Frankford appeals Mountaire well permit approval

Earlier this month, the Town of Frankford filed a statement of appeal to the State’s Environmental Appeals Board following the decision of Delaware Department of Natural Resources Secretary David Small related to well permits issued to Mountaire Farms.

The letter, dated Aug. 16, said the Town challenges DNREC’s finding that the industrial non-potable well is not in violation of Delaware Code for being “interconnected with any portion of the building’s plumbing and/or any water utility’s service connection,” as well as the failure of DNREC to revoke the permit, as “Mountaire has failed to abide by Permit #252076’s conditions, which is to ‘follow all current regulations governing well construction.’”

The appeal states that the interests of the Town have been substantially affected, as the Town provides water to its approximately 888 citizens, and that they were never informed of the permits being requested or issued.

It goes on to state that there are “severe issues and concerns with the non-potable well drilled by Mountaire… causing health concerns and quality of water concerns with back flow and cross-contamination problems — a severe health hazard for potable water usage.”

Virgil Holmes, director of DNREC’s Division of Water, in a statement to the Coastal Point disputed that the Town’s water supply would be impacted by the new well.

“I want to alleviate any misconception that Frankford’s water supply might be compromised by the installation of a non-potable well at the Mountaire Farms of Delmarva facility in the town,” he said. “Water was previously supplied to Mountaire by the Town of Frankford. Mountaire requested and was granted a permit by the Division of Water to install a well that is now supplying water to their facility.

“It is important to understand that existing law does not afford DNREC the ability to withhold a non-potable well permit solely on the basis of the well being installed in a water utility area,” Holmes said. “Nor does the law compel the Department to issue a well permit if doing so would adversely affect public health and the environment.

“Delaware’s Division of Public Health’s Office of Drinking Water inspected the Mountaire well and determined that the non-potable well’s water supply had no interconnection with Frankford’s municipal water system that could threaten the Town’s potable water supply,” he concluded.

The Town’s appeal also argues that Small’s decision was “improper” due to failure of notice, along with Delaware Code violations, including municipality approval of all well permits issued within Town limits and permission from the municipality approving the activity of drilling the non-potable well within town limits.

During the May council meeting, Frankford Councilman Greg Welch said the Town had noticed a sharp decrease in water usage — a drop of almost a million gallons per month — as a result of Mountaire’s well.

At its July meeting, the council said the decrease in usage has caused the Town to face a $71,000 deficit, causing the Town to consider raising water rates. The water rate is proposed to increase from $8.75 per 1,000 gallons to $12.68 per 1,000 gallons. There is also a monthly service rate of $3.

At that same meeting, as in past meetings, the council and residents discussed ways to put pressure on Mountaire and potentially recoup the lost income from the business in other ways.

“If Mountaire is really putting an extra $250 a year on every resident in town, they need to pay. They’re not a good neighbor; they’re not an asset to the town,” he said. “If they were a good neighbor and doing something wrong, that would be one thing, but they’re not a good neighbor… Stick it to them. You put a 2 percent tax on rentals, make an industrial tax,” said property owner Dean Esham at the July meeting.

Michael Tirrell, vice president of human resources and business services for Mountaire, told the Coastal Point that Mountaire is very willing to sit down with the leadership of the Town of Frankford to try work out a solution to the issue that Frankford has with the company drilling a well.

“We didn’t have constantly good quality water, high enough pressure or high enough volume, which was causing us operational problems at the feed mill. You’ve got to have good quality water pressure and volume to make feed,” he explained.

“We had a problem we had to solve, and we couldn’t get it solved through normal Town water, so we applied for a permit to drill a well so we could drill it ourselves. We were granted permission to drill that well, so we felt we drilled a legal well. The Town has objected to that. We’re still trying to try and sit down with the Town and try to work it out.”

Tirrell said Mountaire doesn’t believe there is an issue with the well’s impact on the Town’s water supply.

“We don’t have any possibility of any cross-contamination. There is no connection between the process water and the drinking water. And we’re still a customer of Frankford for our drinking water, the water in our restrooms and the water in the fire-protection system.

“We’ll wait to see how that plays out, and maybe at the end of that we’ll be able to sit down and talk,” he added.

Tirrell said the company has tried to work on the water-related issues with the Town.

“We sat down with the Town and made an offer to help with the shortfall they’ve had,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned, the offer is still under consideration, but they haven’t accepted the offer.

“We are still willing to talk with the Town. We think they’re willing to talk with us, they’ve just chosen to go through this legal appeals process. Maybe that’s something they have to do to satisfy themselves that everything was done in order,” he added.

As of Coastal Point’s Wednesday news deadline, a date for the appeal hearing had yet to be scheduled.