Blue Hen proposes Sussex yard waste facility

The Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission heard from representatives of Blue Hen Organics LLC last Thursday, Dec. 11, in a public hearing on the company’s application for a conditional use permit for a compost facility for yard waste.

The facility would be located on approximately 45 acres of AR-1 Agricultural Residential District land east of Road 402A(Baker’s Road), 2,000 feet south of Route 26 in Dagsboro Hundred.

Shannon Argo and Robert Tunnell III, representing Blue Hen Organics LLC, as well as their counsel, Gene Bayard, and Craig Coker, a technical composting consultant, presented P&Z with their plans. The land is currently being used for agriculture and has existing poultry facilities, as well as being used for propane and manure storage. The land is presently tilled and farmed, and the applicants said the .617 acres of forested wetlands on the property would not be disturbed by the new project.

Tunnell said the project seemed like a natural extension of Blue Hen Disposal, which he also owns. Blue Hen 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.”

“There has been a need [for a composting facility]. We are far behind the states around us,” he continued. Tunnell also spoke of the need to be proactive, considering New Castle County’s 2006 ban of yard waste going into the Cherry Hill landfill. “That will trickle down, and before that happens we’d like to have a facility up and running.”

He said the company has 12,000 to 13,000 current customers currently, and they have plans to offer similar deals to those offered through the Delaware Solid Waste Authority, where they would add a fee to residential trash pick-up costs for collection of yard waste. They have plans to start the yard-waste business with five on-site employees. Eventually, that could grow to 10 to 15 employees, with accounting, sales and marketing positions.

Craig Coker of Coker Composting and Consulting, a consultant with 28 years of experience in the planning, permitting, design, construction and operation of organics recycling facilities, spoke about what a compost facility is and what its purpose would be. He said it is not unlike backyard composting facilities and would involve brush, leaves and grass clippings.

“You grind them, form into windroves compost, and then process the finish materials into products ready for market,” Coker explained. He said three of the most important things in viable composting are particle size, nutrient balance of carbon and nitrogen and moisture.

Eventual markets for the finished compost material include uses in landscape, erosion and sediment control, turf grass, stormwater management and agricultural uses. He mentioned that virtually all states have regulations regarding composting facilities and Delaware’s falls under the Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch of DNREC.

Planning and Zoning officials asked who would be able to bring materials into the facility. Coker said the public would be able to drop material off, just as Blue Hen trucks will, but an on-site manager would inspect all materials.

“An onsite manager will visually inspect and physically pull out non-compostable material,” said Coker. “If a load had an excessive amount of materials that was not compostable, they would take out the whole load. And that will happen at first, until people realize what it’s all about.”

Per DNREC regulations, Coker said, the facility would be gated.

When asked about the difference between local landfills, where people can simply drive up and get their waste weighed before dumping, and the proposed composting facility, Coker reiterated the visual inspection process and the on-site manager’s duties.

“Frankly,” he said, “the landfills don’t care what you have. But that’s not how a composting facility operates. The manager will visually inspect all materials as it is unloaded.”

Also included in testimony at last week’s public hearing were comments from a property owner to the east of the property that stated an operation such as this is needed for jobs and to reduce landfill waste. Several other property owners, however, spoke in opposition with regard to the size and manner in which large trucks would be making deliveries, as well as over concerns about dust and odors.

Coker responded to those concerns by saying that balance of carbon and nitrogen helps with odor control.

“That goes back to the three most important things in composting,” he said. “The carbon and nitrogen balance, the particle size and moisture. As for particle size, when facilities are careful to have more pelocity, more air can move and an oxygen rich product minimizes odors. And you want enough moisture for microbial life. When you balance everything in the optimal situation, you minimize odors.

“As for truck traffic,” he added, “ it will not be an endless stream of small trucks, rather large trucks carrying large amounts of material.”

Planning and Zoning voted to defer a decision on the application, for further consideration, before making their recommendation on possible approval of the project to Sussex County Council.