By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County was left with the stench of yet another commercial protein spill last weekend, but this time it wasn’t dead fish washing up on the beach, it was chicken and chicken byproducts that had spilled out of the back of a truck onto U.S. Route 13.
The Exmore Police Department issued a public safety notice on Facebook on Sunday afternoon advising people to avoid the “chicken guts” on the road because braking hard while driving through the mess could cause vehicles to skid.
Facebook users commented that they had seen the chicken spills on multiple days, from Exmore to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Some reported seeing chicken spills in Accomack County as far north as Parksley.
The Exmore Police Department shared several photos of the latest spill, including one of a truck with a Valley Proteins logo on the rear. The truck was pulled over on southbound U.S. Route 13 in Nassawadox near the Machipongo Clam Shack, with chicken spilling out of the back onto the highway, including chicken feet and whole birds.
The original Facebook post noted Virginia Department of Transportation workers had been cleaning up the mess all night Saturday and throughout the afternoon Sunday.
The post also warned drivers of the chicken parts’ foul odor, which Supervisor John Coker confirmed at Tuesday night’s Northampton County Board of Supervisors meeting.
He was returning home from a concert at the Cape Charles park Saturday night and couldn’t see the spill on the highway in the dark until it was too late and he had driven through it near Food Lion.
“My wife’s car still stinks … to this day. I’m not kidding about that,” Coker remarked.
The commercial spills aren’t just a nuisance to locals but pose a threat to the Eastern Shore’s tourism industry.
“We don’t want people coming here, visiting for the summer, and having their car go home … stinking to high heaven … or their kids thinking about dead fish on the beach, ‘Gee, Daddy, I don’t ever want to go back there again,’” Coker said.
Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski noted he and Chair Betsy Mapp will meet with State Sen. Lynwood Lewis and Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Jamie Green to discuss the recent fish spills at Silver Beach, Kiptopeke State Park, and elsewhere in the county.
Most of the dead fish that washed up were menhaden, small fish processed to make products such as fish oil capsules and animal feed. The company Omega Protein took responsibility for two of three recent spills reported by locals; the origin of the third spill remains unknown.
Coker said, “We get no benefit from what they do. Zero, OK? No jobs, no taxes, no revenue, nothing. … And every time they do this, we clearly are going to lose tourists.”
Kolakowski said “increased and better regulation of the industry” of menhaden fishing will be pursued.
He added that the Virginia State Police and Department of Environmental Quality are involved with the chicken spill, and Northampton officials will continue to communicate with those agencies and VDOT.
Kolakowski said the county may pursue “legislative assistance,” the implementation of a regulation requiring chicken byproducts to be transported in closed containers, not trucks with open tops.
Coker asked the county administrator to “push hard” to get results from state agencies and legislators.
Mapp said, “In other words, don’t chicken out.”