State study indicates Accomack poultry regulations are effective

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A recent environmental study in Accomack County indicates strict new poultry farming regulations approved by county supervisors are doing their job, local farmers say.

In February 2016 the Accomack County Board of Supervisors approved local zoning regulations for new poultry houses. Two years later a series of tests by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science found little evidence of nutrient contamination in waterways near new poultry farms.

“We required a lot with buffer strips and drainage requirements and designs,” said Lynn Gayle, president of Accomack County Farm Bureau and a member of the county planning commission. The commission spent 18 months developing the new standards, he noted. “We feel this is the best that technology has to offer for preventing contamination away from the houses, and the study substantiated this. They were sampling in areas with large poultry operations and determined there were no water quality issues relative to chicken houses.”

Released on Feb. 12, Water Quality in Southern Accomack County Watersheds explained that a series of water samples were taken in July and November 2018 from streams and drainage ditches near poultry farms built under the 2016 regulations. An analysis of the testing results suggests there was no increase in nutrient pollution from storm water runoff from the poultry houses.

“I think the study has vindicated the poultry industry, that they are not a source of pollution for the Chesapeake Bay or the seaside of the Eastern Shore,” said David Hickman, an Accomack County farmer and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors. “The new Accomack County poultry regulations require stormwater controls and settlement ponds to prevent any runoff from those houses. The new facilities consist of eight to 12 poultry houses in one location, a lot more than in the past. Modern conservation installations on many of these sites cost between $150,000 to $200,000 to meet the new stringent regulations.”

Grouping poultry houses together offers growers better cost efficiency. Concern over the possibility of increased pollution from larger operations led activist groups to lobby for even stricter environmental regulations on poultry growers several years ago.

“I know how these poultry houses are built and operated,” Gayle added. “Everything is under cover, even the litter. New poultry houses have concrete footers up and down the sides, which contains things even more. And the operators even turn over the litter in between flocks to allow it to compost, reducing the need to change it every time a new flock is brought in.”

Poultry farmers also must meet other state regulations before the first bird enters a house, Gayle said. Limits on how much groundwater may be used and an approved litter applications plan are components of a process regulated and monitored by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Gayle said the VIMS findings “should ease people’s minds. This study should validate that the poultry industry is not a major source of pollution.”

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