Millsboro residents want assurances that a proposed Allen Harim chicken plant will not harm quality of life in their community.
Allen Harim representatives and state officials talked about the plant and answered questions from a crowd of nearly 60 residents June 17 in Millsboro, some angrily shouting that the plant will be a slaughterhouse that will destroy the quality of life for area residents.
The meeting was the second discussion of the future of the plant, where Allen Harim expects to invest millions of dollars to convert a former Vlasic pickle plant to a state-of-the-art chicken-processing facility. The project is expected to add 700 jobs and create opportunities for at least 100 farm families to raise chickens for Allen Harim.
While legislators are eager to promote the jobs the plant is expected to bring, residents raised air and water quality concerns as well as noise and traffic issues.
"The public is not behind this. There are more than 300 signatures on petitions, and I urge you to reconsider your proposal until the public is behind it," said Maria Payan, a consultant for Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, which advocates for sustainable farming. Payan is a resident of Pennsylvania whose mother lives in Selbyville.
Payan said the transfer of air quality permits and wastewater permits from Vlasic to Allen Harim would not trigger a public hearing, but state officials should listen to what residents have to say.
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary Dave Small said the permits are reviewed by state officials, but public hearings may not be required. Allen Harim is still in preliminary discussions and has not filed permit requests with the state.
Small said the meetings held by Allen Harim and state officials are purely informational to help residents understand the process and what the proposal includes.
Rep. John Atkins said he hears from people every day who are losing their jobs and can't pay their bills. He said the plant will bring 700 jobs. He said the other option is to let the plant go cold and grow up in weeds.
The crowd erupted in shouts against Atkins, calling the proposed facility a slaughterhouse that will ruin air and water quality.
"The land all around us is polluted. I can't sleep at night," shouted one distraught resident.
Atkins said DNREC is going to do its job and make sure the new plant meets environmental standards to protect the community.
Millsboro resident Tim Hodges urged the upset residents to be patient and listen to the presentation, which he had seen prior to the meeting. He said the proposed plant is going to be very different from other poultry plants.
Small said the state has tools to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. Monitoring reports have to be shared with state officials. If that information is falsified, it is a criminal violation; Small said the state can shut a facility down for continuing violations. There can also be fines and increased regulations, depending on the issue.
"Our goal is to avoid bringing trucks through town," said Matt Hamilton of Allen Harim, who gave the presentation. Truck traffic will be similar to Vlasic's traffic - about 65 to 80 trucks per day. About 25 percent of the daily trucks would be Allen Harim's; the rest would be independent contractors.
Hamilton said more than 90 percent of the company's products are sold from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Most of the truck drivers regularly work for Allen Harim and must follow company rules, he said, including using specified truck routes and not traveling through Millsboro.
Trucks will load and unload throughout the day, with some trucks being loaded at 2 or 3 a.m, when other traffic is not on the road, he said.
The live receiving area and cooling shed will be completely covered and located at the back entrance. An advanced air-filtration system from Europe will clean the air for particulate matter and odor. This technology is used in swine operations located near towns in Europe, Hamilton said. A Korean plant also uses the technology, which features a retractable roof.
This will reduce ammonia and dust produced at the plant by 95 percent, Hamilton said.
Jerrie Wharton, a two-year resident of Possum Point, said she can hear generators all night from the Mountaire plant across the river from the town of Millsboro.
"Our bedroom is right on the water, and some nights it sounds like living next to an airport," Wharton said.
Hamilton said the Allen Harim plant will not need large fans because it is not going to have a rendering plant like Mountaire's where these types of loud fans are used.
In Delaware, Allen Harim has 1,400 employees, contracts with 200 independent family farms and owns 3,600 acres of farmland. The Millsboro expansion is expected to require 100 more family farms. Allen is ranked No. 23 for broiler production in the United States.
"Allen Harim strives to be good neighbors; I invite you to drive by our Harbeson plant. There is no odor," Hamilton said.
