President’s Message - Gene Williams
It’s time to renew your membership in the Friends of the Nanticoke River for 2016! I hope that we can count on your support for the coming year. This year promises to be an interesting one on the Nanticoke. One of our biggest concerns is chicken litter on the Eastern Shore.
We support our local family farmers and appreciate their essential positive economic impact in our region. However, concerns have been raised about a significant increase in the production of hard-to-deal-with chicken manure. As you will read in the story below, raising chickens has become quite profitable. This is very good news for our farmers, for the poultry industry as a whole, and for the businesses in which those profits are spent! However, one possible negative aspect of this profitability is that chicken farming is expanding beyond the family farm to investor-driven, industrial scale operations. Balancing property owner rights with the environmentally-sensitive management of high-density poultry houses and increased volumes of chicken litter is a challenge we will be facing soon.
Poultry house construction
In the past year or two on the Eastern Shore, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of requests for poultry house permits. Some of these permits are requests for replacement of obsolete or deteriorating houses on pre-existing farms. Many others are for large, multi-house facilities owned not by farmers, but by outside investors. This is a departure from the historical situation of a family farm diversifying to raise chickens for additional income. Substantial profit is realized by investment in raising chickens, making it attractive to investors. Yet current zoning laws do not distinguish between a family-owned farm operation and large concentrations of 6 or more houses.
The net effect of increased poultry house construction would be an increase in the amount of chicken litter produced on the Lower Shore. This would increase the need for disposal of large quantities of additional manure, at a time when pressures are mounting to further limit manure applications to farmland. There is also the potential for this industrial-scale poultry approach to make small chicken farms obsolete, and many are already closing down. Combined with the impacts on surrounding residents of deteriorating air quality, noise, and added truck traffic, this new situation calls for careful evaluation. Several Shore counties have begun this process, examining zoning and permitting approaches to this very different type of operation. We are calling on Wicomico County to take meaningful steps towards more appropriate zoning of large poultry operations.
Some promising partnerships and initiatives are being developed to address this situation. One is the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge. Its focus is on responsible land application of animal manure and litter and alternative uses and markets for manure and poultry litter. This coalition of agricultural, environmental, and government partners is committed to addressing the nutrient challenges, with the goal of making Delmarva agriculture “regionally neutral in importing and exporting nutrients” by 2025.
As noted in our Summer newsletter, the Friends’ steering committee has an ongoing dialogue with local poultry farmers, with the goal of seeking sensible solutions to problems associated with poultry manure and with large numbers of chicken houses. Our members include poultry farmers, and our rural watershed has many who depend on this industry for their livelihoods, with few alternative employment options. We are determined to avoid the divisive and confrontational approaches of some who are involved in this discussion.
Beach Closings on the Nanticoke River
This past summer (2015), the swimming beach at Cove Road in Bivalve was closed for a month due to high bacteria levels. This is the first closure of this beach in a very long time, and likely resulted from high rains in the early summer. The Wicomico County Health Department is investigating sources of these bacteria with the help of the Bacterial Source Tracking Laboratory at Salisbury University, to determine whether these are human, pet, deer, and/or avian in origin.
Sharptown’s Cherry Beach, a very popular recreational site, has now been closed to swimming since 2012, although people are still using it according to neighbors there. This reflects a concerning deterioration of water quality in that portion of the river, as well as a loss of recreational opportunities for local citizens. However, it does not appear that this is related in any way to Sharptown’s municipal wastewater (see article below).
Sharptown Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP)
On March 1, Mike Pretl (of Nanticoke Watershed Alliance and Friends of the Nanticoke River) and John Groutt (of Wicomico Env. Trust) participated in an informal hearing at the Wicomico County library regarding Sharptown's renewal of its discharge application for its municipal wastewater treatment plant. Responding to a number of reported violations, WET had requested the hearing. Maryland Dept. of the Environment Division Supervisor Yen-Der Cheng chaired the meeting, which was attended by two MDE engineers, by Mayor Doug Gosnell of Sharptown, the plant operator, and its consulting engineer.
The town's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit allows discharge of 15,000 gallons daily. Data from the last three years show that discharge violations were minimal, and fully explained. Under the ECHO reporting situation, violation is noted for a calendar quarter if excess flow of wastewater was noted on a single day in that quarter. Actually the daily reports were quite good, and violations noted for just a few days each year. Significantly, it was noted that all of the flow violations were due to infiltration of ground water, not an excess of pollutants -- and the town is in the process of a lengthy and costly infrastructure repair to deal with the infiltration.
The MDE officials explained that virtually every small town WWTP experiences the same infiltration problem, and that Sharptown works closely with MDE inspectors to address these issues. While Sharptown's permit will almost certainly be renewed without penalty, a few good results came from the meeting -- in addition to educating attend about the violations. Mr. Cheng indicated to town officials that "flush tax" funds are now available to assist repair efforts of small municipalities (formerly only large plants got them) and Sharptown should apply. Also, Mr. Cheng encouraged our representatives to submit to his department the NWA Creekwatchers data for Sharptown and nearby sites, which will assist MDE in its monitoring efforts.
Vienna Sand and Gravel Terminal Update
As we wrote last summer, the Friends of the Nanticoke River joined the Ad Hoc Coalition to Preserve the Vienna Waterfront in opposition to a proposed sand and gravel offloading terminal near Vienna’s waterfront park, where barges would dock and unload many truckloads of material to be transported along the old Rt. 50 roadway that is currently owned and maintained by the Town. As of now, there has been no news on this project and it may be dead.
Project Clean Stream – Roaring Point Beach Cleanup
This seems to be a banner year for news about marine and aquatic trash, and the Friends helped address the problem with our annual Nanticoke River shoreline trash removal on September 19. This year we collected a very large amount of trash, but in contrast to previous years, it appeared to be concentrated in a few areas, as if folks are somewhat aware of the problem. Now to encourage them to pack it out!
Next Project Clean Stream – Nanticoke River Headwaters Cleanup
Please join us for a cleanup organized by the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance and Reclaim Our River on Saturday, April 2, beginning at 9:00 AM. It will end no later than noon. We will be cleaning up trash along the stream bank and nearby road where Rifle Range Road crosses the Nanticoke River east of Bridgeville, Delaware. This is a Nanticoke River Creekwatcher site. To reach the site, travel north on Route 13 0.4 mile past Route 404 to Scott’s Furniture and Rifle Range Road. Turn right and follow east 1 ¾ miles and look for the cars along the road. Contact Beth Wasden of the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance at 443-944-1175 to sign up. What you need for the cleanup will be provided. Hope to see you there!