The state has blocked a Kent County farmer's plan to raise 3,000 hogs in a warehouse by the headwaters of the Chester River, averting for now a controversy over the environmental impact of so-called "factory" farming.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has rejected an application by Anthony Guessregen for a ground-water discharge permit to apply liquefied hog waste on the 313-acre Willow Pond Farm near Millington. He had planned to excavate two lagoons to store up to 15 million gallons of diluted hog waste.
The department sent Guessregen a letter Thursday to inform him of its decision. The state rarely denies a permit application outright, but Jeffrey Rein, deputy wastewater permits chief, said it did so in this case because of the widespread public interest.
Rein said the decision was based on Guessregen's failure to demonstrate that ground water and nearby drinking water wells would not be contaminated.
The former commercial fisherman from Long Island, N.Y., did not test the depth of the water table beneath the cropland where he planned to spray the hog waste during the "wet season" in February and March, as he had been instructed to do by state regulators.
J. L. Hearn, director of water management, wrote in the denial letter that state regulators remain concerned that nutrients in the waste could seep from ground water into streams that feed the Chester River, worsening the water quality problems of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The proposal to start a 3,000-hog "finishing" operation, in which the animals are reared in indoor stalls, sparked a controversy over the potential for large animal herds to contaminate drinking water wells and pollute the bay.
Guessregen said yesterday that he did not do the water-table testing because he and his wife, Patricia, had decided a month ago not to pursue the project. He said community opposition convinced them "it wasn't worth the headache," even though he was sure the hog operation as designed would not have polluted water or generated foul odors.
"We would have had to fight off nuisance lawsuits; the neighbors would always hate you," he said. Though many Millington-area residents and elected officials opposed him, Guessregen contended that he had the support of "real farmers" in the rural area.
He can appeal the denial or renew his application.
Cindy Simpkins, whose 88-acre farm adjoins the Guessregen land, welcomed the denial of the application. She said she and other opponents would continue to press for local and state restrictions on what she calls "factory farming."
"We're going to prevent Maryland from becoming another North Carolina," she said. North Carolina, which has grown in recent years to become the nation's second-leading pork-producing state, began tightening regulation of large-scale hog farming after a waste lagoon burst two years ago, spilling 25 million gallons of liquefied manure into a river and causing a fish kill.
Maryland officials say they have begun scrutinizing livestock herds more closely, and now require a general permit for large-scale animal feeding operations.
Kent County Commissioner Larry Beck said local officials are considering zoning restrictions on large livestock operations.
"We don't want to do anything that's going to hurt the agriculture industry or the small farmer, but at the same time we don't want to have these farm factories come in and destroy the environment," Beck said.
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican whose district covers the Eastern Shore, called the state's denial of the hog farm "prudent."
Pub Date: 4/08/97