Wicomico County Council to revisit DAF tank debate

WICOMICO COUNTY, Md. – The debate over where, and whether or not, dissolved air flotation (DAF) tanks should be permitted in Wicomico County continues.

Regulations Debated, Ban Proposed

Some are now proposing a ban on the tanks within County lines. Previously, the debate centered around whether the tanks should be constructed in agriculturally zoned (A1) or industrially zoned (I1 or I2) areas. “Our farmers farm in A1. That’s where the product is going to be used. If the Council was going to go with that thought, then you’ve really caused a farmer to now have to purchase land in an I1 or I2 area,” said Holly Porter, Executive Director of the Delmarva Chicken Association. “That is likely a lot more expensive than farm land, and they would not be able to build a storage tank on their own farm.” Carol Dunahoo, representing the Wicomico Environmental Trust (WET), says the group decided to shift to advocating for a total ban only recently. Dunahoo tells 47 ABC the decision came after County zoning officials expressed that it would be difficult to create enforceable zoning laws around the tanks. “That gave us pause, and we are now seriously considering what kind of ban might work to protect folks,” said Dunahoo. “We think it’s possible for agriculture to continue to function, while protecting the neighbors.”

What is DAF?

“I think there’s some misunderstandings over the process, the end product, which is a residual, classified as a soil amendment, and where it should be stored and how it can be stored,” said Porter.
Porter explains that DAF is the process of breaking down certain waste materials. The residual product can be processed into commercial fertilizer. She says that material is regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture as a soil amendment, or material added to soil, that can be used to fertilize crops.
“The main difference between soil amendments and commercial fertilizer is that a commercial fertilizer must have a guaranteed analysis. Soil amendments do not have to have that same guaranteed analysis. However, they do have to have a nutrient content,” said Porter.

Tank Concerns

Dunahoo says an existing DAF tank on Porter Mill Road in Hebron serves as an example of what kind of concerns some have. “The odor is so intense and noxious that they can’t even use their yards. Some of them can smell it in their homes,” she said. “It could pollute the drinking water that we all share . All those residencies are on wells, and the aquifer is the same aquifer we all draw on in this area.”
While Dunahoo says WET acknowledges a handful of Wicomico County farmers do use DAF material to fertilize their fields. However, she thinks much of the material stored in the tanks will be imported from other parts of Maryland, and then exported for use off of the Eastern Shore. This is the same practice in place for the tank on Porter Mill Road.
“We’re not talking about a farmer’s right to store a little bit of fertilizer on the farm for application there the following week, or something like that. We’re certainly not talking about manure that is produced on that farm,” said Dunahoo. “What we’re talking about is trying to impose some reasonable conditions on the storage of massive amounts of this material.”

Potential Impact on Farmers

Porter warns that changing zoning regulations of DAF tanks in Wicomico County could spell out trouble for farmers. She says if the tanks are restricted to I1 or I2 zones, farmers may even have to end up purchasing more land to construct the tanks. While Porter says that could hurt their bottom line, it could also impact the environment, as well.
“You’re also going to have more foot traffic and more of a carbon footprint, because you’re now going to have to move that from an I1 or I2 area to wherever the farms are,” said Porter.
Porter adds that other previously suggestions from WET could create more issues. She says for example, if County Council decides to restrict the tanks to the farms where the material is being used, more tanks could actually end up popping up around Wicomico County. Porter explains that’s because the average farm size on the Eastern Shore is about 160 acres.
“The problem with that is that we have farmers who may till 1,000 acres. But, it’s not a 1,000 acre farm that we have in Wicomico County,” said Porter. “That farmer is tilling 1,000 acres, but it may be seven individual farms. So now, if you’re restricting it, saying that it can only be placed on the farm where it’s being used, then that farmer is going to need seven tanks.”

Hoping For Compromise

Porter says the DCA and others hoping for the tanks to remain in Wicomico County understand the concerns that those on the other side have. However, the DCA is hoping a solution that benefits both farmers and residents, is reached. “It’s really the importance of allowing it to remain the A1 zone, which is where it makes sense,” she said. On the other side, Dunahoo says WET shares similar sentiments. “Nobody is trying to suggest that agriculture is not important to this culture and economy. But, we think that the right way to approach environmental issues in today’s day and age is to promote a healthy environment for everyone,” said Dunahoo. “The issue is, how can we find a way to coexist and work together in some reasonable manner?”
Categories: Local News, Maryland