Mountaire plant upgrades should not erase liability
Mountaire Farms of Delaware is facing legal battles in state and federal courts, including a class-action suit alleging the company is responsible for numerous health problems from residents who say they have been exposed to illegally high levels of nitrates in wells near the plant.
Mountaire and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control recently asked a state judge to sign off on a consent decree to allow the company to move forward with a major overhaul of its water treatment plant – which failed spectacularly in 2017, slinging untreated waste across spray-irrigation fields.
Holding up that settlement are the very citizens with health complaints. They’ve asked the judge not to sign – even though the citizens are all for Mountaire’s plant upgrades.
The problem, court documents show, is that this consent decree, which DNREC agreed to, relieves Mountaire of liability for past health and environmental problems that citizens say are related to the company’s failure to reduce nitrate emissions, which was uncovered by federal testing by the Environmental Protection Agency back in 2003.
There is no question high levels of nitrates repeatedly have been found in wells surrounding Mountaire’s Millsboro plant. Mountaire officials argue nitrates are the result of pollution dating back decades, long before Mountaire acquired the plant. Mountaire’s decision to invest $35 million in upgrades is a huge step toward cleaning up polluted wells and waterways.
But agreeing to do the right thing should not come at the expense of citizens who have been waiting decades for clean water. DNREC must not give Mountaire a free pass on past violations because Mountaire is now committed to cleanup.
Mountaire’s investments should be allowed to swiftly move forward, but citizens should also have their day in court – or a chance to receive a fair settlement. For now, a gag order is in place and all sides are negotiating. Their goal should be to allow Mountaire to immediately move forward with upgrades while finding terms that neighbors can live with.
In the end, healing relationships with the community is critical – just as critical as cleaning up the plant.