When the Waterkeeper Alliance decides to make an example of you, they don’t let truth get in the way of their efforts. They take you to court and hope legal bills drive you into bankruptcy.
Back in 2010, the WA tried this approach with Alan and Kristin Hudson, who own a small family farm in Maryland. The Hudsons are still fighting the WA today, but stress on the family is starting to mount.
The troubles for the farm began when the WA, in search of a violation of the Clean Water Act, flew over the Hudson farm near Berlin, Md., and thought they found a pile of uncovered chicken litter on the farm. They promptly sued the Hudsons and Perdue, the company they contract with.
The Maryland Department of the Environment later found that the pile did not contain chicken litter. When the WA found out they were wrong, they simply changed their accusations mid-stream, theorizing that dust from poultry litter had polluted local waterways via poultry house exhaust fans and through foot traffic from the Hudson’s entering and exiting their two chicken houses.
Despite the frivolousness of the litigation, the case has once again been delayed (until Oct. 9, 2012). But it’s starting to get some pushback from rational people.
Valerie Connelly of the Maryland Farm Bureau said, “The Waterkeepers tout their so-called hard-nosed litigation tactics in their most recent annual report. Let it be known that these tactics, which are well known here and around the country, only strengthen our resolve to keep up the fight for the Hudsons and for farm families around the country.”
In a recent ruling denying a summary judgment to both sides in the case, Judge William Nickerson wrote that there were disturbing elements in the litigation. “It seems clear that the original plaintiffs in this action were looking for an opportunity to bring a citizen suit under the CWA against some chicken production operation under contract with a major poultry integrator.
“When (original plaintiff Kathlyn) Phillips discovered a large pile on the Hudson Farm that she believed to be chicken litter, she concluded that she had found her “BAD APPLE.” After the pile proved to be something other than chicken litter, Phillips continued to represent, apparently without any evidence, that the pile was tainted with chicken manure.”
A simple chat with the Hudsons would have saved everyone a lot of grief. “They could have just approached us, person to person, and said, ‘Look, this is what we saw when we flew over your house. Can you please explain it to us?’” Kristin Hudson said. “The whole lawsuit was a very underhanded way to approach a problem that could have very easily been solved just by talking to someone.”
The Hudsons have now amassed over $100,000 in legal expenses, and emotional stress is starting to mount as well. See savefarmfamilies.org for more information on the family.