Board of adjustment tables action on Allen Harim request

MILLSBORO – Another week is needed for further review.

That was the verdict of the Sussex County Board of Adjustment, which on Sept. 10 tabled action on a change of condition request from Allen Harim that would allow wastewater to be trucked – with DNREC permission – from a proposed deboning operation at Harim’s Millsboro facility before spray irrigation at the site is approved and operational.

Board members E. Brent Workman, Bruce Mears, Dale Callaway and chairman John Mills voted 4-0 to table the matter until its next meeting, which is Monday, Sept. 17.

Board of adjustment member Ellen Magee recused herself from discussion, as she did prior to the Aug. 20 public hearing citing personal dealings with the Morris, James, Wilson, Halbrook & Bayard LLP law firm representing Allen Harim.

On Aug. 20, the board deferred action following a two-plus hour public hearing.

At issue: a condition imposed in July by the BOA through findings of fact stipulating “the spray irrigation updated with new technology must be up and running prior to operation.”

In the interim, Allen Harim is seeking to truck upward of 40,000 gallons of wastewater daily from Millsboro to its Harbeson plant for treatment, with Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control permitting approval.

“I have no problem giving the approval for them to haul. But I think the irrigation system should be put up and in operation within a year,” said Mr. Workman. “That’s where I am at on that.”

“Wouldn’t it be a lot less expensive to dispose of the water through the irrigation than to truck it,” said Mr. Mears. “If that is the case that’s the incentive for Allen Harim to get the irrigation going as soon as possible.”

At the August public hearing, attorney John Gibbs representing Allen Harim said the BOA’s condition “was inadvertently spoken and it really was not of the opinion of the board” and voted on … “to actually have the board stand between DNREC and its permitting processes and say, ‘You cannot open the deboning operation until the spray irrigation system is up and running.’ It is problematic for many reasons. That condition did not arise logically out of the hearing and the findings.”

Andrea Green, an attorney representing Protect Our Indian River and Keep Our Wells Clean, countered, saying Allen Harim “has essentially indicated to this board that you made mistake, that you didn’t intend to impose the very condition that you very specifically placed in the record. The appropriate action if it believes a mistake has been made is request for re-hearing. That is Rule 18. it specifically states the board may re-hear a matter for a mistake, inadvertent surprise or neglect. Mistake is clearly what they have alleged here.”

Opponents, who from the very beginning have altogether challenged the proposed deboning operation that would occupy 50,000 square feet in the 460,000-square-foot former Vlasic pickle plant facility off Iron Branch Road, cited increased truck traffic in the downtown Millsboro area and near schools as well as other concerns.

Mr. Mills voiced his opinion before polling the board for direction that led to the decision to table the matter.

“Gentlemen, I tell you how I feel is that perhaps our initial condition wasn’t necessarily a good one in that them hauling this off seems like a better solution overall. But I say that considering the limited amount of production that they have,” said Mr. Mills. “Although I don’t I disagree that it would have an adverse impact on traffic because one more vehicle is an adverse (effect), but substantially adverse I don’t see it being substantially adverse effect.”

Mr. Mills stated he is confused over some of the public hearing testimony, saying some people who previously opposed spray irrigation are objecting to wastewater being trucked from the Millsboro plant. Mr. Mills singled out testimony from Maria Payan, a consultant with Socially Responsible Agriculture Project who submitted several hundred pages of documents and information.

“Her testimony I felt was not directly related to the question at hand,” said Mr. Mills. “Although what I did find interesting is that there was still a lot of … the concern about the contaminants and runoff and things like that. I guess I’m a little confused because their (Harim) request is not to immediately put wastewater on the grounds. So, they way to do that I guess would be to remove it, but they are in opposition to that. It is confusing to me. Why would they not want to haul it off away from there?”

“Once you haul it away it’s not an issue,” said Mr. Callaway. “But then they (opponents) don’t want that to be done.”

At the Sept. 10 meeting, Assistant County Attorney Jamie Sharp noted that in hearing testimony, Everett Brown, senior director of operations for Allen Harim, testified regarding the wastewater treatment facility in that it could take three to six months for review by DNREC, another six months for permitting, seven to eight months for construction plus an operational permit process. There could also be hearings and appeals, Mr. Sharp said.

“They (Allen Harim) should be halfway through that process now because we approved this back quite some time,” said Mr. Mills.

Mr. Brown testified at the August hearing that Allen Harim is planning to implement a water re-use system through which the deboning process could possibility reuse 80 percent of its water.

In addition, Mr. Mills noted that the board of adjustment heard testimony “that Allen Harim did not necessarily do the things that they either said they would do and have them funded to do in the past. There were concerns there in that regard, and understandably.”

Mr. Mills also made note of Ms. Green’s testimony regarding the statement to the press at the recent ribbon cutting ceremony for Millsboro facility, “that the (Allen Harim) CEO stated that until the spray irrigation system is operational the company would be hauling its wastewater to Harbeson. Why would you make a statement like that? it is very concerning to me.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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