Somerset County Considers Tougher Regulations on Poultry Houses

A Delmarva Now article (2016-10-13) reported that Somerset County is considering tougher requirements for the location and siting of large poultry houses. The article provided an in-depth of the dynamics driving the proposal and the poultry industry’s relationship with the county, its residents, and other types of farmers.

New regulations under review would back up future chickenhouses at least 400 feet away from their neighbors. The Board of Somerset County Commissioners is considering a plateful of zoning changes, starting with a hearing set for Tuesday, that would upend the county’s relationship with one of its biggest industries.

“They are more stringent,” said Gary Pusey, the county’s planner.

To name a few: Those on the larger side would have to survive a public hearing; there are landscaping requirements for the first time and the structures’ ventilation fans would have to be kept 1,000 feet away from homes off the farm property.

The proposals have further cemented the gulf between the chicken industry and local residents and environmentalists who say the new, industrialized scale of farming threatens their health and property values. Farmers and industry leaders say some of the regulations go too far; some residents say they don’t go nearly far enough.

In the article, residents raised concerns about the environmental impact and scale of new poultry houses:

[Somerset Residents] Joe and Lisa Inzerillo weren’t happy [with the construction of nearby poultry houses]. They had just built their dream home a few years earlier on acreage once owned and tilled by Lisa’s forebears. She had grown up helping her grandparents raise cows and chickens on the property. Farming wasn’t a new concept to her or her husband. But the version now springing up around them was.

“It’s the magnitude of these houses and the number of birds and the size of these fans,” Joe Inzerillo said.

Modern chickenhouses have grown to 36,000 square feet of floor area, about three times the size of houses built in the 1960s. And they’re being grouped in clusters of five, 10 or more instead of the once-typical two or three.

[Resident Sam] Berley said the new complex by his house may already be having an effect on the environment.

“Yesterday, I noticed our well water tasted different,” he said. “More bitter.”

The poultry industry responded that the larger size houses were needed for a variety of reasons, including meeting environmental regulations:

Farmers and industry officials say the larger houses and groupings are needed to keep up with rising global demand for chicken meat. More room is also necessary — but not necessarily more chickens — to comply with the standards for chickens to be certified as organically raised.

And they also point to government forces: new environmental regulations that they say drive up construction costs, rendering smaller operations economically obsolete.

The article also noted that Somerset is not the only county dealing with the issue. Nearby Wicomico County is also considering new regulations.