Fortunately, we have heard from scientists and what they have to say about this facility and its grossly deficient proposed permit (currently under review by the Maryland Department of the Environment.) Scientists worry, rightly so, about the serious threat this operation poses to the Atlantic Sturgeon. Federally and state designated as critical habitat, the Marshyhope is the smallest known river in the United States that is home to this endangered species and is the only river in Maryland where it is known to spawn, with cobble beds that could be eroded away by the amount of wastewater AquaCon proposes dumping just upstream from their habitat. Mr. Showalter was specifically asked at the meeting if AquaCon could guarantee there would be no impacts to the Atlantic Sturgeon and his response was “no.”
We’ve heard from countless environmentalists about this issue, too, with groups like ShoreRivers, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Friends of the Nanticoke River, Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth, and the Wicomico Environmental Trust all coming out in opposition to this facility and the pollution and runoff it will dump into our waterways.
ShoreRivers supporters generated more than 360 letters expressing their concerns in just four days, letters that urge the Maryland Department of the Environment to do the right thing and deny the dangerous discharge permit, which would allow AquaCon to dump nitrogen and phosphorus in excess of what the state’s own model says are safe levels for the area. Without the offsets needed to reduce the loads (still unsecured), the permit application is incomplete.
We’ve also heard from advocates like Tom Horton and those who recreate on the Bay, like our Mid-Shore Fishing Club and its 121 members, who consider the proposal “ludicrous.” And Federalsburg residents seem to agree, from those in attendance at the recent meeting who made it abundantly clear that they didn’t want this fish factory in their town to the more than 100 who have signed an online petition in hopes of saving their beloved Marshyhope.
Residents at the September 19 meeting expressed repeated concerns about the withdraw of groundwater and its impact on their drinking water wells, and about the impact this will have on a town already prone to flooding. According to Mr. Showalter, the company proposes to withdraw millions of gallons of water per day from underground aquifers, yet both he and MDE have failed to address whether groundwater supplies and existing uses can accommodate this level of withdrawal, or could cause saltwater intrusion or nearby land to sink, as has happened elsewhere. Federalsburg already floods on high tides and after heavy storms—add 2.3 million gallons of discharge daily, and the flooding will undoubtedly get worse.
It’s not often that this many voices are able to reach a consensus on the best way to maintain the health of our local waterways, but on this case it’s easy to come together—indoor salmon farming of this size and scale hasn’t been done safely and successfully anywhere in the country, and we can’t be the guinea pigs in this experiment. It’s past time to listen to our voices.
We believe it is the Federalsburg Mayor & Town Council’s right and duty at this point to take back control of this process by asking the state to discontinue processing the discharge permit. We call on them to make their own voices heard and to protect their town, their residents, and their waterways by stopping this process before it’s too late.
Our Eastern Shore rivers are too fragile for this type of operation. The proposal from AquaCon represents a distraction from the multi-layered effort to reduce pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay and to protect native species like crabs, rockfish, and the delicate population of Atlantic Sturgeon. Those of us who support healthy waterways and product fisheries have an obligation to ensure that this negligent permit does not pass.