(Jan. 10, 2014) The Hudson family, targets of a lawsuit alleging a non-existent pile of chicken manure on their Berlin-area farm polluted waterways, received the Citizenship Award from the Tri-County Council of the Lower Eastern Shore last month.
“I was shocked,” Alan Hudson said Monday. “Shocked and amazed. It was the last thing I expected. They surprised me. I can’t thank them enough.”
The Citizenship Award is given in recognition of outstanding service through leadership, responsibility, character and commitment that has produced a positive effect on Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties.
Hudson had been invited to a dinner at Great Hope Golf Course in Crisfield held by the Tri-County Council on Dec. 9. He was unaware of the reason for the dinner, but he accepted the invitation of Bud Church, president of the Worcester County Commissioners, who drove him there and who was, of course, quite aware of the award.
“I was delighted the Tri-County Council recognized Mr. Hudson for his contribution to the agricultural community,” Church said Monday. “He and his family had been through so much during the past several years and hopefully, this recognition will help ease the pain.”
Hudson had assumed he was being asked to speak about the ordeal he and his family had been through since Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust, and the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental activist group, filed the federal lawsuit in March 2010.
That lawsuit, filed against the Alan and Kristin Hudson Farm and Perdue Farms alleged that a pile of chicken manure on the Hudson farm was causing pollution. The pile, however, was not chicken manure at all, but a pile of biosolids from the Ocean City wastewater treatment plant. Such biosolids were commonly used as fertilizer on farms.
The Maryland Department of the Environment investigated the issue, asked the Hudsons to move the pile of biosolids to a different site on the farm and concluded no further action was needed except to spread the pile in time for the next crop growing season. The pile was moved.
Neither Phillips nor anyone affiliated with the Waterkeeper Alliance ever called Hudson to ask about the pile or to ask if they could visit the farm. Instead, they just filed the lawsuit, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act. Even after the determination by the Department of the Environment that the pile was not chicken manure, they went forward with their lawsuit, but changed the supposed method of water pollution.
They came up with the idea that pollutants from poultry manure had gotten into the waterways by being blown there from exhaust fans on chicken houses and from the soles of people’s shoes as they went into and out of the chicken houses on the farm.
“They never should have gone as far as they did,” Hudson said. “If they cared about what they said they cared about, they should have come and talked to us. I’ve never spoken to Ms. Phillips. Throughout the trial, they wouldn’t even look me in the eye in the courtroom.
“I’ve never had a conversation with her. She never called. All she ever had to do was call me and I would have talked to her.
“They had this pre-planned,” Hudson said. “They went so far and they just couldn’t back down. They were grasping for straws.”
The Hudson family did not back down. Aware that defending themselves against the false allegations could have resulted in personal bankruptcy and the loss of the family farm, the Hudsons fought back and won.
Because of their determination, people through the state and the country became educated about the plight of the Eastern Shore poultry industry and gained a new respect for the Eastern Shore farmers who remain committed to the land and were the first environmentalists, according to a press release issued by the Tri-County Council.
“Alan Hudson has always humbly given credit to the individuals, neighbors, agricultural community, and others whose significant help supported him and his family throughout this ordeal through to his ultimate success,” the Tri-County Council said in its press release stated. “We know, however, that the Eastern Shore and its critically important agricultural industry is better understood, stronger and more appreciated because of the character and commitment of the entire Hudson Family.”
Hudson and many others anticipate that the Waterkeeper Alliance will file additional lawsuits against farmers. For that reason, www.SaveFarmFamilies.org will remain in existence to help other farm families who become targets of lawsuits.
The University of Maryland law clinic provided free legal services to the Waterkeeper Alliance. Fundraisers such as crab feasts and chicken and dumpling dinners, plus donations to www.SaveFarmFamiles.org, helped the Hudsons pay their legal bills. But even with all that help, Hudson still had to pay part of the cost.
He did not specify how much he paid, but said it was “quite a bit.” In addition to the financial hit, they had to take time off from work and spend time going back and forth to Baltimore.
Even though Judge William Nickerson declared in his Dec. 20, 2012 finding that the Waterkeeper Alliance had not met the standard of preponderance of evidence in its claim that the Hudson farm had discharged pollutants into the waterways, life has still not returned to normal for the family. And maybe it never will.
“It’s better, but you still look over your shoulder,” Hudson said. “It’s been three very hard years for me and my family.”