Rendering plant still causing confusion

The Sussex County Board of Adjustments this week again tabled a Mountaire Farms Inc. application for a special-use exception for a “resource recovery plant” off Route 24 near Millsboro, citing the need to go back and listen to the audio of the board’s March meeting, when it was first brought up as new business. The general consensus of the board this week was that the use of the wording “resource recovery plant” during the March meeting and related legal advertising meant the intent of the application was not clear, as the plant will actually be a rendering plant.

“My purpose in questioning this is, if it was termed differently in the advertising, whether we would have seen more opposition… I don’t know,” said board member Jeffrey Hudson.

He described Mountaire’s application, which states that the parcel in question is already zoned as heavy industrial and that the plant is a permitted use.

He then read the county’s governing ordinance, which states that, “It shall have been approved after public hearing as provided in Article 27,” but also, “the Board of Adjustment shall review plans and statements and shall not permit such building structures and uses until it has been shown that the public health, safety, morals and general welfare of the property are protected and the necessary safeguards will be provided for the protection of water areas or surrounding property or persons.”

The ordinance then goes on to list possible potential “hazardous” uses, one of which is “rendering and storage of dead animals, offal, garbage and waste products.” A “rendering plant” is typically used to recycle dead animals, or the portions of dead animals left over after processing, into other materials, ranging from human food and animal feed to bio-diesel. The most common usage of the term “resource recovery plant” is for a plant used to convert solid waste into energy.

“I guess I have to wonder: Was it correctly advertised, or should it have been advertised as a rendering plant?” Hudson asked.

The county ordinance is not specific as to “resource recovery” as a potential hazardous use, but is it specific to rendering plants in identifying them as possible potential hazardous uses.

Board member John Mills, however, said he was not convinced the proposed use would be any different that the existing uses on the property, in terms of odor, and he questioned whether there was a better alternative location.

“If not there, then where?” he asked rhetorically.

Hudson reiterated his question of whether the wording used in the mandatory advertising for the BoA hearing had affected the public’s interest (or lack thereof).

“‘Rendering’ catches people’s eyes more than ‘resource recovery.’ I’m not necessarily saying in opposition, but with the water in such close proximity there, and the amount of development that has been going on in the past 10 to 20 years on both sides of the river there, I just thought there’d be more information given, whether it be in opposition or whatever.”

“On the surface, it didn’t mean ‘rendering’ to me. I have to wonder if it meant that to anyone else,” he continued.

Paul Thompson – an environmental consultant and past chief of enforcement for water pollution for the State of Maryland, who now lives in Bethany Beach – agrees, and he says to refer to the proposed plant as anything other than a rendering plant is misleading.

“They tried to snooker somebody,” opined Thompson. He said he first learned of the proposal after one of his daughter’s co-workers – who lives close to the existing Mountaire plant and had received legal notification about the proposal – had asked his daughter what a “resource recovery plant” was.

“So, my daughter asked me, and I called the people in the planning office. They said it was a rendering plant,” said Thompson. “When people hear ‘resource recovery,’ they think of a recycling-center drop-off for aluminum cans, and this is by no means a recycling-center drop-off.”

Thompson went on to describe a rendering plant operation as a place where all non-saleable parts of animal waste from slaughter and processing are ground up and cooked, until the waste has a uniform consistency.

“It generates a liquid by-product that is treated in an open-air lagoon or clarifier, and then the treated ‘effluent,’ as it is called, is discharged to a body of water or as spray irrigation,” he explained, noting, “There is a lot of odor involved. You would be able to smell a rendering plant about 4 miles away, and it is enough to gag a maggot.”

Not only that, Thompson said, but one of the differences between a regular processing plant – similar to the one that currently exists on the Mountaire property – and a rendering plant is that the smell is much more concentrated and stronger.

Mountaire officials explained in their exhibits back in March that “the proposed facility is self-contained, constructed inside a solid concrete building, with the highest technology equipment and filters available. It will produce less odor than the existing plant and has been designed utilizing negative pressure inside the building, state-of-the-art scrubbers and a $1.5 million thermal oxidizer not required by any Delaware regulation, which will successfully deal with any manufacturing related odor before air or vapor leaves the building.”

Mountaire officials also added in their exhibits that the 38 new employees required for operation of the proposed plant will not have much affect traffic-wise when added to the 2,700 employees at the existing facility and that noise will not be a problem because the proposed facility is located approximately 1,500 feet from Route 24 and is “at least one-third of a mile from the nearest home and at least one-half mile from all other surrounding properties.”

At the March meeting, six nearby residents did testify in opposition to the application, citing existing problems with water quality and odor, and concerns with health and environmental issues, as well as increased traffic.

Despite that opposition, board members this week expressed concern about how little public attention the proposed plant had garnered. They questioned why they hadn’t heard more about the proposal on local television stations and stated that they, too, had expected more public participation.

The board considered asking Mountaire re-advertise a hearing but eventually decided they would all listen to the March audio again to get more background information before making a decision. The Board of Adjustments is scheduled to hear the application again at their May 4 meeting and hope to make a final decision then.

For more information, or to get the agenda, minutes or archived audio of any Board of Adjustment meeting, visit online and click on “Board of Adjustment.”