Farm Family’s Fate in the Hands of Maryland Federal Court

The radical Waterkeeper Allianceno stranger to dubious lawsuits, might soon find itself neck-deep in chicken litter. The group, run by the “very reckless” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — you might remember him for his dangerous claims against childhood vaccines — is slated to go to trial next week in its war against a family farm in Maryland.

The suit alleges that the Hudson family, owner of Romarlen Farms, violated the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) by storing poultry manure in a pile on their property. The Waterkeeper Alliance went after both the Hudsons and Perdue Farms, which contracts with the Hudsons.

There’s only one small problem: there wasn’t a pile of chicken litter. It was a pile of natural fertilizer for crops legally purchased from the authorities in Ocean City, Maryland, which, although improperly stored, was not what the trigger-happy plaintiffs initially said it was. The Hudsons complied with a state order and moved it. Nonetheless, Waterkeeper Alliance went forward with its suit, claiming that the water pollution it found in a ditch couldn’t have come from anywhere else but the Hudsons’ farm.

Waterkeeper Alliance’s allegation means that in no way could pollution have come from other byproducts of farming that are permitted under the CWA, or from other farms on the Eastern Shore, or any other non-farming related source. Color us skeptical.

It sounds like another one of Junior’s great conspiracy theories, though perhaps not as dangerous as discouraging vaccination. But instead of just trying to fool the general public, he’s hoping a judge will fall for it. Thus far, that strategy isn’t working too well:

[U.S. District Court Judge William M.] Nickerson has chided the environmentalists for continuing with a weak case. He said it’s clear the waterkeepers were looking for a test case to challenge the status quo in the chicken industry.

“Plaintiff’s case has now gone from a large pile of uncovered chicken manure to small amounts of airborne litter from the exhaust fans, trace amounts brought out on shoes and tires, and a dustpan of litter left on the heavy use pads,” Nickerson wrote.

The judge has already warned that he may impose legal fees on the Waterkeeper Alliance if its suit falls short. We wonder if the Alliance will also consider refunding the state of Maryland for using its taxpayer-funded law clinics as counsel, a move that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) frowned on.

We will keep you posted as the case goes on, because this is going to be a watershed case.

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