Shedding light on mystery barns.
A growing number of industrial turkey operations have been built on vulnerable karst in Monroe County. Who’s watching out for our water?
ICWA is working to preserve and protect the exceptional water quality of streams and springs in Indian Creek watershed from potential pollution and degradation caused by an increasing number of industrialized turkey “farms” sited on karst in Monroe County.
Two industrial turkey operations are currently under construction on neighboring Zenith Road properties at the base of Peters Mountain. Aviagen Sites #30 and #31 are situated on karst with sinkholes in blind valleys. Both properties are also located near the headwater karst springs of two important Indian Creek tributaries: Dropping Lick and Turkey Creek. A Public Notice announcement in 2021 for Site #31, the most recent location, was the first opportunity neighbors and the community had to review any Aviagen permit application and voice their concerns and issues since a public comment period was not required for Site #30.
AVIAGEN OPERATIONS SPREAD IN MONROE COUNTY
Aviagen Turkeys Inc., based in Lewisburg, WV, is part of the Aviagen Group, an international poultry breeding organization that also has headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama. There are currently 10 Aviagen sites in Monroe County all of which are situated on vulnerable karst terrain.
Why here? Aviagen Turkeys Inc. has a growing presence in Monroe County and the rest of the Greenbrier Valley, including Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties. Several factors create inviting conditions for a business such as Aviagen and make Monroe County a “perfect storm” target:
- West Virginia’s insufficient environmental protections and inspection/enforcement resources to safeguard the state’s water resources;
- The state’s special protections or exclusions for intensive poultry production that shield the industry from environmental and health regulations required of most concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs);
- Monroe County’s lack of zoning and other county-level safeguards; and
- The county’s longstanding farming history and agricultural character.
In the Zenith area, Aviagen can take advantage of easy access to Peters Mountain’s clean water by digging a well to support its operations with an unlimited water supply. It can also avoid adequate responsibility for ensuring that its waste waters do not pollute and degrade the vulnerable karst aquifer on which it sits. Apparently, if a large company can’t identify an affected surface stream, it doesn’t have to be held accountable.
The company can also offload its turkey litter waste to local farmers as free fertilizer. It sounds like a win-win situation, except that there are no assurances that every farmer can or will be careful to prevent run-off of excess nutrients into streams, or the absorption of pollutants into ground water from litter spread on karst pastures and fields.
Expansion in Monroe County. Aviagen has purchased at least four pre-existing intensive poultry operation sites (at Alderson, Pickaway, Gates Road, and Gap Mills). Since about 2017, it has also purchased six more sites for development:
- Four in the Second Creek watershed not far from where Second Creek enters the Greenbrier River (two on former Neff Orchard/Morgan Orchard property and two nearby on properties along Moore Road), and most recently,
- Two sites in the Indian Creek watershed on Zenith Road at the base of Peters Mountain.
Under the radar. Aviagen’s expansion has largely taken place without any advance notification or opportunity for community input and consideration.Site #31, the most recent location, was the first Aviagen site in the county for which a Public Notice was issued for a water-related permit. It was the first site where neighbors and the community had the opportunity to review an Aviagen permit application and voice their concerns and issues.
Risks and concerns. ICWA and members of the community have expressed significant concern that all neighboring families and farms in the Zenith area rely on private springs and wells, and that no testing has been done to determine what streams and springs might be impacted by runoff waters from these operations. ICWA has specifically requested that both dye-tracing and water testing be done and that stronger pollution control measures and water monitoring procedures be put In place before a permit is issued. Concerns also include health issues related to air quality, disease, noise, excessive night lights—both for residents and for the migrating birds that use Peters Mountain, heavy traffic on narrow, winding roads and loss of property enjoyment and value, among others.
NOTICES OF VIOLATION AT ZENITH SITES
Local neighbors and ICWA volunteers have observed, recorded and reported to WVDEP about several instances of unlawful conditions at Sites 30 and 31. Three have led to formal “Notices of Violation” (NOVs).
Since December 2021, a team of ICWA volunteers has conducted monthly monitoring at two sites near major karst springs that could be adversely affected by Aviagen’s Zenith operations currently under construction. Six volunteers have been involved in the testing, which started with a calibration/training session and initial monitoring at two sites in late 2021.
ICWA has also had a professional baseline water quality evaluation conducted of these two sites and others, to establish a certified independent baseline record of the water quality at these springs prior to the initiation of any turkey operations at the Zenith sites.
FUTURE INDUSTRIAL TURKEY OPERATIONS IN MONROE COUNTY? … BEWARE!!
Anecdotal reports have been heard that Aviagen has offered to purchase other properties on Peters Mountain along the same band of karst present in Zenith. Please report information or concerns to ICWA via below email and contact us at that email if you are interested in being kept up to date about Aviagen developments.