Meeting about Perdue plant draws hundreds

Concerns focus on noise, smell, pollution and property values

By Tony Windsor

There was little evidence that either proponents or opponents of a micro-nutrient plant proposed for western Sussex County left a recent town meeting feeling any differently than when they came. A community meeting was held by the town of Laurel in an effort to respond to concerns expressed by citizens about the proposed $10 million Perdue AgriRecycle plant planned for a 210-acre parcel of land just off US 13A, between Laurel and Blades.
A standing-room-only crowd gathered at Laurel Fire Hall Monday evening, Sept. 27, to hear county officials and representatives of Perdue explain how the plant will operate and why western Sussex was chosen as the site for the plant.
The plant would be 100 feet by 630 feet and would dry and pelletize chicken manure for use as a fertilizer.
One by one, members of Monday night's audience walked to a microphone and asked questions of a panel of eight people representing county, state and business interests: Frank Calio, director of Sussex County Economic Development; Kenny Bounds, president of the Delmarva Poultry Industry; Dr. Keith Rhinehart, vice president, environmental service for Perdue Farms; Mike Ferguson, chief operating officer for AgriRecycle Inc.; Wayne Hudson, general manager, Perdue-AgriRecycle Inc.; Wendell Feltman, vice president of Soil Purification Inc., a division of Astec Industries Inc.; Charles Baynum, Sussex County utilities coordinator for the Delaware Department of Transportation; and Kevin Donnelly, environmental administrator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
When asked why the public meeting was held in Laurel instead of Seaford or Blades, both of which are closer to the proposed plant site, Calio said the only public hearings scheduled by the county regarding the proposed plant are a Nov. 4 Sussex Planning and Zoning Commission hearing and a Nov. 30 Sussex County Council meeting.
"The Town of Laurel requested this meeting," he said. "We are here as their guests. We are not here by choice, but by invitation."
Calio said he is aware that concerns have been expressed by some people about having been given no information about the plant prior to reading about it in a newspaper article.
"This is a competitive business deal and the county had to enter into confidentiality agreements with Perdue Farms," he said. "If there were to have been town services required we would have notified that town. However, then that town would have had to enter into confidentiality agreements as well."
Calio explained later why the confidentiality agreements are so important in a business deal that involves the purchase of property. "We had looked at another possible site for this plant. However, when the property owner found out that it was Perdue Farms that was looking at property, he automatically jumped the price per acre up from about $3,000 to $9,000. I don't think there is any property in Sussex County that is worth that much. This is why the confidentiality factor is so important."
Jerry Taylor, owner of Taylor Tackle Shop on US 13A near the proposed plant site, was busy Monday night collecting names for a petition opposing the operation. He also passed out flyers soliciting members for an ad hoc coalition called CRAP (Citizens Resistance Against Perdue).
Taylor told the members of the panel that he has gathered 900 names of local people who oppose the new nutrient plant. He asked Perdue officials if they plan to build more plants on the 210-acre parcel.
Wayne Hudson said there would be no more than the one plant at that site.
"Why would it be necessary to have 210 acres for a building that size? I am not confident that Perdue won't build other plants on that same piece of property," Taylor responded.
Hudson said the parcel is so large because it is important to Perdue to protect the agricultural quality of the property. "We wanted a large, wooded parcel so that we can maintain the quality of the environment. There are plans to plant even more trees. This is agricultural land and we want to keep it looking like this," he said.
Calio said that he also questioned Perdue about whether it will plan to build more plants on that parcel of land.
"This was a concern to me also," he said. "They have assured me that this will be the only plant on that site. I don't know how the planning and zoning or council would vote, but if they ever come to me about putting another plant on that land I'll tell them when hell freezes over."
Concerns about increased traffic in the area of the plant were also addressed by the panel. Hudson said an average of about nine trucks per day, traveling during daylight hours, will bring manure to the plant site. He said these trucks will be covered with heavy, water-proof tarps while traveling along the road. The trucks will then be unloaded inside the building and washed and disinfected before leaving the site. Hudson said no trucks will be allowed delivery to the plant unless they follow proper guidelines, which include making sure loads are covered.

