Representatives from Allen Harim joined state officials Aug. 8 to celebrate more than $30 million in upgrades at the company's poultry processing plant in Harbeson.
“They could have expanded anywhere,” Gov. Jack Markell said. “When it comes to any global company that wants to invest in our state, put people to work in our state and will invest in the environment … there's no Democrats, there's no Republicans. This is all about what we have to do for the people of Sussex County and the people of Delaware.”
Markell and other public officials, including U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. John Carney, celebrated the ribbon-cutting ceremony in a sunny field down the street from the plant, calling the new expansion a “big deal,” “a very real investment in our community” and “a state-of-the-art, world-class manufacturing facility.”
State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, said the surrounding communities support Allen Harim's expansion in Harbeson, but recognized that it has come with some challenges, which include neighbors' complaints about trash, odor, traffic and noise.
“I want to ensure the governor and [Harim Group Chairman Hong-Kuk Kim] that I witnessed Allen Harim exceed the demands of our permitting process, and they are tackling the problems that existed before they got here as well,” Smyk said. “We appreciate that tremendously. We know that these people at Allen Harim are currently tending to all of the concerns of the surrounding neighbors.”
But Bob Lawson, a lifelong farmer who lives across the street from the Harbeson plant, disagrees. Lawson, who wasn't invited to the private, invite-only event, said it has changed for the worse.
“They're taking the system beyond what it was designed for,” he said. “The arrogance is just ridiculous. They don't care. They are there, they have [the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control] on their side, and nobody is controlling them.”
Millions of dollars in upgrades, including a refurbished wastewater treatment plant, have been welcomed as a way to reduce pollution entering the Beaverdam Creek, which receives the plant's wastewater and stormwater discharges before flowing into the Broadkill River and out to the Delaware Bay.
But Lawson said there are other problems that should have been addressed before increasing production.
Allen Harim's Harbeson plant processes 1.8 million chickens per week, recently increased from an average of about 1 million per week, as major upgrades at the plant are underway. A permit issued in February authorizes the plant to increase its wastewater and stormwater outflow from 1.25 million gallons per day to 2 million gallons per day to accommodate the increased production.
The company's recent decision to close its processing facility in Cordova, Md., and centralize production in Harbeson required upgrades to the nearly 190,000-square-foot plant, although upgrades were planned long before company officials announced the closure of the Cordova facility.
So far, completed renovations include new restrooms, an upgraded employee cafeteria, a new human resources area, new conference and meeting rooms, an employee equipment room, new lighting and an update to the entrance that includes a three-dimensional mural.
A new wastewater treatment system also is in the works, funded in part by an $8.4 million low-interest loan from the state's Clean Water State Revolving Fund. A wastewater reuse system, funded in part by a $3.2 million loan from the state's Clean Water State Revolving Fund, is expected to recycle about 1 million gallons of wastewater per day and will be functional within the next year, Allen Harim CEO Joe Moran said. Those loans mark the first time the state has approved funding from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for a private company.
The company expects to invest $40 million in upgrades at the Harbeson plant by the end of 2017.
Allen Harim, a South Korea-based company, employs more than 1,700 people in Delaware. The Harbeson processing plant on Route 5 in Harbeson was built around 1950 and Allen Harim LLC bought the plant from the bankrupt Allen Family Foods in 2011. Allen Harim also operates a feed mill and hatchery in Seaford, another hatchery in Dagsboro and a breeding operation in Liberty, N.C.
All chickens processed in Harbeson are vegetarian-fed and most are not treated with antibiotics. About half of the chickens processed are grown on Maryland farms; the other half on Delaware farms. For more information about Allen Harim, go to allenharimllc.com.
At an April public hearing on the facility's wastewater construction permit, Lawson said it's as if the community is back in 1974, when he and neighbors formed the Harbeson Improvement Association to fight similar trash and odor issues caused by the same plant, then owned by Paramount Poultry.
“The town has been set back to the 1974 standards,” Lawson said at the April meeting. Lawson said Aug. 9 trash issues have been slightly alleviated, thanks to additional supervision by plant staff, but not much else has changed since he publicly voiced his concerns in the spring. He said he hasn't heard from anyone from the plant for more than two months, which is the last time he reached out them.
“They haven't done anything – nothing – as far as the noise coming from their live-haul cool-down area,” he said. “There have been no permanent, or even semi-permanent solutions, like putting out trash cans or putting up a fence to trap the trash. And until DNREC says they need to do something about that smell, nothing's going to happen.”
Lawson added that the Harbeson plant recently became smoke-free, which he said has some unintended consequences.
“That's really nice until you think about it,” Lawson said. “They are not allowed to smoke on their property, so whose property are they going to smoke on? The neighbors'. We have a dozen people walking around the perimeter of the plant smoking, throwing their butts down and walking around on private property while smoking because their facility doesn't have any plans for any kind of smoking area.”
Despite those complaints, Smyk and Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee said Allen Harim aims to be a good steward for both the community and the environment.
“They are as responsive as any company I've ever seen, of any agricultural commodity in the state and I've been at it for 40-some years,” Kee said. “Allen Harim is meeting or exceeding the DNREC regulations, they have responded to the neighbors and as far as odor – odor is odor, but that does not mean that the emissions are crossing any health threshold. If I walk on the boardwalk, I'm smelling popcorn, salt water taffy and pizza. If you're here, you might smell some odor, but that doesn't mean things are malfunctioning.”