Existing wells at the plant have nitrate levels of 8 ppm and 10 ppm, Hamilton said, noting Delaware's preliminary guidelines want nitrate levels at 3 ppm. "It's coming out at 8 ppm, and we're putting it back at 3," Hamilton said, meaning the water is cleaner than when it left the well.
Another resident asked why Harim couldn't re-use its water and keep it a closed system instead of drawing it from the ground.
Jim Quinton of Allen Harim said a system cannot be entirely closed because at some point wastewater has to be treated and discharged back into the river.
The wastewater system planned for Millsboro will have a treatment system similar to Allen Harim's Cordova, Md. plant. The Cordova plant discharges 750,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Millsboro plant will use newer technology than the system in Cordova, which was built in 2002, Hamilton said, but the exact amount of discharge is unknown at this time.
"This treated wastewater is released at nitrate levels and phosphorus levels of 1.0 or less," Hamilton said. "We have not had any violations in the 22 months that Allen Harim has owned the company.
What about the chickens?
In response to a questions about hormones, Kee said there have been no hormones in chicken in the United States in decades. He said no commercial chicken feed includes hormones and no hormone injections are given to chickens.
Hormones in chickens have been banned since the 1950s.
In Delaware, half of the chickens are treated with antibiotics and half are not, Kee said.
The Food & Drug Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have strict guidelines to ensure those antibiotics break down quickly, making it unlikely that the antibiotics move into the manure, Kee said.
Hamilton showed a video about agribusiness created by Harim. The film portrays an innovative company that seeks to be on the cutting edge of the poultry industry. According to the video, Harim's goal is to be No. 1 in global efficiency. The company processes 1.3 million birds annually.
Six hundred broiler farms are under contract with Harim in South Korea. One of Harim's processing plants is the largest in Korea, where products are purchased through home-shopping television networks, online and in stores. Products are developed for those on the go and can be found anywhere in Korea.
Harim is a Christian-owned company, Hamilton said. The company also owns a chain of fried chicken restaurants.
For more information on Allen Harim, go to www.allenharimllc.com.
Board of adjustment tables permit request
The Sussex Count Board of Adjustment heard a request June 17 to allow Allen Harim to operate the poultry processing plant.
According to county code, Allen Harim must apply for a special use exception because poultry processing is a potentially hazardous use.
James Sharp, attorney for the board, said it is required to consult with state agencies about public health concerns, and the permit request has been tabled in the past because the agencies had not been consulted.
Sharp said the county will give the agencies 30 days to respond. The board approved Sharp's recommendations unanimously.
The public record will remain open for seven days to allow input from residents, Sharp said. In July, the board will put the Allen Harim permit back on the agenda and the public can also attend the meeting.
The board voted to table the discussion and keep the record open as Sharp suggested.
Sussex County Planning Director Lawrence Lank said the property is zoned HI-1 or Heavy Industrial. Sussex code states any operation which includes meat, fish or seafood products, including slaughtering of animals or poultry requires a hazardous use permit, Lank said.
These operations have hazards, such as fire, explosion, noise, vibration, dust or the emission of smoke, odor, toxic gases or other pollutants, Lank said.
"The Board of Adjustment, in reviewing the plans and statements, shall consult with other agencies created for the promotion of public health and safety and shall pay particular attention to protection of the county and its waterways from the harmful effects of air or water pollution of any type," Lank said.
Questions of what a hazardous use permit means were raised during the afternoon meeting June 17 in Millsboro.
"There are no hazardous materials like lead or arsenic involved. All the Sussex board is saying is there is a plant that could be hazardous. It could be traffic, it could be air, but there are certainly no hazardous chemicals involved," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee.
"It's a broad definition that encompasses many businesses," Kee said.
Allen Harim has had 3 million man-hours without loss of time due to an accident or chemical spill, said Matt Hamilton of the company.
Hamilton said the Sussex permit is just the first step for the company. Allen Harim will need approval from several state agencies prior to beginning construction on the Millsboro plant.
Allen Harim plans to spend $100 million to renovate what will be a 487,000-square-foot facility when completed. If permits go through, the plant could open in 2015.