The public had one last chance Dec. 17 to comment on a proposed environmental assessment and cleanup plan for the former Vlasic Pickle plant in Dagsboro.

The public had one last chance Dec. 17 to comment on a proposed environmental assessment and cleanup plan for the former Vlasic Pickle plant in Dagsboro.

The state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control held a public hearing in Millsboro to gather input on a proposed plan of remedial action for the site, which is slated for conversion to a poultry processing facility by Allen M. Harim Foods.

The poultry giant has not finalized the purchase of the property from Vlasic owner Pinnacle Foods, but has entered into a brownfields development agreement with DNREC to address environmental contaminants left behind by Vlasic, which operated on the site from the 1970s until 2011.

The site was certified as a brownfield in July and an investigation was conducted in August and September, revealing elevated levels of the chemicals perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene and lead in the groundwater. DNREC officials said the high levels of PCE and TCE were only detected in one well, which is located centrally within the site.

“If the contamination was moving, it would be detected in other onsite wells,” said Tim Ratsep, administrator of DNREC’s Site Investigation and Remediation Section, at the hearing. “If during future monitoring it is determined that contamination is moving off site, further evaluation will be conducted.”

Levels of nitrates in some wells also exceeded state standards.

Soil, sediment and soil gases were also tested in the investigation, revealing high levels of cyanide, mercury, toluene and chloroform; however DNREC officials said further evaluation showed no remedial action for human health or aquatic life was required.

Ratsep said because groundwater is the only environmental area of concern, remediation will focus on implementation of a long-term groundwater monitoring plan.

“If the results show that the contaminants are migrating or showing an increasing trend, DNREC may require further remedial action,” he said. “The monitoring plan will include sampling of a number of monitoring wells and all the drinking water wells on the site.”

Ellio Battista, a Delaware attorney representing Allen Harim, said the purpose of the state’s Brownfields program is to address the under-utilization of brownfield sites, which leads to “poignant opportunities of needlessly using valuable greenfield resources. It’s against this backdrop that Allen Harim sought DNREC’s assistance to redevelop the vacant site to an environmentally safe and economically productive facility.”

Battista said the environmental assessment conducted by consultant BP Environmental, with DNREC’s oversight, characterized the nature and extent of any release or potential release of hazardous substances and identified any specific conditions that would require potential remediation.

“Allen Harim believes the proposed plan for remedial action complies with the objectives and requirements of the Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act, the Brownfields program and the applicable regulations and department standards and guidance,” Battista said. “Therefore Allen Harim requests the department and secretary issue a final plan of remedial action consistent with the proposed plan.”

In opposition

However opponents of the poultry plant said the brownfields investigation assessment and proposed plan of remedial action are inadequate.

Genell Pridgen, a consultant for Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, submitted a statement for the public record on behalf of the local citizens’ group Protecting Our Indian River criticizing DNREC and BP Environmental for not conducting tests on properties surrounding the site.

“In the plan, they are requiring no actual remediation, simply regular monitoring to see if anything migrates off-site. How is that remediation?” Pridgen wrote. “The community knows there has been off-site migration. What the community needs is for DNREC to complete a thorough quantitative assessment of the environmental pollution emanating from this site.”

John Austin, science coordinator for the Inland Bays Foundation and a retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulator, said he’s got data showing a pollution plume of arsenic in groundwater at least one-half mile beyond the site. Austin claims the arsenic entered the groundwater due to leaks in the liner of a sludge pond located in the northwest corner of the Vlasic site.

“That DNREC has dismissed and shown no concern for the public’s health given the BP Environmental conclusions and the finding of groundwater levels far in excess of the levels protective of human health is indeed troubling,” Austin said. “It is a total failure of governance. The public expects and should demand that DNREC act to protect human health and the environment.”

In support

While the plan saw plenty of opposition, some local business entities, such as the Sussex County Association of Realtors and the Greater Millsboro Chamber of Commerce, threw their support behind the project.

Amy Simmons, executive director of the Millsboro Chamber, said the plant will be an economic boost to the community and surrounding area.

“It will put people who are seeking jobs back to work, workers will need housing which will also help the economy and all workers will be spending some money in our community for gas, groceries and more,” Simmons said. “The chamber feels the necessary regulations will be put in place with Allen Harim just as they have with Mountaire and management and workers will be held to the highest standards.”

Allen Harim has estimated its investment into the site to be around $100 million and company officials have said the new factory will create 700 jobs, most of which will be filled by Delawareans.

As a result of its partnership with the state, Allen Harim could be reimbursed for up to $200,000 for environmental remediation completed on the site.

What’s next?

Ratsep said DNREC Sec. Collin O’Mara is expected to issue an order before the end of the year that will either approve or amend the remediation plan. A final plan will then be issued, followed by a time frame allowing for appeal of the plan. If there is no appeal, Ratsep said the plan will be enacted and remediation will begin.