Allen Harim defends plan to build chicken plant

Court brief details process, environmental safeguards
April 15, 2014

Poultry processor Allen Harim Foods LLC has defended its right to convert a former Vlasic pickle plant into a poultry processing plant in an industrialized area in Millsboro.

Protecting Our Indian River, a grassroots citizens group, filed a lawsuit against Allen Harim and the Sussex County Board of Adjustment in an effort to halt the project.

In its 38-page answering brief filed March 31 in Superior Court, Allen Harim disputes the citizens group's assertion that the board inadequately scrutinized the application and did not seek necessary expert testimony from state environmental officials.

In September 2013, the county board of adjustment approved a special-use exception for the parcel, which could pave the way for the chicken-processing plant.

“The applicant presented significant evidence that the public health, safety, morals and general welfare will be properly protected and that necessary safeguards will be provided for the protection of water areas or surrounding property,” the Allen Harim brief states.

The brief also notes that Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary David Small said the agency had no objection to the board of adjustment granting a special-use exception to Allen Harim. Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Edward Kee also testified in support of the project, the documents show.

Allen Harim plans to buy the plant and spend $100 million to convert it for chicken processing. The proposed poultry operation is expected to employ about 700 people. The pickle plant closed in 2012, resulting in 400 layoffs.

Allen Harim's brief details its plan, which includes a wastewater processing system meeting all DNREC regulations; construction of a new, indoor live-chicken receiving area; paving all roads to reduce dust; establishing wooded and landscaped buffers along Iron Branch Road; building entrance improvements; acquiring DNREC permits for air quality, wastewater discharge and stormwater management; and buidling a new state-of-the-art wastewater and disposal system to meet DNREC requirements.

Allen Harim's brief says said board of adjustment approval is “only a baby step; the real permitting process is going to be long, complicated, rigorous and the concerns of the neighbors will be fully vetted during the process.”

The lawsuit states the board of adjustment did not “consult with all relevant agencies on the questions of public health and impact on waterways, persons and property.” The board did not seek input from the state Division of Public Health, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the lawsuit.

Allen Harim contends it did consult with DNREC, which has the authority to issue permits.

“While the Center for the Inland Bays may well be one of Delaware's leading environmental organizations, it is not an agency created for the promotion of the public health and safety as required by state law,” the brief notes.

Attorneys for Protecting Our Indian River will file a final brief before the judge makes a ruling.

In addition, Protecting our Indian River and Inland Bays Foundation have appealed to the Delaware Environmental Appeals Board a DNREC secretary's order, which approves a remediation plan to monitor pollution at the 107-acre site. A hearing on that issue will take place in May.

The plan includes long-term groundwater monitoring of the parcel used as a Vlasic pickle processing plant for nearly four decades.