- Waterkeepers and its benefactors need to learn that filing frivolous lawsuits in an effort to bankrupt family farms can be a swift-running current.
We didn’t hear a peep from the Waterkeeper Alliance and its president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., after a federal judge admonished them soundly in a December ruling in favor of a family farm. It’s not a victory for agriculture just yet.
In 2010, Waterkeepers claimed fourth-generation family farmers Alan and Kristin Hudson had placed piles of chicken litter dangerously close to a waterway, then sued the Maryland farmers, alleging that their small chicken farm violated the Clean Water Act.
However, the piles these environmental crusaders thought they saw – while flying over the farm in an airplane – did not consist of chicken litter. And the Hudson family farm was subsequently cleared of any wrong doing by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
This fact didn’t stop the Waterkeeper Alliance from strafing the Hudson’s right to farm. They pressed on with the suit anyway, and the Hudsons racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and were nearly bankrupted.
When the Hudsons finally had their day in court three years later, Judge William Nickerson ruled that “citizen suits under the Clean Water Act can play a significant role in filling the void where state regulatory agencies are unable or unwilling to take appropriate legal action against offenders. When citizen groups take up that mantle, however, they must do so responsibly and effectively. The Court finds that in this action, for whatever reason, Waterkeeper did not meet that obligation.”
One reason the Hudsons won this round was because of agriculture’s support. Defense funds were raised for the Hudsons to make sure they had the time and money to face their accusers. The organization SaveFarmFamilies.org was formed to help publicize the Hudson’s plight, and several farm bureaus got involved, including the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
And of course, the accusations were completely untrue.
“The Hudsons were unjustly accused in a witch hunt by the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Waterkeeper Alliance and their agenda against modern agriculture,” said Lee Richardson, president of the Wicomico County Farm Bureau. “The Hudsons are hard-working Maryland family farmers, no different from hundreds of other farmers across the state. If the Waterkeepers had been successful, it would have been a travesty.”
Richardson said the Waterkeeper Alliance demonstrated “a complete lack of understanding of common farm practices,” and their agenda all along “had been clear – to make the Hudsons their scapegoat and essentially put all farmers operating chicken farms across the country out of business.”
The Hudson’s fight to farm might not be over if Waterkeeper Alliance decides to appeal, and surely the environmental group will continue to bully other farm families around the country.
To send a strong message to the Waterkeepers, Judge Nickerson should award legal costs to the Hudsons. Waterkeepers and its benefactors need to learn that filing frivolous lawsuits in an effort to bankrupt family farms can be a swift-running current.
For more information on the lawsuit visit: www.savefarmfamilies.org.