DEQ Groundwater Public Meeting Heats Up to a Boil


By Linda CicoiraEnvironmentalist Ken Dufty, of Northampton County, was so exasperated by comments made at a recent Eastern Shore Groundwater Committee (ESGWC) meeting that he suggested Chairman John Coker move to Accomack to live beside a cluster of 24 poultry houses.

Coker is also vice chairman of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors and a likely candidate for the top spot because Chairman Spencer Murray is not seeking reelection in November.

“We’re not going to be able to tell the poultry people or anybody how to run their business,” Coker said during the groundwater meeting. He was referring to water usage and the expansion of poultry facilities in Accomack. “I’m certainly not going to tell somebody how to run their business … I don’t know when enough is enough. I don’t think scientists can tell us. We’re waiting for the scientists to tell us what really is going to happen to our water. We don’t know yet. We all have our gut feelings.”

The groundwater committee wants poultry house operators to use the Columbia aquifer, which is replenished faster than the Yorktown aquifer.

“If the citizens in Northampton County did not demand and persuade the board of supervisors to tell the poultry industry that they would not be able to build their industrial sized broiler houses unless they adhered to a 1,000 foot setback in Northampton County, we indeed would be in the same poultry-saturated situation that residents find themselves saddled within” Accomack, Dufty wrote to Coker.  

“The inference that we should not regulate or advise businesses … is a suggestion that may perhaps work for the industry or unchecked commerce, but it most certainly is not protective in most cases of public health, natural resources, or the environment,” Dufty continued. “These three are assets that once lost are very difficult to recover or retrieve, and the suggestion that government should just take a hands-off posture when dealing with prospective or existing industry or business is patently absurd and indeed insulting.”  

“You named Britt MacMillan as the scientist who we should rely on to tell us whether or not we should worry about the health or sustainability of our aquifer,” said Dufty. “To my knowledge Britt MacMillan, although well regarded, is not a scientist, he is a groundwater consultant.”

McMillian is a hydrologist and the committee’s consultant. and several other websites define “a hydrologist as a scientist who researches the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of the earth’s underground and surface waters. They help environmental and other scientists preserve and clean up the environment, as well as search for groundwater.”

“Many if not all of the major environmental and public health travesties of all time were created because these scientists or experts assured regulators that proposed actions by business or industry were harmless and benign,” Dufty wrote. 

He listed opioids among his arguments. “Scientists and experts assured the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) that opioids were harmless, non-addictive, and could be doled out like candy to patients needing pain relief … Scientists and experts assured the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and other regulators that deepwater drilling of oil in the Gulf of Mexico was safe, controlled, and no harm would ever result from this activity. The 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill turned out to be the world’s largest man-made environmental disaster thanks to the empty promises and assurances by the expert scientists. Their failure to protect and ensure that no harm would ensue from this deepwater exploratory well will reportedly have negative implications and effects that will last for generations.”

He also blamed scientists and experts for assuring regulators in Michigan who failed to advise Flint residents about the water contaminants there and for the failure to adequately access the aquifer drawdown in Virginia Beach in the late 1970s causing “a halt in economic development for nearly 15 years until the pipe from Lake Gaston was constructed … at a cost exceeding a half billion dollars.”

Dufty said, “Nearly every major environmental accident, release of contaminants, spills or even the ill-placement of nuclear power plants were the result of miscalculations, omissions, oversights or blatant incompetence by the experts and scientists.”

“It was clear to me by your questioning of Mr. McMillan and your transparent attempt to get him to say that there was perhaps an over-estimation of the amount of water that would be drawn from our aquifer by the 54 facilities currently under technical evaluation by the DEQ, (Department of Environmental Quality) an admission that Mr. McMillan refused to give), that you have become a fan of and for the poultry industry.”

“This is most concerting for us here in Northampton County as many, many citizens spent a good deal of their time, resource, and energy protecting this county from the same industrial fate that is now plaguing residents living in” Accomack, he said. “We urge you to show more respect for your own constituency and our work in protecting Northampton county from environmental degradation and assault … my friends have a horse farm for sale in the Pungoteague area and will probably cut you a great deal … perhaps you can encourage the owners of the adjacent 24 industrial broiler-house operation to silence their exhaust fans when you invite friends over for that backyard barbeque, something my friends have yet to perfect.”

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