Allen Harim Foods has cleared another hurdle in its effort to convert a former Millsboro pickle plant into a poultry processing facility.
On June 18, the state's environmental appeals board issued its final order backing the state's brownfield remediation plan for the 107-acre Pinnacle Foods/Vlasic site and denying an appeal filed by Protecting Our Indian River and the Inland Bays Foundation. The 26-page opinion explained the board's unanimous May 13 vote in favor of the state's remediation plan.
In their appeal, the plant's opponents said groundwater testing at the site was not sufficient and that pollutants – including cobalt – are migrating from the former pickle plant site to nearby communities. They also said the remediation plan's long-term groundwater monitoring does not go far enough to clean up the site.
The board ruled that appropriate investigation was completed at the site revealing that no contaminants were moving away from the site. “No contaminant is leaving the site and going toward the residential communities. Rather, the contaminants found on the site are coming from those community areas and traveling to the site,” the opinion notes.
The final order states the pollutants detected in surrounding communities “are likely the results of septic tank waste and other issues in the communities themselves, and not caused by contaminants traveling from the Pinnacle site into the neighborhood.”
The site is included in the state's brownfield program, which offers matching grants to clean up contaminated industrial parcels.
The board also found the brownfield remediation plan is appropriate. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control remediation plan includes long-term groundwater monitoring of the parcel used as a Vlasic pickle processing plant for nearly four decades.
In its opinion, the board noted the 5,000-page environmental report provided as evidence that sufficient testing was completed to help establish the state approved plan.
“Allen Harim is pleased with the reaffirmation by the board that our proposed operations, following the DNREC approved plan and related regulations, will not pose an environmental risk to the surrounding community,” said Allen Harim CEO Steven Evans.
Evans said the step is one of many necessary to complete the purchase of the property.
Allen Harim plans to buy the plant, invest $100 million in retrofits and upgrades and process up to 2 million chickens per week. The proposed poultry operation is expected to employ about 700 people. The pickle plant closed in 2012, resulting in 400 layoffs.
The groups have 30 days to appeal the board's decision to Superior Court.
Cindy Wilton, one of the founders of Protecting Our Indian River, said a decision on an appeal has not been made. “I know I won't stop fighting; I will fight every single permit if I have to,” she said.
Wilton said their tests show that pollution has migrated from the site to surrounding areas. “We say do more testing and prove us wrong,” she said. “They are afraid of what they will find.”
Wilton said she knows the groups face an uphill battle.
“The board is appointed by Gov. Markell, so what do you expect?” Wilton asked. “Of course they are going to rule on his side because he supports the project. We were doomed before we walked in the door.”
The groups have another appeal pending in court.
In September 2013, the county's board of adjustment approved a special-use exception for the parcel to allow conversion to a poultry-processing plant. The groups have appealed that ruling to Delaware Superior Court, on grounds the board lacked jurisdiction to approve the zoning request and provided insufficient oversight by approving a list of consultant agencies provided by Allen Harim.