We should err on side of caution with Artesian

September 20, 2017

At a time when we are all focused on the flooding disaster in Texas it might be time to review our plans for our local waterways. Houston's flood waters are a soup of e. coli from human waste and toxic chemicals from processing plants. It is an environmental disaster within a flooding disaster.

This happens at a time when DNREC is considering an amended permit to allow Artesian Water to pump up to 3 million gallons a day of chicken- processing wastewater from Allen Harim's processing plant in Harbeson nine miles to Milton. The plan is to store up to 90 million gallons in a 20-acre lagoon in Milton north of Route 30 and Route 16 and spray it on farm fields when possible.

The original treatment facility permit application was for a residential wastewater treatment plant issued in 2007 that was never built. Environmental testing and well testing for the permit was done in 2006-07. That was a long time ago! An amended permit was issued in 2013 based on the 2006-07 testing. Again, the treatment plant has not been built. Now Artesian Water is once again seeking to amend the plan to treat industrial waste instead of residential waste.

To further complicate matters, Allen Harim received an $11 million federal low-interest loan (15 years at 2 percent) to upgrade its wastewater treatment at the facility. The loan is federal money, administered by DNREC. It is the first time the loan was given to a for-profit company, in the past it had been reserved for municipalities. The loan required a plan and environmental studies. Allen Harim spent $6 million upgrading its facility and transferred $5 million to Artesian Water as an impact fee (no additional environmental studies, no plan, as far as we know). Is that even legal? Even if it is, it stinks like Allen Harim wastewater.

In the recent past, Allen Harim has not been a good neighbor in Harbeson. Between 2012-16 DNREC has cited them for 90 violations for releasing wastewater into Beaverdam Creek over the acceptable ranges of chemicals, such as phosphates and nitrates, and bacteria (one violation for over 9,000 times the acceptable bacterial limit). Ninety violations while DNREC allows Allen-Harim to self-monitor its wastewater releases and DNREC has not issued any fines for the violations.

In Artesian Water's plan, the spray fields are all near our waterways and the aquifer used by our wells. Some spray fields are actually located in FEMA-defined wetlands and/or floodplains. DNREC assures us the testing of the wastewater will be done quarterly. I have to tell you, that's not very reassuring given the history of Allen Harim and DNREC's seemingly lenient policy toward violations.

It seems quite logical to me, in light of the vast changes in the permit use originally issued in 2007 (from residential to industrial), the scale of the project (millions of gallons of wastewater daily pumped 9 miles, to be stored in a lagoon and sprayed on fields), the great changes in Milton (increased building and wells in the area since the original well testing was performed in 2006) and the added stress on our already stressed waterways, the process should start over. Artesian Water should apply for the use its intends in the reality that is Milton in 2017.

At a time when we're reminded of the power of storms, when DNREC maintains that 90 percent of Delaware's waterways are impaired (polluted in DNREC speak), we should err on the side of caution and require Artesian Water to go through the permit process for the industrial wastewater treatment facility it is now proposing requiring well testing of the area as it now exists not as it existed eight years ago. Not based on a mishmosh of old permits and amendments dating back to 2006. Milton 2006 is a world away from Milton in 2017.

Carol Taylor

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