MILLSBORO, Del. — An environmental activist group, Protecting Our Indian River, filed an appeal this week with the Sussex County Superior Court in Delaware to overturn a Sussex County Board of Adjustment decision approving the Allen Harim Foods LLC poultry processing plant in Millsboro, Del.
The Nov. 5 board approval of Harim’s permit application would allow for the new “potentially hazardous use” of the town’s former Vlasic Pickle plant site — currently a contaminated brownfield site. The group claims Sussex County’s endorsement of the Harim application came despite opposition from area residents.
Harim, a South Korean poultry processing company, applied for the land use permit in June. The company, which bought Delaware-based poultry producer Allen Family Foods in 2011 after it filed for bankruptcy protection, announced in April that its Allen M. Harim subsidiary planned to spend $100 million to convert the old Vlasic Pickle site in Millsboro into a processing plant producing both raw and cooked poultry products.
State agriculture officials say Harim estimates that when the plant is at peak capacity, it will need about 100 new poultry houses on the Delmarva Peninsula to supply expanded operations. Officials say many of those houses would be built on existing poultry farms. Allen Harim already contracts with more than 200 independent family farms and owns 20 company poultry farms, according to agriculture officials.
A public meeting Nov. 14 drew local residents worried about the plant’s effects on air and water quality and said it could decrease their property values.
A public hearing held Wednesday focused on a proposed remediation plan that calls for monitoring of groundwater at the site to see if pollutants are migrating into local waterways.
The plan is supported by Gov. Jack Markell and state economic development officials. Officials have said the project would create 700 new jobs, and Markell has touted it as part of his administration’s job-creation efforts.
Cindy Wilton, a founding member of Protecting Our Indian River, said the plant would be detrimental to the public health and safety of the community and the environment.
“And the plan is for things to get much worse. As part of an ill-conceived jobs initiative by Gov. Markell, Harim stated it will add 100 new confinement poultry houses within a 50-mile radius. It’s clear this community is on the brink of being sacrificed in the name of politics and nonexistent public health policies,” Wilton said.
The group claims more than 270 comments in opposition to the plant were turned in to the Board of Adjustment, including testimony from representatives of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, or SRAP, and The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Comments by SRAP highlighted the board’s improper public notice and comment procedures, which included a neglect to notify the public of the record re-opening and the availability to offer public responses to state agency comments, as well as allowing only a seven-day response period, which is not considered “reasonable time period” as Sussex County code requires.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health cited significant gaps in information provided by Harim and state agencies regarding occupational safety plans, water use, amount and type of wastewater discharge, and plans to control airborne bacteria from poultry trucks driving near human populations.
“This is beyond shortsighted — it’s irresponsible and dangerous,” said SRAP’s Maria Payan. “This community is already suffering the long-term effects of contamination from the Vlasic plant, including the cumulative impact of an unsolved cancer cluster and two nearby superfund sites. The social and environmental consequences of allowing this pollution-intensive Harim operation into this sensitive setting are nothing less than disastrous.”
Protecting Our Indian River is represented by Richard L. Abbott of the Abbott Law Firm in Hockessin, Del.
Editor’s Note: Information for this story was taken from a press release provided by Protecting Our Indian River as well as from the Associated Press.