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Sussex County Council delays zoning decision on controversial biogas proposal

Delaware Department of Agriculture

Sussex County Council deferred taking action on a controversial proposal to generate natural gas from chicken waste in Seaford. 

The Maryland-based, multi-national Bioenergy Development Group wants to build an anaerobic digester that would turn waste from chicken processing into natural gas and compost at an existing chicken composting facility in Seaford. 

The company seeks a conditional use amendment for the project— and Sussex County Council delayed making a decision on that request Tuesday.  

The Sussex Planning and Zoning Commission initially delayed taking a stance on it too, then recommended approval earlier this month.

Bioenergy Chief Development Officer Peter Ettinger painted the proposal as an environmentally safer alternative to other waste disposal methods. 

“So we are taking residuals that typically would have gone to a land application or environmentally problematic issues and creating these two products,” he said. 

The company has also promised jobs and partnerships with local schools. 

Council heard hours of public testimony Tuesday, with environmental advocates lining up both in favor and against the plan. 

Opponents raised concerns about pollution, safety, traffic and transparency. But supporters said it would benefit local waterways. 

Seaford resident Christina Darby, a member of Friends of the Nanticoke River, called the proposal “win-win,” in poultry-dominated Sussex County. 

“Along with chicken comes guts and other parts,” she said. “Prior disposal methods have left much to be desired, polluting the air, waterways and land. With its anaerobic digester, Bioenergy [Development Group] will not only handle chicken waste responsibly, but also contribute positively to the community.”

An identical opposition letter submitted by numerous residents throughout the state characterized the proposed operation as an “explosive and dangerous gas facility” and a threat to waterways including Gum Branch and the Nanticoke River.

But Chris Bason, director of the nonprofit Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, was among the supporters, arguing the project could transport “significant amounts” of excess nutrients out of polluted Sussex watersheds. However, he cautioned that the appropriateness of the proposed operation ultimately depends on its design and regulation. Bason recommended the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) give special consideration to air permitting, and require runoff and wastewater management on the site exceed minimum standards.

“While highly beneficial, this proposed facility should be closely inspected and regulated due to its increasing aggregation of nutrients in close proximity to sensitive water resources,” Bason stated in written comments submitted to Council. 

The project still needs to obtain various environmental permits from the state.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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