MILLSBORO, Del. (AP) — Millsboro residents voiced opposition Thursday to a plan supported by Gov. Jack Markell and state economic development officials to convert a former pickle plant in Sussex County into a poultry processing plant.
South Korea-based Harim Group, which bought Delaware-based poultry producer Allen Family Foods in 2011 after it filed for bankruptcy protection, announced in April that its Allen M. Harim subsidiary planned to spend $100 million to convert the old Vlasic Pickle site in Dagsboro into a processing plant producing both raw and cooked poultry products.
Officials have said the project would create 700 new jobs, and Markell has touted it as part of his administration's job-creation efforts.
But some local residents worry about the plant's effects on air and water quality and say it could decrease their property values. They took advantage of a public workshop called by a state environmental advisory panel Thursday to speak out against it.
"I don't want to smell chickens all the time," said Pat Catalano, 61.
"It's a shame the governor is not here to talk to us," Catalano said. "... It's a done deal, and the Millsboro residents, I feel like we're expendable."
Thursday's workshop focused on plans to address existing pollutants at the site. State officials said a brownfields investigation that sampled soil, sediment and groundwater showed the presence of several pollutants. However, they said the only concerns involve groundwater samples showing the presence of some volatile organic compounds and lead at levels higher than state drinking water standards.
"In the scheme of the brownfields world, this is a relatively clean site. ... This is encouraging news," said deputy environmental secretary David Small.
Another public hearing Dec. 4. will focus on a proposed remediation plan that calls for monitoring of groundwater at the site to see if pollutants are migrating into local waterways.
Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro, a local lawmaker who supports the project, said it could bring much-needed jobs to the area, both at the plant and elsewhere.
"It's going to create trickle-down jobs," said Atkins, suggesting that local farmers would be growing more grain for chickens that would be slaughtered at the plant, and local poultry producers would be building more chicken houses.
State agriculture officials say Harim estimates that when the plant is at peak capacity, it will need about 100 new poultry houses on the Delmarva peninsula to supply expanded operations. Officials say many of those houses would be built on existing poultry farms. Allen Harim already contracts with more than 200 independent family farms and owns 20 company poultry farms, according to agriculture officials.
Atkins dismissed concerns that the new plant would emit smelly and unwelcome odors.
"This is going to be a totally enclosed plant, ... with state-of-the-art air scrubbers," he said.
He also rejected arguments that many of the new jobs being created would go to Koreans brought in from overseas, noting that Harim already operates a hatchery in Dagsboro and processing plants in Harbeson and Cordova, Md.
"We haven't seen an influx of Koreans," he said.