Yard waste facility gets county approval

The recent approval by Sussex County Council of a yard-waste compost facility means the new Sussex facility could be up and running by summer.

Blue Hen Organics would be only the second such facility in the state, said owner Robert Tunnell. Pending anything “unforeseen,” he said, they plan to start construction at the location near Frankford sometime in March, with an estimated opening date of June or July. If all goes well, because of the time it takes for the yard waste to compost, they plan to offer a product to sell to the general public this time next year.

Tunnel, along with Shannon Argo and Craig Coker, a technical consultant, presented their application for a conditional-use permit for the facility to the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission back in December, in a public hearing.

The facility will be located on approximately 45 acres of AR-1 Agricultural-Residential District land east of Road 402A (Bakers Road), 2,000 feet south of Route 26 in Dagsboro Hundred, just off Frankford’s well-known Blueberry Lane. The land is currently being used for agriculture and has existing poultry facilities, as well as being used for propane and manure storage.

Tunnell said back in December that the project seemed like a natural extension of Blue Hen Disposal, which he also owns. Blue Hen also collects massive amounts of yard waste material from the Tunnell-owned Baywood Golf Course on Route 24 in Millsboro, he noted.

“A huge amount of waste material is being generated,” said Tunnel. “It seemed natural to make our materials into a product.”

He also noted this week that surrounding states, as well as New Castle County, have bans on yard waste entering landfills, and this seemed like a viable proactive move, with expectations of an almost-inevitable future ban.

“There has been a need [for a composting facility]. We are far behind the states around us,” he continued. “We are trying to provide a lower cost product — one that has beneficial soil products too.”

Tunnell said that, with a background in geosciences and environmental studies, he has always been interested in composting and recycling and has spent much of that past few years researching similar operations around the country. “We have been working on it for awhile, traveling around and looking at sites and gathering as much information as possible.”

He said that Blue Hen Organics has been working with other local permitting agencies and has received the necessary permits, including ones from DNREC, the Soil Conservation District, the Fire Marshal and DelDOT. The final permit incorporates many changes, such as including impervious surfaces and a closed, lined pond for stormwater collection. They also added a berm with the landscape buffer and changed proposed operating hours so they will not open until noon on Sundays.

When up and running, the facility is planned to employ about five on-site employees, but that number could grow to 10 or 12, depending on business. They anticipate many of their end users to be landscaping companies and bulk purchasers, but they will open to the general public.