The public comment period for a proposed chicken plant in Millsboro ends Wednesday, Aug. 7, but plant opponents say they weren't given enough time to review documents submitted to state officials.
Millsboro resident Kenny Haynes and Maria Payan, a Pennsylvania resident and consultant with national nonprofit Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, urged about a dozen Millsboro residents to oppose the plant during a community meeting July 31.
Sussex County Board of Adjustment tabled discussion on Allen Harim's plants to build a state-of-the-art chicken processing plant at the former Vlasic pickle site to give state officials time to comment on the plan. Company officials estimate from 350,000 to as many as 2 million chickens could be processed per week.
State comments were received last week.
"The state was given 30 days to respond, but residents only have seven days," Payan said. She urged residents to write letters to oppose the use of the 170-acre former Vlasic pickle property for a chicken processing plant.
Payan said the public has not been given enough time to review all the documents. Without reviewing the information on file with the Sussex County Board of Adjustment, residents will not be able to submit appropriate comments, she said.
Allen Harim needs a special-use permit from the board of adjustment in order to move forward with plans for a state-of-the-art facility at 29984 Pinnacle Way, said Doug Freeman, spokesman for Allen Harim.
The special-use permit is necessary because county zoning laws define poultry processing as a potentially hazardous use, said county planning Director Lawrence Lank.
Lank said a date for the proposal to return to the board of adjustment has not been set.
At the board's June 17 meeting, county officials tabled the decision in order to wait for comments from state agencies. Payan said she reviewed four letters received by the board – two from Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, one from the state fire marshal and one from a building codes official – that all state no objection to Allen Harim's plans to open.
Payan said the agencies looked at the current building, but they did not consider Allen Harim's plans for a new facility, because those plans aren't available yet.
Freeman said once the purchase of the property is completed, then plans will be submitted. He said the production volume for the proposed plant has not been finalized, but could reach 2 million chickens per week.
Contamination of site under review
Haynes said the water quality and soil quality are already so poor at the site, that a new chicken plant would only increase the potential for chemicals to affect residents.
Allen Harim contracted with BP Environmental of Easton, Md., to do preliminary soil and water studies. The findings were sent to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in April.
The results found levels exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for chloride, chromium, nitrates, volatile organic compounds and several cancer-causing chemicals.
“None of these are good,” Haynes said after reading the report to the Millsboro group.
It is because of these chemicals that state officials have labeled the property as a Brownfield site July 11.
The Brownfield designation allows a prospective purchaser to buy the property without assuming responsibility for past chemical releases that could have occurred, said DNREC Site Investigation and Restoration Section administrator Tim Ratsep.
There is no public comment period associated with the decision to designate a side a Brownfield, Ratsep said.
As purchase of the property moves forward, Allen Harim and state officials will determine if contamination exists. Once the development plan is completed, additional soil and water sampling will be done.
The final report is expected in a few months. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the final Brownfield development plan once it is completed, Ratsep said.
“We will write up a report on what needs to be done out there,” Ratsep said. “That plan goes to public notice for 20 days to allow for public comment. If requested, there can be a public hearing.”
But, Millsboro residents want to know what's in their water now, so Payan said she plans to work with a national water testing company to test residential wells near the proposed chicken plant.
The testing she is calling for will look at a broad range of chemicals, including chromium, and can cost up to $1,000. She said she hopes to find a company that will do the tests for free.
Payan also filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with DNREC, Delaware Department of Agriculture and Delaware Department of Transportation to find out more about the site, but most of the requests are awaiting a legal review, she said.
“This is your home,” Payan said. “No one wants to stop economic progress, but we have to be careful.”
The full water and soil quality report done by BP Environmental is available on Delaware's Environmental Navigator, which can be found by going to www.dnrec.delaware.gov and searching the property's address – 29984 Pinnacle Way – or by clicking here.
Payan urged all concerned residents to file public comment to the Sussex County Board of Adjustment through Wednesday, Aug. 7. The comments must reach the Sussex office prior to 4:30 p.m., Aug. 7.
Send written comments by mail to Planning & Zoning Office, P.O. Box 417, Georgetown, DE 19947 or submit electronic comments by filling out the form at www.sussexcountyde.gov/contact.cfm?id=98&type=1.