The state’s Environmental Appeals Board is allowing Milton-area residents to continue fighting a planned wastewater recycling facility.
On Tuesday, the board heard arguments against Artesian Wastewater Management’s construction permit for a wastewater recycling facility on Route 30 north of Milton. The facility is currently being built.
Secretary Shawn Garvin signed an order in 2017 authorizing Artesian to modify a 2013 permit that originally allowed them to treat and store residential wastewater and spray it onto nearby fields. The facility was originally intended to service a planned, but later abandoned development called "The Village of Elizabethtown" with a treatment plant, three small lagoons and spray fields.
The revised permit allows Artesian to store poultry company Allen Harim’s treated wastewater in a much larger lagoon that can hold up to 90 million gallons of treated wastewater, before the company sprays it onto nearby agricultural land. Allen Harim would treat its own wastewater before piping it to Artesian’s facility.
The grassroots group Keep Our Wells Clean that is listed on the appeal, asked the Environmental Appeals Board Tuesday to reverse that change because they believe it does not meet state requirements to protect water quality and that proper monitoring reports – like a surface water assessment report – were not completed before Artesian received the permit.
“Those all go to the question of ‘should this be built where they want to build it? And until those studies are done, you don’t know the answer,” said Attorney Kenneth Kristl, a Widener University law professor who is representing Keep Our Wells Clean.
DNREC’s attorney Kayli Spialter from Delaware’s Department of Justice argued the Artesian Northern Sussex Wastewater Recycling Facility (ANSWRF) has already been approved and investigated during the time of their original permit and when they requested an amended one.
“All of the science has been evaluated,” Spialter said.
Spialter argued the group did not have standing – meaning they would not be substantially affected by the construction of the facility. She said the design and construction are sound and Artesian’s operating permit, which has yet to be approved, would determine how the facility will work.
Artesian’s attorney R.J. Scaggs Jr. said the changes Artesian is making to its facility don’t warrant a do-over and a new permitting process.
"This is something the Department [of Natural Resources] looked at and determined these are essentially the same parameters we're worried about with residential waste. That's why there's every reason to believe they allowed this amendment," Scaggs said.
The board ruled Keep Our Wells Clean members have standing to make a case, but decided to postpone further arguments until late summer or early fall. Kristl said he’s grateful his clients will have a chance to express their worries on how this wastewater facility could affect their wells.
“There’s a real concern that there’s contamination already in the groundwater and this has the potential to make it worse,” Kristl said.
Keep Our Wells Clean Co-Founder Tony Scarpa said the fact that the board will hear their arguments later this year gives his group the chance to make sure the facility does not lead to contamination in the wells that serve their homes.
“We realize it’s probably unrealistic to stop the Artesian facility from being built, but can it be built correctly? Can we force Allen Harim to treat effluent correctly? Yes we can. That’s really our goal,” Scarpa said.
Scarpa says his group’s goal is to change the configuration of the wastewater spray fields so they’re not adjacent to a contaminated septic site called Clean Delaware that could possibly push harmful compounds like nitrates toward their homes.
Members of Keep Our Wells Clean say if their appeal is denied, they’ll file suit in Superior Court.