Citizens challenge pickle plant clean-up plan

DNREC: Extensive testing backs up remediation effort
January 23, 2014

Two grassroots organizations filed an appeal Jan. 17 challenging a remediation plan to cleanup a former pickle site near Millsboro.

Protecting our Indian River and Inland Bays Foundation have appealed to the Delaware Environmental Appeals Board a Dec. 24 Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control secretary's order, which approves a remediation plan to monitor pollution at the 107-acre site.

The plan includes long-term groundwater monitoring of the parcel used as a Vlasic pickle processing plant for nearly four decades. Allen Harim Foods LLC plans to buy the plant and convert it to chicken processing. The proposed poultry operation is expected to employ about 700 people. The pickle plant closed in 2012, resulting in 400 layoffs.

“We are seeking to reverse the order,” said Cindy Wilton, a founding member of Protecting our Indian River. “The remediation plan that DNREC proposed misses the mark on so many levels that they simply need to go back to the drawing board and make solid, fair, realistic plans for reviving that site.”

In September, the county's board of adjustment approved a special-use exception for the parcel, which could pave the way for the chicken-processing plant. The site is included in the state's brownfields program, which offers matching grants to clean up contaminated industrial parcels.


Groups say plan is flawed

According to the appeal, the groups say the plan does not adequately characterize hazardous substances on or migrating from the site and does not provide for off-site monitoring and sampling. In addition, according to the appeal, a proper risk assessment associated with the contamination has not been completed.

Wilton said expert testimony by Socially Responsible Agricultural Project engineer and factory farm authority Kathy Martin highlighted flaws in the on-site testing, particularly from the wastewater treatment plant. SRAP’s Genell Pridgen also provided written comment on arsenic and cobalt findings in the site investigation.

Inland Bays Foundation’s science coordinator John Austin, a 33-year veteran of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said contamination has already spread from the site, and with no testing of off-site wells there is no way to gauge the extent of the impact on residents' wells.

“This was a missed opportunity by DNREC to do things the right way,” said SRAP’s Maria Payan. “Community health and environmental stability were back-burnered in favor of a quick fix that was no fix at all. This process should start again, and this time the citizens of Sussex County need to be respected and protected by its government agencies.”


O'Mara: Extensive testing done

In his eight-page approval order, DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara noted environmental testing conducted at the site. “The plan is supported by a vast amount of data and analysis in the record of decision,” he wrote. “The department's approval of the plan as a final plan will allow the remedial action to commence, which is in the best interest of the public.”

The secretary noted that many public comments opposed the proposed redevelopment of the property as a poultry processing plant. “The department understands the concerns of nearby residential property owners not wanting the closed industrial plant to be used for another industrial operation, but the future use of the site is not within the department’s authority to determine,” O'Mara wrote. “Sussex County government has the exclusive authority to determine if poultry production is a land use consistent with its zoning. The department's role is to ensure that the land is environmentally safe from contaminants for its intended use, and the plan indicates that it will be.”


Appeal process set into motion

The appeal process could delay a decision for more than half a year. Depending on the outcome of the initial appeal, further appeals are possible to Superior Court and Delaware Supreme Court, said Gail Henderson, the environmental board's administrative assistant.

The board has 30 days to schedule a hearing that must take place within six months. The appeals hearing resembles a courtroom proceeding, Henderson said, with a court reporter, witnesses, presentations of evidence and cross examinations. “The public can attend, but there is no public comment,” she said.

The board's decision can be appealed to Superior Court within 30 days.

The appeal was filed by Ken Kristl and the Widener Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. The Widener Clinic provides representation and legal assistance to public interest organizations and individuals on environmental matters in Delaware and other Mid-Atlantic states.


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