Just 10 hours before the Waterkeeper Alliance's federal lawsuit appeal deadline passed, Farm Progress sat at the kitchen table with a much relieved Alan Hudson – defendant with the most to lose from pollution claims leveled against him, wife Kristin and Perdue Farms. In short, the defendants were cleared of all alleged claims of pollution and wrong-doing.
Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based advocacy group had sued poultry processor Perdue Farms and the Hudsons for allegedly violating the federal Clean Water Act – even though they were in compliance with all Maryland regulations. From the beginning more than three years ago, legal expenses quickly piled up, threatening to kill this small 100-year-old family farm near Berlin, Md.
Call it gut feeling or inside information, but Alan Hudson was fairly confident the suit wouldn't be appealed. Next morning, Waterkeeper confirmed it publicly.
Now, all await U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson's ruling on whether the New York-based environmental group must pay defendants' court costs for the three-year battle. Court costs, however, won't begin to recover the emotional toll exacted on this couple and their children.
"From day one, we were vilified – the worst people in the world," he explains. "It changes your whole outlook. We were assumed guilty."
Waterkeeper and their local group, the Assateague Coastal Trust never once came to talk to the Hudsons about what they perceived as a problem, recalls the contract poultry producer. "That's not what they do. They want depositions – not talk."
People in the public school made Kristin uncomfortable. The couple tried to keep it away from their young children. "But they heard things," says Alan. "We took our daughter, a six-year-old at that point, to a counselor. She was worried we were going to lose the farm."
Now, life at Hudson Family Farm can regain a semblance of normal. The cattle and chickens still need daily caring for. Crops will soon compete for their time as Kristin continues teaching, now at a private school where their children attend. And, Alan continues driving a school bus to make ends meet.
Hudson credits the fund-raising efforts of the Save Farm Families group and countless individuals for being able to continue. "It's amazing how many nice people we've met from all over the country."
People donated thousands and thousands of dollars, plus seed and other supplies. Some stuffed money in their mailbox.
Holding back tears and after pausing, he says, "You can't help but be emotional about all the support. There's no way we can thank anybody the way we should."
Before the pollution accusations, adds the young farmer, "we weren't doing anything wrong. Now, we're doing even more of what's right as a safeguard."
Julie DeYoung, Perdue Farms spokeswoman, says the company is thrilled the Hudson family can put this nightmare behind them. "We're pleased that the Waterkeeper Alliance and their taxpayer-funded legal counsel at the University of Maryland's Environmental Law Clinic decided not to prolong this irresponsible attack on Maryland agriculture."
Waterkeeper's official statement took a different tact: "Although the Waterkeeper Alliance is disappointed with the ultimate conclusion of the case," noted Executive Director Marc Yaggi, "we believe that many of the issues brought to light during the trial ... will lead to progress in protecting and restoring the bay."
Waterkeeper quest likely to continue
Hopes dashed for a tougher federal court precedent-setting ruling for the Clean Water Act, Waterkeeper Alliance likely will be scanning for an easier target. Despite regulations and the best intentions of most farmers, there still are farms making inadvertent nutrient management errors.
"My fear," says Alan Hudson, "is that they'll find someone else to go after. Waterkeeper will back off a bit, but not down."
Before Judge Nickerson's decision came down, Yaggi stated: "Regardless of the decision, the reality remains that the Chesapeake Bay and waterways around the country are dying off from pollution and runoff from industrial factory farms like the one operated by Perdue and Mr. Hudson." That's a viewpoint without evidence, but still a swamp for future lawsuits.
Waterkeeper robes itself as a clean-water crusader. Since the CWA was written 40 years ago, reasons Yaggi, private citizens have played a vital role in enforcing its mandates through the energetic use of the citizen suit provisions contained in major federal environmental laws.
For more background on this case, click on these American Agriculturist website articles:
Waterkeepers_Legal_Assault and Hudson_Perdue_Trial_Reset .