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Sussex County Council approves zoning change for controversial biogas proposal

Delaware Department of Agriculture

A controversial proposal to generate natural gas from chicken processing waste clears another hurdle.

Bioenergy DevCo 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. 

Sussex County Council unanimously granted a conditional use amendment to accommodate the project Tuesday. Council delayed approving the change last month after hearing hours of public testimony. 

Bioenergy characterizes the proposed digester as an environmentally safer alternative to other waste disposal methods. Environmental advocates lined up both for and against the project—with some raising concerns about pollution and safety, and others painting it as a win for water quality.

The Sussex Planning and Zoning Commission says the project will reduce the amount of chicken processing waste disposed of through land application at local farms. 

Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent clarified Tuesday that Council’s approval is not the end of the road for Bioenergy’s proposal. 

“Keep in mind, we are dealing with land use,” he said. “Land use only. Lot of people had testimony, had questions about [Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control] permits, and soil conservation permits, and fire marshals, and all that stuff. Those things are not done by this body. Those are done by those separate entities. Nothing can happen on that site until these approvals are received, pending the zoning laws.”

The proposal goes before state environmental regulators next. 

Vincent also addressed concerns raised by members of the public about a lack of transparency in the company’s application. 

“The application as submitted does put the public on notice that not only is the same activity on the site being continued, but also expanded for nutrient recovery for natural gas and electric generation,” he said.

In a statement after the vote, Bioenergy chief development officer Peter Ettinger said the company is pleased with Council’s decision, and that the proposed facility, called the Bioenergy Innovation Center, will provide a “much-needed alternative” to local chicken industry waste disposal. 

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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