This letter by Ken Dufty was in response to John Coker’s statements at this week’s groundwater committee meeting.
As you know, at this morning’s Eastern Shore of Virginia Groundwater Committee (GWC) meeting, I submitted a 6-page letter covering three topics. The first one was a request/petition to allow a two minute public comment period at the end of each GWC meeting. Because that request was dismissed with your statement that you “gave us a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, and now you want one at the end”, as predicted I am forced and indeed compelled to respond to the remarks you made after I delivered my address to the attending reps from Tyson Foods. Note that in that plea, I asked the poultry giant to “draw a line in the sand” and announce that there will be no more industrial broiler operations allowed in Accomack County, as it appears saturation of these facilities has been achieved. Next, you reacted to my warnings about harm to the environment, quality of life, and impacts to the aquifer from this build-out.
Because I was never given a chance to respond because you failed to consider my request for a post-meeting comment period, I offer the following rebuttal.
I. You stated that it is not our job to tell business what they can or cannot do. I disagree.
After you dismissed out of hand my request for a brief public comment period following the official conduct of the groundwater committee, you rather angrily said that it is not our (meaning government, I assume) job to tell businesses like Tyson what they can or cannot do.
However, if the citizens in Northampton County did not demand and persuade the Board of Supervisors to tell the poultry industry that they would not be able to build their industrial sized broiler houses unless they adhered to a 1,000 foot setback in Northampton County, we indeed would be in the same poultry-saturated situation that residents find themselves saddled with in our county to the north.
The inference that we should not regulate or advise businesses what they can or cannot do, i.e. deregulation, is a suggestion that may perhaps work for the industry or unchecked commerce, but it most certainly is not protective in most cases of public health, natural resources, or the environment. These three are assets that once lost are very difficult to recover or retrieve, and the suggestion that government should just take a “hands-off” posture when dealing with prospective or existing industry or business is patently absurd and indeed insulting.
II. Next you stated that we have to wait until the “scientists” tell us what is good for us (or not), and whether industry is creating or will create any harm to our natural resources, public health, or the sustainable environment. Then you named Britt MacMillan as the scientist who we should rely on to tell us whether or not we should worry about the health or sustainability of our aquifer.
First, to respond to these rather troubling remarks, to my knowledge Britt MacMillan, although well regarded, is not a “scientist”. He is a groundwater consultant.
Second, many if not all of the major environmental and public health travesties of all time were created because these “scientists” or “experts” assured regulators that proposed actions by business or industry were harmless and benign. To recap just a few:
From 1946 to 1976, General Electric Company dumped thousands of pounds of PCB's from their Fort Edward Plant into the Thompson Island Pool because the "scientists" assured regulators that there would be no lasting effect from the discharge. Today, 43 years after that discharge was stopped by court order, the Hudson River is still the largest superfund site in the world; *Medical Scientists and experts assured the FDA that opioids were harmless, non-addictive, and could be doled out like candy to patients needing pain relief. They were never challenged by those regulators who we rely on to protect us. I need to say no more. The scientists who created this horrendous epidemic do. *Scientists and experts assured the EPA and other regulators that deepwater drilling of oil in the Gulf of Mexico was safe, controlled, and no harm would ever result from this activity. The 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill turned out to be the world's largest man made environmental disaster,thanks to the empty promises and assurances by the "expert" "scientists". Their failure to protect and ensure that no harm would ensue from this deep water exploratory well will reportedly have negative implications and effectss that will last for generations; *Scientists and experts assured state regulators that it was fine to tap the Flint River to provide drinking water to residents in Flint, Michigan. These scientists failed to advise that chemicals needed to be added to this river water to neutralize its acidity, and because of that failure lead leached from the city's aging pipes and resulted in lead contamination in those who drank this water, perhaps causing ill effects that could last a lifetime in sensitive individuals and young, unsuspecting residents; * Scientists and consultants failed to adequately assess and predict the drawdown of the aquifer under Virginia Beach in the late 1970's causing a halt in economic development for nearly 15 years until the pipe from Lake Gaston was constructed and placed online at a cost exceeding a half-billion dollars;
Indeed, nearly every major environmental acccident, release of contaminants, spills or even the ill-placement of nuclear power plants (including Shoreham) were the result of miscalculations, omissions, oversights or blatant incompetence by the “experts” and “scientists” who either profited from looking the other way or simply lacked the scientific integrity or grasp to protect the public from catastrophic consequences.
It was clear to me by your questioning of Mr. McMillan and your transparent attempt to get him to say that there was perhaps an over-estimation of the amount of water that would be drawn from our aquifer by the 54 facilities currently under technical evaluation by the DEQ (an admission that Mr. McMillan refused to give), that you have become a fan of and for the poultry industry.
This is most concerting for us here in Northampton County as many, many citizens spent a good deal of their time, resource, and energy protecting this county from the same industrial fate that is now plaguing
residents living in our sister county to the north.
In closing, we urge you to show more respect for your own constituency and our work in protecting Northampton county from environmental degradation and assault. It is worth noting that after the meeting a friend remarked to me that perhaps you ran for supervisor in the wrong county. To add to that remark, I can tell you my friends have a horse farm for sale in the Pungoteague area and will probably cut you a great deal. And because you appear to be courting friends in high poultry places, perhaps you can encourage the owners of the adjacent 24 industrial broiler-house operation to silence their exhaust fans when you invite friends over for that backyard barbeque…something my friends have yet to perfect.