By CLARA VAUGHN
Capital News Service
BALTIMORE – Alan Hudson, the owner of a family farm accused of polluting nearby waters with chicken manure, testified in U.S. District Court Thursday that it’s possible that water containing cow manure runs off into a ditch draining from his property.
Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. is suing Hudson, along with Perdue Inc., for violations of the Clean Water Act. His cross-examination closed the second week of the trial that has gripped the attention of chicken farmers and environmentalists.
“It’s been extremely hard on our family,” Hudson said. “You’re paranoid all the time.”
The suit began when members of Waterkeeper Alliance discovered what they believed was a large pile of exposed chicken manure on the Hudson farm in Berlin during a 2009 flight over the area.
Water samples taken near the farm in 2009 and 2010 showed an “astronomical” spike in bacteria and nutrient levels when comparing water downstream of the farm with water samples taken upstream from the Hudson operation, said Jane F. Barrett, a Waterkeeper attorney and director of the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic.
The polluted water feeds into Franklin Branch and the impaired Pocomoke River, Waterkeeper attorneys said.
An investigation following Waterkeeper Alliance’s suit identified the pile as biosludge, however, not chicken manure.
Now, Waterkeeper attorneys are arguing poultry litter could be spread by other means than the pile, like Hudson’s shoes after his several daily visits to the chicken houses, and in air blown by the large fans used to cool the houses.
Barrett pointed to inconsistencies in Hudson’s accounts and his violations of Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan guidelines. Hudson Farm lacked the required plan from 2005 until late 2008, yet Hudson signed documents certifying that he had a nutrient management plan for part of that same period, Barrett said.
She pointed to his under-sized heavy-use pads – buffer areas at the chicken house entrances designed to reduce surface and ground water contamination – and their close proximity to the drainage swale that plays a key role in the trial.
“The swale and the pipe are doing what they’re meant to do,” drain water from the farm, Barrett said.
Hudson’s attorney George Ritchie cited a Hudson family tradition in retort: Each Thanksgiving, the men of the family hunt rabbits in the same swale. Without heavy vegetation in the drainage area – which helps slow runoff and reduces pollution – there would be no rabbits to hunt.
Perdue’s defense focused on the Hudson’s herd of cattle during the cross-examination, returning to an argument made on the first day of the trial.
Around 40 brood cows and their calves have range on the 300-acre property. That translates to almost 600 tons of cow manure generated each year, Ritchie said.
Hudson does not collect the manure left by cows in his pasture as they travel to and from the sole water trough on the farm, located near the chicken houses, he said.
The trial will continue Monday, and attorneys expect a ruling from U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson late Tuesday or Wednesday, after testimony from defense witnesses.