Delaware Public Media

Sussex County Council continues considering Mountaire request for more spray irrigation land

Nov 5, 2019

Sussex County Council is taking a bit more time to consider Mountaire Farms’ proposal to increase the acreage it uses for spray irrigation. 

Mountaire currently uses 920 acres in Sussex to spray treated wastewater from its poultry processing facility in Millsboro onto 13 nearby fields. It is asking county council to approve an additional 350 acres for spray irrigation at two parcels near the plant off Route 24. 

Mountaire’s Vice President of Processing Operations Mike Tirrel stresses the chicken processor is not increasing production at the Millsboro plant.

“There’s no request to add more spray irrigation water,” said Tirrel. “It’s just more land to spray the existing water on.”  

Mountaire’s Director of Environmental Compliance Tanya Rogers-Vickers adds the chicken processor could use the extra fields to spray during different times of the year when crops in other fields are not growing. 

“It would just help us have more flexibility on what fields we can spray on,” said Rogers-Vickers.  

Mountaire Farms is currently being sued by Millsboro-area residents who allege the sprayed wastewater is contaminating groundwater with nitrates and endangering their health.

A court-imposed gag order prevented some from speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting, but others voiced concerns that the conditional use application will also allow Mountaire to include employee sewage water with the treated poultry water. 

“This particular wastewater Mountaire is proposing to apply includes both waste from industrial processing from the poultry processing operations as well as sewage from the employees and others at the facility itself,” said Andrea Green, an attorney involved in litigation against Mountaire and DNREC.  

The conditional use application would also allow Mountaire to apply the sludge extracted from chicken waste to the land parcels as well, but officials say Mountaire has not done that since late 2017. The company says it now trucks sludge to out of state landfills.

Council did not vote on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting but set aside a period for council members to submit questions to state agencies.