Environmental groups seeks a chicken tax to clean up Bay

Environmentalists are ruffling feathers in the Maryland General Assembly by suggesting that chicken producers shoulder part of the burden for combating Chesapeake Bay pollution.

A coalition of 10 environmental groups suggested a tax to truck away chicken manure, which is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, or devise other ways to reduce runoff. Taxing one cent per pound of chicken would produce $13 million, the group noted.

"They (poultry companies) need to take responsibility for the manure and pay their fair share to reduce nutrient loading and prevent new sources of pollution," said Tom Grasso, Mary-land director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

But farmers argued that any tax would force companies to abandon Maryland and shift operations to Delaware and Virginia.

"That's stupid. That's ridiculous," said Rick Nelson, a chicken farmer who is president of the Somerset County Farm Bureau. "The only people this will hurt in Maryland will be the poultry farmers."

The environmental groups gave Gov. Parris Glendening their suggestions for specific ways to legislate, regulate and fund action to reduce pollution.

Glendening has said part of the state's $260 million budget surplus could be used, but he hasn't said how much or how it would be spent. He will study the group's recommendations, a spokesman said. Chickens are targeted because a state commission said in November that phosphorus from chicken manure apparently cultivated the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida, which killed thousands of fish, sickened more than a dozen people, closed three waterways and caused a dramatic drop in seafood sales this summer.

Chicken manure is routinely spread on farm fields in Somerset, Worcester and Wicomico counties, where there are 2,734 chicken houses. Farmers have said trucking waste away would be too expensive. For example, Nelson said his farm generates 250 tons of manure a year and he estimated it would cost him $12,500 to haul it away.

The Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., which represents growers of 600 million chickens raised each year on the peninsula, has pledged $1 million over four years for Chesapeake Bay research.

The Citizens Pfiesteria Action Commission has urged requiring all farmers to adopt plans for controlling runoff by 2002. The General Assem-bly will consider the commission's recommendations.

But the environmental groups, working off the commission's findings, developed their own list of recommendations on how to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff.

Their recommendations include:

  • Creating a fund, possibly through a chicken tax, to deal with Eastern Shore manure. The money could be used to truck the manure away.
  • Documenting how much nutrients are dumped into the environment.
  • Studying the effects of pfiesteria on people who come into contact with the water. People got sick from the water, not from eating seafood.
  • Requiring a water quality permit programs for animal feedlots.

The proposal was signed by: the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, Maryland Conservation Council, Maryland Public Interest Research Group, Maryland Waste Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, Audubon Naturalist Society, Maryland Community Preservation Coalition, Assateague Coastal Trust and environmentalists Ajax Eastman of Baltimore and Erin Fitzsimmons of Ocean City.

EPA sues Baltimore over wastewater pollution

The EPA and its Maryland counterpart had no choice but to sue the city of Baltimore for failing to make repairs in its wastewater treatment plants, a federal official said. "This pattern of neglect demonstrates minimal city interest in maintaining strict environmental standards," said W. Michael McCabe, the EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator. "In the interest of public health, we believe strong action is needed to protect the state's water resources."

Federal and state officials filed suit Dec. 15, breaking off nearly eight months of negotiations. The city could be held liable for tens of millions of dollars in penalties for polluting the Gwynns Falls and Patapsco River with wastewater from two city facilities. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, claims that since 1992, Baltimore's Ashburton water-filtration plant has routinely discharged too much chlorine and other waste materials into the Gwynns Falls, a tributary of the Patapsco.

The suit also claims that the Patapsco sewage plant, which treats 63 million gallons of wastewater a day, has been sporadically out of compliance with its operating permit since March 1993, releasing a variety of pollutants into the river.

Dane Bauer, the state's deputy chief of water management, said the suit was "the first in a series" of joint federal and state actions against water polluters in Maryland. Bauer said other suits would focus on persistent or repeat violators, but would not be more specific.

Baltimore's public works director, George Balog, issued a statement saying the city regretted the EPA's "unnecessary decision to use the federal courts to resolve what were essentially minor non-polluting, technical permit exceedances."

VMRC votes to keep shad ban

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission has decided against lifting the state's 4-year-old ban on commercial shad fishing.

The commission listened to comments on the proposal at its December meeting, then voted 5-1 to leave the ban in place. The ban was imposed to protect dwindling populations of the bony fish that was once a staple of Virginia's fishing industry.

Lifting the ban was opposed by scientists who argued that too little is known about the overall health of shad in state waters to justify allowing them to be fished commercially again.

Watermen argued that letting them catch shad between late February and late April would help scientists learn about the shad population. Virginia's shad catch was once measured in the millions of pounds but dropped to about 550,000 pounds by 1993, the year before the ban was imposed.

VMRC approves oyster plan

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission in November approved a plan to harvest mature oysters from Tangier and Pocomoke sounds this winter and to move them to three waterways where they are more likely to reproduce.

The oyster plan approved by the VMRC will permit the harvest of up to 2,500 bushels of mature oysters from Tangier and Pocomoke sounds this winter.

Up to 500 bushels would be transplanted to the Great Wicomico River on the Northern Neck. The rest would go to the Piankatank River on the Middle Peninsula. Some might go to the Pungo-teague Creek on the Eastern Shore.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it will pay up to $50,000 out of a total of about $74,000 needed for the program. The rest will come from the state.

The oysters' growth indicates they are resistant to diseases that have ravaged oysters in the Bay. But the oysters don't reproduce well in the Tangier and Poco-moke sounds, so they will be moved where they are more likely to reproduce.

The state had a similar conservation program last year, with all of the oysters being moved to the Great Wicomico where they contributed to a huge spawn on a manmade oyster bar.

Hagerstown may use collie to chase geese from lake

Problems caused by too many waterfowl have dogged managers of Hagers-town, MD's, City Park for years. Now they may do something about it.

The Hagerstown Parks Board is considering getting a trained border collie to prevent ducks and geese from nesting. The approach has worked successfully in at least a dozen other cities, including Columbia, MD.

Officials think citizens may accept a canine deterrent more readily than other proposed solutions, including shaking eggs to prevent their hatching and banning waterfowl feeding, a popular pastime in the picturesque park.

"We don't want to eliminate the population" but reduce it to about 100 birds from 900, parks board chairman John Ziegler said.

He said the birds are eating the park's grass, destroying flowers and shrubbery, and plastering sidewalks with their droppings. The park has a 15-acre lake and the waterfowl are well fed by visitors who buy cracked corn from a lakeside concession stand.

Park board members considered spraying the ground with a grape extract, which repels waterfowl, but the spray washes off, Ziegler said. They also rejected spiking duck feed with birth-control drugs, which has had mixed results elsewhere.

That left the border collie, bred and trained for sheepherding. Columbia got Bud, a 3-year-old black-and-white border collie, last February to herd waterfowl around a downtown lake, said Fred Pryor, the community's director of open space management. Since then, the goose population has dropped from more than 220 to about 35, Pryor said.

Twice a day, Bud herds geese into the lake to prevent their nesting, Pryor said. He said the geese have learned to run to the water as soon as the truck drives up with Bud, who lives with a staff member. Border collies are expensive - Columbia paid $3,000 for Bud - but Hagerstown park officials said the city could share the cost and the dog with businesses, golf courses and country clubs that also have too many waterfowl.