is to be cleaned and disinfected and checked by USDA to be sure the infection is removed. Until it is cleaned the zone cannot be repopulated.”
After the presentation by Delmarva Poultry Association, the board attempted to find consensus over setbacks. As a note, in the current ordinance, if ammonia scrubbers are used, it can reduce setback limitations.
“The operation we are looking at today is a different operation, I mean, its not like the day, where a farmer might put one or two small houses out back. What difference does it make if it is in a town or village, odor is odor,” said Hogg.
“You are proposing 1000 feet from a residential dwelling,” said Nunez . “Chairman Hubbard goes from 400 to 500. Mr. Hogg is recomending 1000 for all residential parcels. That is one setback of 1000 feet from a residential dwelling regardless of zoning designation. No property line setbacks. And retaining 2000 feet from tidal waters.”
Supervisor LeMond said, “It seems extreme to me. Is it the point of this board to eliminate the possibility of a chicken house in this county?”
Hogg responded, “I don’t think you can eliminate them.”
LeMond said, “Yes you can, you can make the setbacks so darn large it would eliminate any possibility of a chicken house. Am I correct on that Mr. Jones?”
County attorney Jones noted, “I’m looking at the statute, No county should enact ordinances that would unreasonably restrict or regulate farm operations in an agricultural district unless such restrictions bear a relationship to the health safety and general welfare of the public. That is the criteria.”
LeMond continued, “We’ve looked at the 1000 feet, let me back up. These have been in place since 2009, and there is not a chicken house in Northampton County, we looked at 1000 feet and there are only two parcels. We keep playing around with the setbacks, is it to eliminate chicken houses? Period, by the use of setbacks.”
Hogg said, “Ammonia scrubbers would take care of that.”
LeMond continued, “Agriculture is part of our heritage. Chicken houses, now I don’t want a thousand chicken houses, but to make it so darn bad that nobody, that a farmer may need four chicken houses to survive, or sell the farm and move. I guess I’m asking, is the point of this board to be working to eliminate chicken houses altogether.”
Hogg asked, “Is it a good fit for the community? That is one of the questions. For farming, we don’t raise palm trees here. Is this the right place to put chicken houses. Because of the industries we’ve already got going, does that take precedent over adding something else? Do we want to sacrifice what we have for potentially the chicken industry.”
LeMond responded, “Mr. Hogg, I am not a proponent of chicken houses, I will say that right now. We keep arguing about setbacks, if this board wants to eliminate them, hell let’s make the setback 1500 feet, 2000 feet, a mile, we keep going back and forth and we’re not getting anywhere.”
Hogg said, “As you say, maybe we should set the regulation where it may be more difficult to do. If the technology catches up to us, maybe that is the time to reconsider.”
Hubbard added, “What we have now has been very effective, but we can maybe protect ourselves even more.”
Supervisor Bennett offered concerns for local farmers, “Some farmers have expressed interest in the possibility, but if we made it so rough on them, farmers won’t have the opportunity, in the end, agriculture is going to be moved out. Tyson and Purdue, many folks have been helped, and benefitted from it. They have built a lot of homes here, and sent a lot of kids to college. It is what it is, but it has been productive. Without them it wouldn’t be, what has helped Northampton grow.”
Hogg said, “We are going to make it where it is more safe to the individual, if ammonia scrubbers is the technology is what will do it. We should be negative towards poultry at this time.”
“Ms Nunez, are we saying that if our farmers want to move forward on this, are we saying we are going to put the burden of these ammonia scrubbers on them?” asked Bennett.
Nunez answered,“Yes. We have heard from the industry that ammonia scrubbers are not used anywhere in the United States, and that the requirement of them would be a financial detriment. The setbacks may also disqualify them.”
Consensus was to increase setbacks from 400 to 500 feet for residential dwellings, adjust vegetated buffers, and importantly, keep the requirement that ammonia scrubbers must be used for intensive farming operations.
Dave Fauber appointed to Planning Commission
Cape Charles Public Works director Dave Fauber was elected to the county Planning Commission. Mr. Fauber has served the town for several years now, and has developed a reputation for quiet and thorough problem solving, as well as being a fair and amiable team supervisor. The Board interviewed Mr. Fauber during a closed session, and voted unanimously in favor of the appointment.