Erin Brockovich, who rose to national fame after a movie depicted her battle against a California utility company, has entered the picture in the ongoing investigation of the former Vlasic pickle plant in Millsboro.
Allen Harim Foods LLC plans to buy the plant and convert it into a chicken-processing operation. The plant is expected to employ about 700 people. The pickle plant closed in 2012, resulting in 400 layoffs.
In September, the county's board of adjustment approved a special-use exception, which could pave the way for the chicken-processing plant at the Vlasic location on Iron Branch Road. Nearby residents of the Possum Point community, concerned about pollutants left behind by Vlasic, contacted Brockovich's consulting firm for help. Two members of Brockovich Research & Consulting evaluated the site in early September.
“The people living in Possum Point are entitled to a thorough investigation of this legacy pollution abandoned by Pinnacle Foods Corporation,” wrote Brockovich in a press release. “And while I understand the State of Delaware’s desire to see redevelopment, jobs and business growth be successful, corporate welfare that rewards polluters is just bad public policy.”
The sale will not go forward until a series of environmental permits are acquired from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Among the permits required are for air quality and water discharge.
The company has stated it plans to invest $100 million to upgrade the plant, including measures to improve air and water quality.
The project has gained the support of state legislators, who see the conversion to a chicken-processing plant as an opportunity to increase the workforce of Sussex County. In a letter, Millsboro's legislators Sen. Gerald Hocker and Rep. John Atkins said they were confident any environmental issues at the plant will be cleared up.
“The planned investments, including a $10 million upgrade to Vlasic's wastewater treatment system and a new exhaust air-scrubbing system, will virtually eliminate odors and make the water that goes through the system cleaner than the water that comes out of the ground,” the legislators said in a joint statement. “This will only help improve the quality of our air and water.”
Should the company secure all necessary permits, Harim plans to begin operation in 2015.