Milford-area composting facility violates terms of zoning permit

UPDATE: As of Monday, Dec. 18, bond was still not in place. According to Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson, county officials are consulting their attorneys on their next move.

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Blessing’s Blends, a compost facility outside of Milford in the Slaughter Beach area, has been issued a violation notice by the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission.

Bruce Blessing, the business owner, has been leasing the property at 9372 Draper Road from Red Fox Farms and Frank and Marilyn Draper since 2005. They, too, were issued violation notices.

In the era prior to county zoning laws, the property was home to a cannery, and Blessing said he believed that meant the property was commercially zoned. However, the property is zoned agricultural/residential, a fact that surfaced in 2009 when neighbors began complaining about odors and smells. Without a conditional use permit, Blessing’s Blends is not in compliance with the county code.

Despite noncompliance with the county, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has issued several permits to Blessing over the years, as well as a Secretary’s Order in 2012. That order required Blessing to put up $250,000 bond in case DNREC was ever in the position of having to clean up the site. They settled for $10,000.

Neighbors of Blessing’s Blends have been complaining to all manner of government officials about the business since as early as 2009. Concerned about nutrients leaching into the ground in such close proximity to Slaughter Creek, they formed Concerned Citizens of Prime Hook and enlisted the assistance of a national nonprofit, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.

In 2012, Sussex County Planning and Zoning, then under the direction of Lawrence Lank, issued Blessing a violation notice regarding the lack of a proper zoning permit. It was never enforced.

Last year, after neighbors continued to complain, current Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell notified Blessing that if he did not apply for a conditional use permit, he would be forced to shut down. He applied, and by August of this year both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Sussex County Council agreed to issue him the permit – with several conditions.

“When you have an applicant that just basically ignores a violation of the county government … [that] is a really big red flag and is a really big problem,” Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett said at the time. “I have concerns, truth be told, about DNREC and their ability to perform their job. I want our personnel to be involved in every process if we can.”

One of the conditions imposed on the permit required the property to be remediated according to DNREC standards within four months, a deadline that passed on Dec. 9. If the property could not be remediated in that time, the conditions required a $1 million bond to be obtained.  Blessing’s attorney asked for that condition to be modified, calling the language confusing, but amending the permit conditions would require a public hearing.

With incomplete remediation and no bond, Planning and Zoning issued the violation notice on Dec. 12 which directs Blessing to immediately conform to the conditions of the permit under the threat of the involvement of the Sussex County Constable, the revocation of the conditional use permit approval and possible court enforcement.

Blessing, Red Fox Farms and the Drapers have until the end of day on Friday, Dec. 15, to respond.