Delaware Judge OKs Wastewater Permit for Chicken Plant

(CN) – Ruffling feathers in Delaware, a judge upheld decisions by state environmental regulators to let a poultry-processing plant spray treated wastewater on nearby farmland.

Delaware Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley on Thursday affirmed rulings by the state’s environmental secretary and Environmental Appeals Board that approved a wastewater-treatment plan proposed by Artesian Resources, also known as Artesian Wastewater Management Inc.

Chickens huddle in their cages at an egg-processing plant. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The company aims to build lagoons in order to collect treated wastewater from Allen Harim’s chicken-processing plant in Sussex County and spray it on farmland near Milton. Currently, Allen Harim’s plant disposes of treated wastewater by dumping it into a nearby stream that eventually empties into the Delaware Bay.

Hoping to build a large wastewater treatment facility, Artesian had initially submitted soil and water investigation reports to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control that complied with regulations adopted in 1999. The permit was approved in 2013, but new environmental regulations emerged in 2014 that would require the company to test more sites.

Artesian filed an amendment to the original permit in 2017 that would allow it to work with Allen Harim by treating food-related wastewater, which a panel approved.

To the chagrin of many neighbors and environmental watchdogs, it did not submit any new environmental reports.

In public comments submitted to the state, many area residents expressed concern over Allen Harim’s recorded history of environmental violations, while the Sussex County Farm Bureau wrote that it supports maintaining Artesian’s permit.

“I am really concerned that spraying wastewater on farm fields could lead to well contamination and other health and environmental issues. I am a vegan and the thought of fresh farm vegetables being sprayed with wastewater from a poultry processing plant is really unimaginable to me,” resident Maureen McGeever wrote in one comment.

A coalition of those critical of the project, known as Keep Our Wells Clean, sued the state over concerns that spraying the water on nearby land might affect their drinking water. They urged state regulators to force Artesian to submit more environmental reports and to apply for a new, up-to-date, wastewater disposal permit.

But Judge Bradley on Thursday sided with the secretary and Environmental Appeals Board’s decision, noting that “the changes that Artesian wants to make to its permit are, as the secretary and EAB found, not substantial enough to require new hydrogeologic and soil investigation reports.”

“The changes involving the timing of the construction of the wastewater treatment plant, sizing of the lagoons, and spraying of treated food-processing wastewater were all well within the previously-approved parameters,” the judge wrote.

He added, “The agricultural lands to be used in this case have been extensively studied and found suitable for spray irrigation. Quite simply, the poultry industry has been in Sussex County for a long time, and so has the spraying of treated food processing wastewater from a poultry plant on agricultural lands.”

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