ACCOMAC, Va. (DELMARVANOW) — The Accomack County Board of Supervisors is considering withdrawing from the regional tourism commission following a comment suggesting the banning of poultry would benefit local tourism.
A written comment reported to have been posted on the wall at a forum held July 27 in Onancock, where community leaders discussed economic development, was mentioned by supervisors as being behind the board's action.
A vote, without dissent, was taken at Wednesday's board meeting to consider options other than participating in the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission to promote tourism in the county.
The comment — attributed by board members to Kerry Allison, executive director of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission — allegedly was about the idea of outlawing industrial poultry farming in the region. Allison's name was on the paper posted on the wall, according to Robert Crockett, Accomack Board of Supervisors chairman.
Gov. Ralph Northam attended part of the July 27 session, according to Supervisor Grayson Chesser, who spoke at length about the matter during the board members' comment period at the Aug. 15 meeting in Accomac. Media were not invited to attend the forum.
"To me that showed an alarming lack of understanding about the economy of the Eastern Shore and how it works," Chesser said of the comment.
Chesser said without the poultry industry in the county, "you wouldn't have a Walmart, you would not have a hospital, because you would not have the population to support them."
Steve Potts, chairman of the Tourism Commission board of directors, declined to comment for this report.
In 2017, there were 84 chicken growers in Accomack County, with 331 houses in use, according to Delmarva Poultry Industry, an 1,800-member trade organization.
The chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula accounts for about 22 percent of cash farm income in Virginia, DPI said in December 2017.
Chesser said the comment was "callous and insensitive."
"They were like a slap in the face to me and my neighbors," many of whom work in poultry processing plants in Accomack County, he said. "When you say 'outlaw,' that's saying these people are not worth anything to our economy, is the way I take it," Chesser said.
Perdue Farms Inc. and Tyson Foods both have processing plants in Accomack County. The 2014 estimated payroll for poultry processing was $121.2 million, according to the Accomack Planning Commission's 2018 annual poultry report.
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture for Accomack County, the market value of poultry and their products is $112.4 million and ranks fourth in the state in poultry production; there are over 4,000 employment positions associated with the poultry industry. The 2017 census is underway.
The Eastern Shore was Virginia's fastest growing tourism region for three years leading up to the 2016 statistics from the Virginia Tourism Commission.
Tourism brought $7.5 million in taxes to towns and Accomack and Northampton counties that year, as visitor spending reached $274 million. That was a 22 percent increase since 2011.
Supervisor Ron Wolff criticized an email sent to Board of Supervisors members by Potts on the incident.
"It was a two-sentence email. Basically it said, we didn't discuss poultry, period. That was it. There was no discussion about the tourism director and her posting; there was no discussion about any action that was taken by the Tourism Commission upon the director; there was no guidance or any other type of course of action that the Tourism Commission itself was going to take to try to rectify," he said.
Action related to the Tourism Commission was not on the Board of Supervisors meeting agenda Wednesday.
Still, Crockett after Chesser's comments introduced a motion to have county staff "explore options of how it's best for this board to promote tourism in Accomack County," saying, "We are 180 degrees separate from the position of the tourism director."
The motion directs staff to explore options "other than what we are doing now — being a member of the Tourism Commission."
The group voted without dissent to explore separating from the Tourism Commission, a regional entity funded by both Accomack and Northampton counties.
Crockett called the poultry industry the "anchor of your local economy."
"If it happened, what was requested by the executive director of the Tourism Commission, we would lose our anchor tenant — and that would be devastating," he said, noting the presence of the governor and high-ranking state economic development officials at the forum.
"I was alarmed when I saw that. I could not believe that was there," Crockett said of the comment posted on the wall.
Crockett suggested — giving an example of an alternate option to promote tourism — that "maybe it would be beneficial for tourism to team up with the Chamber of Commerce to get a better job done."
Crockett also included in his motion that staff should explore how the county can help Chincoteague in tourism-related matters.
"Chincoteague is the mecca of tourism on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and I'm sorry to say we don't do anything to help them," he said.