Residents, business come to an accord

By Tony E. Windsor

The City of Seaford recently acted as a mediator, helping to bring about a "meeting of the minds" in reference to a local business seeking to expand its operations and residents who opposed the move.

A special meeting was held at Seaford City Council chambers on Oct. 19, involving representatives of Venture Milling, an animal by-products warehouse facility on South Bradford Street and neighborhood residents. The meeting was scheduled by Seaford Mayor Dan Short to help facilitate a path forward regarding Venture Millings request to expand its operation. On Tuesday, Oct. 10, residents in the Bradford Street/ Harrington Street area, near Venture Milling, turned out in force at Seaford City Hall to express opposition to the mill's plans to expand its storage capacity.

Concerns including fear of increased residential truck traffic and enhanced odor problems led residents to seek information to determine what the impact of expansion would be on the neighborhood. George Betton, Venture Milling representatives attempted to reassure residents that the expansion would be beneficial in terms of helping to eliminate consistent parking of trucks in the neighborhood for long periods of time and he said there would be no increase in odor.

Not satisfied, residents agreed to meet for a second, more focused meeting to discuss their concerns with Betton. The second meeting was chaired by Seaford City Councilman Ron MacArthur and co-chaired by Councilman Ed Butler. MacArthur started the meeting by reminding residents that Venture Milling was under no obligation to hear resident concerns because the expansion is a permitted use for the property. The industrial zone which the business occupies was established in the late 1960s or early 1970s and the site has always been used as industrial. MacArthur said the meeting between Venture Milling and the residents was the first of its kind for the city. He said it was hoped that the residents would recognize Venture Milling's desire to be a good neighbor.

"This project is a permitted use for the Venture Milling property," MacArthur said. "They do not have to listen to what you have to say. I think it is important to also know that what is being proposed here is totally different from Venture Milling's original request. The city expressed concerns to Venture Milling about its projects plans and the proposal was completely changed to address those concerns."

MacArthur said there were some problems that residents complained about that the city also shared responsibility for, including a damaged storm water drain which contributes to the neighborhood odor problem. Seaford Building Official Charles Anderson said the city has met with Venture Milling, and after hearing what the business plans to accomplish with its expansion, he is confident that the project will benefit the area. "Venture Milling is willing to work with the city to help alleviate some concerns that we initially shared with the firm," Anderson said. "We feel the project will address traffic concerns by decreasing some of the truck traffic in that area of the city. They will be tearing down an old building to make way for the new warehouse and they have addressed some of our concerns which have in some cases driven up the cost of the project."

Bradford Street resident Charles Lankford asked who controls the truck traffic and the manner in which the truck drivers operate their vehicles. "Are there any regulations that these truck drivers have to follow," Lankford asked? "In the 13 years I have lived here I have never seen the police department stop a truck. If we park on the opposite side of the street because the trucks are everywhere, we get a ticket."

Venture Milling representative George Betton, said he is relying on the city to tell him what the proper truck route is. He said Venture Milling is abiding by the truck route as it has been presented by the city. "The city tells us how they want the trucks to come and we follow this," he said. Lankford asked what benefits the city of Seaford would be deriving by allowing the Venture Milling expansion.

Seaford City Manager Dolores Slatcher said she has tried to look at the project from the position of "a next door neighbor." "I think we will see an improvement in that area of the city because of this project," she said. "They will be demolishing a dilapidated building. There will be improved truck traffic because the expansion will allow Venture Milling to get the trucks in and out a lot quicker. And there will be some landscaping done to buffer the residential neighbors from the operation."

Slatcher said there is the chance that at some point there will be an opportunity to get the base of Harrington Street hot mixed and paved with a trench storm water drain installed. Pennsylvania Avenue resident Jerry Marvel asked if anyone was monitoring what types of Venture Milling materials were being drained into the Nanticoke River. Anderson said there will be a sand-filter catch drain installed and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) will make sure any spilled product is swept up and enforce any environmental violations.

Marvel said the residents have no way of knowing if there are contaminants draining into the river and has no guarantee that anyone is keeping a check on it. MacArthur asked Marvel if he was satisfied with what was being done at present. "I think what is being proposed is better than what we have now, which is nothing," he said. "We are talking about having filters and catch basins installed. That has to be better than the current situation."

Betton assured Marvel that DNREC will monitor the company's process and will have to give final approval for the expansion project. "The city will not give us a building permit until we have the DNREC permit," he said. "After that we have to abide by DNREC's rules." Slatcher encouraged Marvel and the other residents to have "faith" that Venture Milling is trying to improve the area where it is located. "There are no guarantees in life," she said. "If I did not believe that Venture Milling is trying to improve the area I would not have represented it to the city council. We have had owners of this property who have not been as concerned as Mr. Betton. We have to go in with a plan of action, document it, then hold Venture Milling accountable for sticking to this plan."

Marvel said the mill should have never been permitted to locate in that area of the city. "I just feel we are going to see more expansion, more product and more trucks," he said. Slatcher said Venture Milling is only exercising its right to expand its business. "He (Betton) can do this without coming to the city," she said. "Unless he is changing the structure of the building, he does not need our approval to move forward with the project." Betton said Venture Milling does a good business in Seaford and could do even more if there was enough product available. "Venture Milling will grow, but not so much in Seaford," he said. "There is only so much of the raw materials we bring in being made. We are maxed out right now. "We are having to bring product in from the mid-west and Georgia to export to places like New York. In the next six to eight months the Venture Milling operation in New York could cause a decrease on the Seaford operation."

Betton said the Seaford operation is currently dealing with about 2,000 tons of product each week. He said if it were available, the operation could run through as much as 5,000 tons a week. "We just can't buy enough of the raw materials we need. I don't see this changing anytime soon, unless there are a whole lot more cows and chickens grown on Delmarva." Betton said that the expansion project at Venture Milling will help to expedite the truck traffic. This coupled with making improvements to the roadways in that area and the storm water drainage system, will help to make the entire operation more neighborhood friendly. He encouraged the residents to contact him or the plant manager at Venture Milling if there are any concerns.

"This is the first time I have heard any of your complaints. We will do whatever we can to address your concerns because Venture Milling wants to stay in Seaford and wants to be a good neighbor," he said. MacArthur also urged the residents to contact the city when they have problems that they feel are not being addressed, including reporting irresponsible truck drivers in the area of the mill.

Lankford said when it comes to the truck drivers, "a little courtesy goes a long way." Betton said he will do his best to make sure those truck drivers who are driving for Venture Milling obey the traffic laws and are courteous to the residents. MacArthur said the city is working to improve the city truck route and make it more visible to truck drivers. He said the police department is working with residents to finalize a truck route and will make sure the route is promoted in an educational campaign that includes trucking firms that do business in Seaford and the general public.

The residents agreed that they felt better informed about the project and appreciated the concern shown by Betton and the city. However, residents added that it was felt that the city should do a better job of making the community aware when this type of project is being considered. It is expected that the Venture Milling expansion project will once again be brought before the Seaford Mayor and Council during the Tuesday, Oct. 24 meeting. At this time it is felt the project will be approved pending Venture Milling's acquisition of proper permits, including those from DNREC.

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