Chicken houses were again a topic of conversation during the public input portion of Wednesday’s Accomack County Board of Supervisors meeting. Four speakers addressed their concerns. Miriam Riggs of Cashville asked the Supervisors to revisit the zoning ordinances on poultry houses and extend the set backs to 1000 ft. from residences and 1500 ft.
Sue Mastyl of Harborton expressed her concerns about the poultry industry’s use of water. CEBES Executive Director Donna Bozza urged the board to work with members of the community and thoughtfully address its concerns. Ken Dufty of Exmore questioned the use of the Yorktown aquifer as a water source for the new chicken houses. Dufty claimed that the projected water use would exceed the recharge rate of that aquifer and expressed fears that we would run out of water. Dufty asked the Board to do what it could to require that new chicken houses draw water from the shallower Columbia aquifer which contains more water and recharges faster than the Yorktown aquifer.
Then Kevin Taylor manager of Tyson Foods spoke to the Board. Taylor addressed what he said were misconceptions about Tyson Foods. Taylor said that Tysons in Tempranceville is not expanding or has not expanded. Taylor said that Tysons has installed new technology and added jobs but has not expanded its operation. He also said that the new chicken houses do not represent expansion because they are replacing old obsolete houses that were not performing.
Taylor commented that some of the information coming from environmentalist groups simply isn’t true.
Then Taylor announced that after meeting with Chairman Crockett and County Administrator Mike Mason, Tysons has agreed that going forward all wells providing water for poultry houses will be drilled into the Columbia aquifer and that when possible existing wells servicing poultry houses will be refitted to draw water from the shallower aquifer.
Supervisor Grayson Chesser said that the same applications and the same regulations apply to wells in the Columbia aquifer that apply to wells in the Yorktown aquifer.
The change in aquifers is expected to reduce the strain on the Yorktown aquifer and pertains to new chicken houses but Tysons will try to retro-fit existing houses as well. Taylor said that it may not be possible to do this in some cases, but Tysons will try to get as many using the shallower aquifer as possible.
The announcement follows an attempt by five local environmental activists to petition the DEQ to immediately require 83 working and planned poultry operations stop withdrawing water from the Yorktown aquifer. According to an article by Carol Vaughn on Delmarva Now, Delmarva Poultry Industry Executive Director Bill Satterfield said that doing so would be “catastrophic for the welfare of millions of chickens — since it should be clear to everyone that birds cannot survive when deprived of water.” The letter cites the Groundwater Management Act of 1992 as grounds for the request. The DEQ has yet to respond and it is not clear what affect Wednesday night’s announcement will have on the request. More on the petition can be found on the Delmarva Now website.