The 92nd Annual Pony Penning

Photo by Angie Crutchley — Story By Connie Morrison —
A red flare pierced the pale morning sky just before 7 a.m. to signal the beginning of the 92nd annual Pony Swim.

It was one of the earliest swims “in a long, long time,” said Denise Bowden, Chincoteague vice mayor and spokesperson for the volunteer fire company.

The early swim time was not a deterrent to morning crowds which enjoyed a respite from the usual searing heat as they waited for the spectacle. Two additions to this year’s swim: drones jockeyed for position overhead, while those who gathered to watch the swim at Veteran’s Memorial Park were treated to a Jumbotron broadcast of the event.

The swim is held on the last Wednesday of July. The Saltwater Cowboys awaited the flare to indicate slack tide — what NOAA defines as a time “when the water is completely unstressed and there is no movement either way in the tidal stream” — to ease the crossing of the approximately 150 ponies that swam the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague.

With encouragement of the cowboys, and mares nudging their foals into the water, the ponies began the approximately four-minute swim as they and their ancestors have reliably done the last 92 years, although there are accounts of roundups dating back well before the 1900s.

As pony noses above the water took shape and ponies neared the Chincoteague shore, a young boy whooped, “Yippee- yi-o-ki-yay! Here come the ponies!”

The first foal to make it across each year is named King Neptune or Queen Neptune and auctioned at the carnival.

This year a king took the crown, with the winning ticket drawn Wednesday night at the carnival from the 2,000 or so tickets sold.

Tyson Fine Rejected As Too Low

By Linda Cicoira — The State Water Control Board cracked down on Tyson Farm Inc.’s poultry plant in Temperanceville last week for violating its discharge permit. The panel told the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) it needed to assess higher fines despite that the agency had already increased the penalty by $7,000 compared to similar issues for other businesses. Board members also want a more stringent plan for the future.

The action came after Jay Ford, executive director of Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, complained about the proposal. “We let the facts speak for themselves … and we are thankful the board found our arguments compelling,” he said in a prepared statement. “The bottom line is … this consent order gave the commonwealth no reason to believe the pollution would not continue, and that is an unacceptable agreement. Both the fines and Tyson’s clean up plan were woefully inadequate to ensure they’d come into and stay in compliance with their permit, particularly given their history of violations.”

“We¹re disappointed with the board’s decision, but remain committed to environmental compliance and reaching a resolution,” Public Relations Manager, Derek Burleson said in a prepared statement Thursday. “We¹re now seeking guidance from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on next steps. We previously submitted a corrective action plan, which was approved by the state, and had additional engineering assessment performed, focused on ways to enhance the treatment process.”

John Brandt, a regional DEQ air compliance and monitoring manager, said the company exceeded biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), a measure of health of the water for the aquatic environment. The limit was 187 pounds per day and a sample showed 491.

“It is a lot over the limit,” Brandt said.

Permit holders have to sample monthly and be analyzed by a certified laboratory. “They have to run blind samples, they have to be inspected,” he added. In addition, Tyson reported 51 milligrams per liter for their concentration average and the limit is 26 milligrams.

A chart included with the proposed consent order shows Tyson was also out of compliance for ammonia, fecal coliform, E. Coli and total suspended solids.

DEQ issued a warning letter on May 14, 2015, citing the March 2015 violations and for failure to provide a letter of explanation for non-compliance with its permit limits for ammonia. A notice of violation was issued on Oct. 27, 2015, for those issues and for failure to provide a letter of explanation for non-compliance with its permit limits for the August and September 2015 reporting periods.

“The company consists of a poultry hatchery, which supplies chicks to contract growers, and the processing of live chickens,” according to the proposal. “Poultry processing includes slaughtering, de-feathering, eviscerating, chilling, packaging, and shipping of poultry products for human consumption to an off-site destination. Tyson also renders offal (the entrails and internal organs) and feather waste into usable animal feed ingredients.”

“We have an internal document,” said Brandt. ”Then we draft a consent order … we send it to them and ask them to sign and agree to the civil charge.” The first order called for a total fine of $11,305.

In the meantime, he talked to Ford. “They didn’t think the civil charge was high enough for a company Tyson’s size,” Brandt said. So DEQ “went back and increased some of the values — some were listed as moderate and were changed to serious.”

The new consent order, which was turned down by the board, had a total penalty of $18,312. “We try to be responsive to public comments,” Brandt said.

Still, the board did not agree with the figure saying it was not high enough and sent it back for further study.

Brandt said he was unsure if the agency would be ready to present a new order by the meeting scheduled for October. The date after that is in December. “It’s a negotiation process with the board and Tyson” through the workers, Brandt said.

“Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper wants to see our poultry industry thrive, but we want them to do so legally and sustainably,” Ford continued. “We continue to encourage the state and Tyson to explore ways they can have a positive impact on waters around the Eastern Shore through water quality enhancement projects … For now, we look forward to seeing an agreement with financial penalties that serve as a deterrent, rather than as an incentive to pollute,” he added.