DNREC, Mountaire enter into consent decree addressing violations at Millsboro facility

Mountaire’s Millsboro poultry processing facility.

DOVER – Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Mountaire Farms have entered into a consent decree addressing violations at Mountaire’s Millsboro poultry processing facility.

DNREC on June 4 filed a complaint in state Superior Court against Mountaire Farms of Delaware, Inc. that requests civil penalties for Mountaire’s violations of its spray and land application permits at its Millsboro processing facility.

The complaint, which includes reimbursed costs for DNREC, calls for Mountaire to make short-term corrective measures, long-term system upgrades at the plant, along with environmental mitigation, and for Mountaire to provide an alternative water supply to nearby residents.

The complaint also requests that the Superior Court approve a consent decree that redresses those permit violations through monetary penalties and mitigation measures that abate the total nitrogen amount sprayed above permit limits by Mountaire’s Millsboro facility.

DNREC has also filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, raising claims that Mountaire has violated the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act.

In a release, Mountaire Farms of Delaware, Inc. states it “signed a consent decree agreed to by both Mountaire and DNREC, after careful discussion and negotiation which will resolve all issues raised in lawsuits brought by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in the Delaware Superior Court and in the Federal District Court for the District of Delaware.”

“These lawsuits, and the consent decree that will resolve them, were brought on by an unfortunate upset condition in our Millsboro facility’s wastewater treatment plant. This upset condition – which we voluntarily reported to DNREC – caused us to exceed our permit limits,” Mountaire’s response stated. “While the worst aspects of the upset condition were brought under control very quickly, our plant is not back to operating at the level we want and will not be until after both interim corrective measures and long-term system upgrades, in total costing $60 million, are completed.”

On Sept. 5, 2017, Mountaire reported to DNREC that the Millsboro wastewater treatment facility was in failure due to a build-up of solids throughout the plant, as well as a depletion of oxygen in the plant’s aerobic operations, causing Mountaire’s wastewater to exceed the effluent limits of their spray permit. Mountaire undertook interim action to reduce the solids from spray effluent and disinfect effluent prior to its application on the spray fields.

In November 2017, Mountaire submitted a corrective action work plan setting forth interim measures and proposed long-term measures for permit compliance.

On Nov. 2, 2017, DNREC issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) identifying a total of 17 categories of permit violations, including 13 categories of spray permit violations, and four categories of land application permit violations.

On Dec. 22, 2017, DNREC supplemented the NOV requiring additional corrective actions by Mountaire for violations of both permits. Subsequent interim measures by Mountaire resulted in significant improvements in the quality of the effluent from the wastewater treatment plant.

Full permit compliance is not expected to be consistently achieved until Mountaire completes a planned long-term wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

The consent decree, which was submitted for approval in Delaware Superior Court, requires Mountaire Farms to pay a civil penalty of $600,000 and to reimburse the Department $25,000 for expenses incurred during the Department’s investigation.

The consent decree also requires Mountaire to implement a beneficial environmental offset project that will reduce the penalty by 30 percent to $420,000 by offering an alternative water supply to nearby residents. Mountaire is required by the decree to seek to make available an alternative water supply through a central water supply company that meets safe drinking water standards.

If unable to obtain necessary approvals from the Delaware Public Service Commission and other government agencies, Mountaire must provide deep drinking water wells to the residential property owners.

In addition, Mountaire is required to implement, or to complete, in a timely manner interim measures designed to improve functionality of the company’s wastewater treatment plant, implement long-term corrective measures to return the wastewater treatment plant to full compliance with the current or future spray permit and land application permits, and provide environmental mitigation at a ratio of 2:1 for the quantity of total nitrogen sprayed on fields in excess of its permit limit.

Mountaire also must submit to third-party monitoring of all remedial measures, according to the consent decree.

Mountaire will begin environmental mitigation upon completion of the wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Mitigation involves relocating Mountaire’s shallow production wells to spray fields where elevated levels of nitrates occur in the groundwater, using this well water for processing within the plant, treating the water at the upgraded treatment plant, and finally applying the water to the spray fields in accordance with spray permit requirements to achieve a net reduction of nitrates in the groundwater.

The relocated production wells will allow for hydraulic control of groundwater – a “pump and treat” system – beneath the spray fields to assist in capture and treatment of nitrates that may move from potential onsite or offsite sources even after the 2:1 mitigation is complete.

The consent decree can be found on the DNREC website at http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Info/Pages/SecOrders_Enforcement.aspx.

Mountaire’s release from company spokesman Mike Tirrell lists three objectives the consent decree accomplishes:

“First, we are committed to having the long-term system upgrades completed in just 24 months, and DNREC has agreed to expedite the permitting process to help us accomplish this objective.  This cooperation is critical if we are to meet this accelerated time frame. Once these system upgrades are complete, we believe our wastewater treatment plant will be the most modern in Sussex County, if not all of Delaware.”

“Second, we have committed to providing a permanent alternative water supply to all of our closest neighbors who want it. Even though we know that the system upset could not have had an impact on local drinking water wells, we chose to offer this step to ease the concerns of the Millsboro community that is so important to us. The costs associated with this project will be partially offset by the civil penalty agreed to in the consent decree.”

“Third, because the system upset resulted in excess levels of nitrogen being applied to our spray fields, we have agreed to a process for treating high nitrate groundwater that will remove double the excess amount. To our knowledge, no other waste spray operation in Delaware is taking such steps to remove nitrates from the groundwater.”

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