County hears concerns over poultry plant replacing pickle plant

Last week, the Sussex County Board of Adjustment held a public hearing for Allen Harim Foods, which had applied to the county for a special-use exception for a potentially hazardous use — a poultry processing facility.

The company plans for the facility to be located west of Road 331 (Iron Branch Road) and southeast of Iron Branch and the Town of Millsboro, in the same location where the Vlasic Pickle plant once operated.

Jim Quinton, director of operations for the plant, said Harim plans to only do poultry processing, as no rendering will take place on-site.

“In a rendering plant, you’re processing offal, which is your blood, your guts, your feathers from the poultry process,” he explained. “We will not process any of that in this facility. It will go into trucks. The trucks will then be removed and taken off to a location out of state.”

Quinton said that the plant would receive a number of upgrades to meet or exceed standards, regarding wastewater, air quality and traffic.

“Basically, we want to bring live poultry into the processing plant through trucks. None of the trucks will be permitted to go through the town of Millsboro itself. They will go down 113, Thorogoods Road, to Iron Branch Road and to the facility,” he explained.

“Once arriving at the facility, they will go into a holding shed, which will be well ventilated and have a filtering system on it to remove the dust particles and any possible ammonias in there. Once coming out of this cooling shed, they would be backed into a building that will be added onto the facility and enclosed for live receiving.”

Attorney Gene Bayard, who represented Harim at the hearing, asked Project Engineer John Sheehan what permits are necessary for the project.

“DNREC [Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control] requires an air-quality permit, wastewater discharge, stormwater management, and then water allocation for wells to pump water for the processing, and we’ll be installing a new state-of-the-art wastewater system,” he said.

“DelDOT [Delaware Department of Transportation] gets into traffic design. We’ll be working closely to design the entrance and make improvements to that. We’re just getting started in the design. We have a lot of building design — electrical, mechanical, all those systems — to work out, as well as the environmental permits that were mentioned.”

Sheehan said that the site is a total of 107 acres, of which only 83 can be improved for the application — the rest being marsh or wooded areas.

“What we’re here tonight to ask the board to find, is that the area is appropriate, based on a minimum 50-year history of heavy industrial development in this quadrant south of Millsboro,” said Bayard.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Key spoke on behalf of the application, stating he believes the plant would be an asset to the local economy.

“Our administration sees this as a great opportunity to continue what has been a 40-year use of food processing at this facility. Obviously, there is great economic activity.”

He described the $100 million construction project as “an economic shot in the arm,” adding that it would create 700 fulltime jobs, with 75 to 100 of those job being in management, engineering and supervisory positions.

“It also supports the farming community,” he said. “The farmers are not only raising the chickens, but the grain and the soybeans to support it. It’s a positive, economically. I also believe that this is an opportunity for a role model of a modern facility that is really run in an environmentally sound way and in a way that respects the community.

“I think it is important and telling to note that the ownership and management of this company are very committed to doing this right.”

The board had received 14 letters regarding the application, 11 of which were in opposition. Two dozen people also indicated that they wished to speak in opposition to the application, many with concerns regarding traffic.

In a letter addressed to Wharton’s Bluff residents dated May 23, Harim officials stated, “We will be routing truck traffic on Thorogoods Road to/from Dagsboro Road (State Route 20). No truck traffic will be routed through Millsboro or on Possum Point Road. We anticipate 47 trucks per day, both live haul coming into the plant and dressed product trucks leaving the plant, which, over a 16-hour shift, is three trucks per hour. Employee traffic will also be routed away from downtown Millsboro to more direct routes out to Route 113.”

Washington, D.C., resident Lewis Podolske, who owns a home in Wharton’s Bluff, said that, although the company may say the trucks will be sent around the town, they will more than likely drive through the town.

“I never saw a truck come out of the Vlasic Pickle factory and turn right and go to Thorogoods Road. They all turned left and went by the schools. These trucks, unless there’s some kind of law passed, or it is part of their regulation or contract with the plant, are not going to go the long way around this facility,” he said. “That’s a concern.”

“The truckers will go whichever way they want to go,” said resident Wayne Morris.

“The schools are my major concern, with all the trucks coming in there,” added Diane Daly. “How are you going to tell the truck driver? And who is going to sit and watch that the trucks don’t come down this way?”

Quinton said the trucks’ route would be enforced through a condition of the truckers’ employment.

“We oversee our drivers and maintain our drivers. We have a way to maintain it through interoffice disciplinary action.”

Craig Havenner, a Virginia resident who also owns properties in Millsboro, said he isn’t necessarily against the plant but just wants make sure it is handled properly.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily in opposition of the concept of jobs and chickens — we all need them and we all eat them. The question is how to best integrate this new use into an existing community. This is a big change. This brings a lot more truck traffic, a lot more employee traffic and a lot more an issue of perception versus reality, in terms of what poultry processing means.

“I don’t think that the issue is really, ‘What came first: the chicken or the pickle?’” he added. “I think we’re looking at a changed use here… from the timing standpoint, from the number of shifts per day, from the types of odors that may be emitted. So the question is how does the chicken integrate itself into the neighborhood in a way that is accepted with open arms?”

Members of the community also asked the board to take their time in considering the application, suggesting that they wait until Harim gets all its approvals from state agencies.

“I think the main point is it is premature for you to make any decision,” said Podolske, who received applause from the gallery for his comments.

County Solicitor Jim Griffin also suggested that the board take its time in making a decision.

“The section of the code that we are dealing with regarding this requires that the board consult with other agencies created for the promotion of the public health and safety. I think it would be proper for the board to consult with those agencies prior to reaction,” he advised.

The board voted to table the discussion until their next meeting, on June 17 at 7 p.m.

Harim will be holding a public information meeting at the Millsboro Fire Hall on June 17 at 7 p.m.