After being dried and converted into pellet form, the finished product will be stored inside the building until there is enough to load onto a 50-car train and be shipped out. Hudson said the trains are expected to come to the plant site approximately every two and a half weeks.
One member of Monday night's audience questioned why this plant is being considered for residential farmland when there are industrial parks in Sussex that were designed for this type of operation.
Calio said there are three industrial park sites in Sussex County and none is large enough to take the new plant. He said Seaford's park has new land, but it has not been developed yet. "We have three industrial parks and all are just about filled," he said.
Many concerns were expressed about potential emissions of contaminants into the air and water.
Karen Bradley said she operates a pre-school about a mile and a half away from the proposed plant site and the Seaford School District's kindergarten facility in Blades is only about 2 miles from the site. Bradley said she is "nervous" about the air quality and the impact the plant may have on the Nanticoke River.
Mike Ferguson explained that the plant process "captures" the dust and moisture within the walls of the facility. "This process uses a low-temperature, rotary kiln-type dryer system," he said. "This is a closed-loop system and all water not used will be recycled and used for the cooling process. The process is low moisture and any steam that does leave the plant will have been through the scrubbers and cleaned. There is no chance of contaminants getting out." He added that it will be necessary for the plant to adhere to all of the state air and water quality standards in order to gain permits. Jodi Brown, a local poultry grower, said he feels the plant is a way to address the disposal of chicken waste before the federal government implements regulations that could drive him and other poultry operations out of business. "I pay $500 property tax for each one of my chicken houses, so it is also my money that will be used for any road improvements the state has to make for this new plant," he said. "I bet some of these same people were moaning about Wal-Mart when they found out it was coming here. Now I can't get out of Wal-Mart with a half-gallon of ice cream before it melts because there are so many people there. I don't understand why there are not more poultry growers standing behind me in support of this plant." One Laurel man urged Perdue to reconsider locating the plant in an industrial park. "If this plant will do all that you say it will then you don't need the additional land for wooded buffer," he said. "I don't think you all did your homework. You have elected to place this plant in a high residential area. Put this plant in the Seaford Industrial Park where you have railroad access. Even if you don't find a location with railroad access you can truck your product cheaper than I can lose property value." Local resident "Punch" Whaley thanked the panel for coming to the meeting and said he felt members "bent over backwards" to answer the public's questions. He urged the audience members to be "reasonable" in their approach to the new plant. "What say did you have in DuPont or Wal-Mart coming here?" he asked. "Let's be reasonable about this. This operation is trying to protect our environment and our communities." Following the meeting, Dale Boyce, president of DPI's Growers' Committee, said he is confident that the Perdue nutrient plant is "a great idea set in the right direction. I have to give Perdue a lot of credit. This plant operation is coming at a crucial time in the poultry industry. I would like to see four or five more plants just like it on the shore." Boyce said in the future the federal government will implement strict guidelines to deal with nutrient disposal and these regulations could easily drive local poultry operations out of business. He said he feels local concerns about noise and odors from the plant are unfounded. "Anyone could buy that same 200-acres of land and put 999 hogs on it without getting anybody's permission. This plant can be a model for other sites and I believe two years from now nobody will know anything is going on at that site." Boyce has four broiler houses with 110,000 chickens. Currently he pays about $2,000 a year to have his houses cleaned out and the manure hauled away because he does not have enough property for land application of the manure. The Perdue nutrient plant will serve those chicken farms where land application is not permitted. These poultry operations can choose to either have Perdue come and clean out their houses and haul the manure to the plant for free, or they can clean out and haul the manure to Perdue themselves and be compensated. Boyce said this will work out well for him. "I will save the $2,000 a year, plus it will cut down on the amount of truck traffic. Now it takes about 100 truckloads a year to haul away the manure. Perdue will be able to do this with larger trucks and it will only take about 30 loads." Calio said he feels Monday night's meeting was a good opportunity to educate the area about the proposed plant. He said a lot of tough questions were asked and he feels the representatives did a good job of answering them. "Some things you have to see. I hope people will see this plant as being environmentally safe and that it will not devalue their property. This plant is not located in the center of the parcel of land. It is located close to the railroad tracks and is no closer than a half-mile from any residence." Asked if he feels the public outcry against the plant may change the ultimate decision of Perdue to locate here, Calio said, "I don't think so."