By CLARA VAUGHN
BALTIMORE—An environmentalist testified in federal court Wednesday that water running over a Perdue contract farm could be releasing bacteria and excess nutrients into Franklin Branch, a tributary that feeds into the Pocomoke River.
Kathy Phillips, a Coastkeeper and executive director of Assateague Coastal Trust - one of the organizations that initiated the suit against Perdue and a Perdue family farm -testified for almost four hours on her participation in the Waterkeeper Alliance v. Alan and Kristin Hudson Farm and Perdue Farms, Inc. suit.
The case began when Phillips and others from Waterkeeper Alliance saw a pile of what they believed was uncovered chicken manure on the Hudsons' farm in Berlin on the Eastern Shore.
"I have concerns about pollution that is getting into the (Pocomoke) River. The river has been designated as impaired for nitrogen, for bacteria, for phosphorus. These are all pollutants that are coming off the Hudson farm," she said.
Water samples taken in 2009 and 2010 showed a sharp spike in bacteria and nutrients when comparing water downstream with water upstream of the Hudson farm, Waterkeeper Alliance attorneys said.
"The levels, frankly, were off the charts," said Jane F. Barrett, a Waterkeeper attorney and director of the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic. "They increase astronomically once you are south of the chickens."
U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson must decide whether the discharge coming from the Hudson Farm poultry operation existed in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The pile originally advertised by Waterkeeper Alliance as chicken manure was later identified as biosludge, an Environmental Protection Agency-approved fertilizer, said the Hudsons' attorney, George Ritchie.
But Waterkeeper attorneys said other sources of chicken pollution may exist on the farm, including particles blown by the large fans used to cool the houses, waste tracked from the houses on the Hudsons' shoes and a pipe running between the two chicken houses.
The Hudsons' attorney, however, pointed to almost 50 cows on the Hudson farm as a more likely source of the pollution found in the water samples.
Perdue attorney James L. Shea called the Waterkeeper suit "part of an overall campaign that isn't specifically related to Alan Hudson at all."
"This lawsuit was planned well before the October 2009 aerial hunt," said Ritchie, referring to the aerial survey by Waterkeeper Alliance. "The Hudsons were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
During questioning by attorneys for Perdue, Phillips said Waterkeeper Alliance was "looking for piles of chicken manure placed too close to ditches where they might pollute" during the Oct. 20, 2009, fly-over.
The trial continues Thursday with more witness testimony.