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.