BALTIMORE (AP) — Attorneys for farmers and environmentalists tangled again Friday during closing arguments in a trial that defense attorneys argue could have wide-ranging impact on the poultry industry and agriculture on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Nearly 100 spectators, including a van-full of farmers from the Eastern Shore, were on hand in U.S. District Court as the Waterkeeper Alliance argued that Berlin-based Hudson Farm is violating the federal Clean Water Act by polluting a nearby river. And the group says poultry giant Perdue should be held accountable for the actions of the grower, Alan Hudson.
Defense attorneys told the judge that the plaintiffs haven't proved their case and again warned that a ruling against the farm could have far-reaching implications.
Outside the courtroom, Perdue attorney Michael Schatzow said the case was a battle in a war that the plaintiffs have declared "not only on the poultry industry, but on Perdue and on a way of life on the Eastern Shore. And it's very important that we fight these battles and that we win them."
Attorney Jane Barrett, who is representing the Waterkeeper Alliance, told the judge that the plaintiffs are only asking the court to enforce federal law. She also refuted defense arguments that Hudson worked with regulators to comply with state and federal laws. Barrett said afterward that the Clean Water Act allows members of the public to file suit if they feel the act is being violated.
"That's what the citizen's suit provision is for, when the regulators don't do what they are supposed to do," Barrett said.
Barrett, who also heads an environmental law clinic at the University of Maryland law school, said plaintiffs had proved their case. She dismissed suggestions the case was too weak to bring to trial, saying the case had survived motions to dismiss and by the defense for the judge to rule in its favor.
The case was filed after the alliance flew over the farm in 2009 and photographed what the group believed was an uncovered pile of chicken manure and later found water samples in the area containing high bacteria levels. The pile turned out not to be chicken manure. The group later blamed nearby water pollution on fans that ventilate the two chicken houses and traffic in and out of the houses, which can hold about 80,000 birds.
Schatzow repeatedly asked during his closing arguments why the plaintiffs didn't conduct more sampling and testing during preparations for the trial. District Judge William M. Nickerson also asked Barrett about this.
Barrett said the plaintiffs did not have access at first to the site and conditions changed later on, leading them to conclude that more sampling wasn't needed.
The judge, who said he planned to issue a ruling in the non-jury trial by the end of the year, also asked what more Hudson could have done. Barrett, who earlier had accused the farm of bad housekeeping practices, said there are innumerable practices that can be implemented to reduce pollution and the defendants should have been in more frequent discussions with regulators on ways to cut discharges.
Among those in the courtroom was Lee Richardson, of Willards, who said he traveled in a van from the Eastern Shore with 15 farmers to show support for Alan Hudson. The 42-year-old Richardson says he raises chicken, corn, soybean and wheat on about 2,000 acres.
"After all," he said, "it could have been any one of us."