County approves Mountaire rendering plant

Despite out-of-order opposition, the Sussex County Board of Adjustment approved an application by Mountaire for a ‘resource recovery’ or rendering plant near Millsboro on Monday, May 4.

Millsboro resident Dottie LeCates asked if she could make a comment off the record about the application, but because the board had announced at the beginning of the meeting that the public hearing portion of the hearing was over, they said no. She and almost 20 people stood up in opposition when the board started to discuss the application.

Later during the discussion, she called out and asked if the board members lived within four miles of the plant and other residents asked if it had been advertised in the local papers. Chairman Dale Hallaway asked LeCates to leave and Richard E. Berl Jr., assistant county attorney, stated to the audience that the next person who spoke out of order would be escorted out by security and possibly arrested. “Is everybody clear on that?” he asked. LeCates left stating that it had been “ill-advertised” and “falsely advertised.”

The board tabled a decision last month, stating that they thought there might be some confusion in the way the plant had been advertised and stated that they wanted to go back and listen to the tape and read all the evidence.

“My purpose in questioning this is, if it was termed differently in the advertising, whether we would have seen more opposition… I don’t know,” said board member Jeffrey Hudson at last month’s meeting. Hudson and E. Brent Workman abstained from the vote Monday, citing possible conflicts of interest.

Councilman John M. Mills stated that he thought the applicant, Mountaire, had successfully proven that the plant would not have any adverse affectson nearby property and stated that it was already zoned heavy industrial and used for similar purposes.

“The drinking water is high in nitrates because of the existing use, and they’ve had the problem since the previous owner [Townsend’s]” said Mills. “Mountaire had voluntarily installed water treatments sytems and provide bottled water. It’s been done proactively and done in good faith — they did address the issue and continue to do so.”

The board also discussed odor and air quality and decided that the applicant provided sufficient testimony that their intention to install odor-controlling devices would make odor a non-issue, and that they had air quality systems in place.

“There is an odor, there will always be an odor, it’s existing — hopefully they will install air scrubbing devices for the existing plant, but there is nothing we can do about it. No additional odor would result from what I can tell from the technical data.”

Mills also conjectured that driving the materials to be rendered would more adversely affect the public safety and health of residents, as opposed to having the plant on site.

“That would impose a greater advserse affect on public safety and health and all those good things than dealing with it right there. It’s an improvement as far as the envionment is concerned.”

It was at this point that LeCates left the room.

Chairman Dale A. Callaway agreed that Mountaire had presented their case well and to use what has “come in after’”(meaning the questioning of the advertising/opposition) wouldn’t be fair to the applicants and wasn’t permissable by law.

Mountaire officials explained in their exhibits back in March that “the proposed facility is self-contained, constructed inside a solid concrete building, with the highest technology equipment and filters available. It will produce less odor than the existing plant and has been designed utilizing negative pressure inside the building, state-of-the-art scrubbers and a $1.5 million thermal oxidizer not required by any Delaware regulation, which will successfully deal with any manufacturing related odor before air or vapor leaves the building.”

Mountaire officials also added in their exhibits that the 38 new employees required for operation of the proposed plant will not have much affect traffic-wise when added to the 2,700 employees at the existing facility and that noise will not be a problem because the proposed facility is located approximately 1,500 feet from Route 24 and is “at least one-third of a mile from the nearest home and at least one-half mile from all other surrounding properties.”

Because water quality was one of the main concerns brought up back in March, while the public hearing was still open, the board decided to approve the speical use exemption with a condition that operations would cease if nitrate levels exceeded current levels. The vote was 3-0 with Workmand and Hudson abstaining.

LeCates, a 38-year resident of Possum Point, was disappointed with the ruling, saying that many of the people there were born and raised in Millsboro and had only heard of the application in the past few days because of grass roots word-of-mouth efforts.

“There were 27 landowners that needed to at least go on record as objecting and they wouldn’t even hear that. We busted our butt for awareness. If it was advertised in March, it was not clear and not promoted.”

Millsboro resident Betty Greenawalp had similar sentiments and was disappointed the people were not allowed to speak.

“I’m new to Delaware and I read three newspapers a day and I never saw it,” she said of the advertisement. “I would’ve been at the first one. I’m curious to see where they release their information,” she said of the board.

“That whole application should have been re-written and re-advertised,”continued LeCates. “Nine out of 10 people in Millsboro have no idea what was proposed and now approved. You can’t object to something if you don’t know about it. And to think we are not adjacent neighbors is wrong. We are a neighbor. We are adjacent, right across the river, and we are adversely affected,” she said.