ShoreRivers Lawsuit Leads to Settlement with Failing Chicken Rendering Plant

By Matt Pluta, Choptank Riverkeeper and Director of Riverkeeper Programs at ShoreRivers

After more than a year of litigation, ShoreRivers has reached a settlement in our lawsuit against Valley Proteins for pollution violations at its Linkwood, Maryland facility. Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Maryland Department of the Environment are also parties to the agreement.

At Valley Proteins’ poultry rendering plant on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, workers clean up sludge that was discovered in a stream leading to the Transquaking River. (MD Department of the Environment)

In spring 2021, ShoreRivers and our partner, Chesapeake Legal Alliance, issued a notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act to finally hold Valley Proteins accountable for their pollution-causing actions and pressure MDE into enforcing clean water laws.

This victory was made possible through the generous free legal services provided by Chesapeake Legal Alliance. Attorneys at Chesapeake Legal Alliance donated more than $150,000 in legal fees and secured experts for the case as well. Please consider donating to them today!

It took our full team of nonprofits to force MDE into taking a strong position to protect water quality from one of the state’s worst permit violators. We will remain vigilant in the coming months and years to see that the terms of the consent decree are followed and that any future discharge permit includes the necessary conditions for improving local water quality.

Over the past 12 months, Fred Pomeroy, President of Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth, and his organization have played a vital role, leading in on-site water quality monitoring that allowed us to assess the effects Valley Proteins’ discharge has had on the stream.

“We regard this consent decree as a potential first step toward reducing the illegal discharges from Valley Proteins that have for years degraded the Transquaking River and threatened public health in the watershed,” says Pomeroy, who acknowledges that more is still needed to fully protect the river. “Now, we call on Maryland’s Department of the Environment to produce a strict new operating permit for the facility which will actually contribute to restoration of the river. Markedly improved water quality downstream from the VP operation will be the ultimate test of the effectiveness of this agreement.”

The consent decree is an important victory toward bringing accountability. It is the strongest enforcement action brought to date against Valley Proteins in the decade-long period for which they have violated pollution control limits. Read a recent article in the Bay Journal for additional details on the settlement

This is not the end of this story. With ongoing violations and a new permit MDE says it will be issuing in next 60 days, this is just the first step toward making sure that this facility can operate in enduring compliance and in harmony with the state’s water quality standards. We are not walking away, just finalizing an important first step in the process.

That said, what are our next steps? First, we’ll continue our ongoing efforts to monitor for violations at the facility. We’ll also work to ensure that the terms of the consent decree are followed through with, particularly relating to the studies on, and upgrades to, Valley Proteins’ wastewater storage lagoons and on-site stormwater management systems. And, once issued, we want to make sure the new discharge permit from MDE does not grant Valley Proteins the option to increase their discharge without first proving that they can operate without violating it. ShoreRivers and our partners will be ready to file a judicial review if the final determination is unsatisfactory.