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
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
"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."