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Lawyer weighs in on state's agreement with Mountaire

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media

Some advocates have concerns about an agreement reached between state environmental regulators and Mountaire Farms over wastewater violations from 2017.


The agreement resolves permit violations associated with a 2017 wastewater treatment facility failure at the chicken company’s Millsboro plant over which the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) had taken the company to state and federal court.


DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin praises the agreement reached Dec. 13. “What we believe that we have in place is the most reasonable, responsible and appropriate path forward for both the incident as well as the mechanisms to address it going forward,” he said. 

Garvin notes the new agreement is more specific than one proposed last summer which attorneys representing nearby residents opposed. The new agreement expands requirements for the company to provide an alternative water supply to residents whose drinking water is contaminated with nitrates, as an “environmental offset.”

“[It] added into the options on alternative water in-home filtration systems which seem to be something the public in and around the facility had expressed some interest in.”

Some Millsboro residents also sought to take the company to court last year.  Their DC-based attorney, Jessica Culpepper with Public Justice, filed a notice of intent to sue Mountaire in federal court under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which addresses management of solid waste. She says the agreement does right by that law.

“I think the mitigation measures [in the agreement] are really strong, particularly for an agency enforcement,” she said. “I think the fact that the agency is telling Mountaire that they have to pull out the contaminated drinking water from the aquifer and process it— and that they have to do it permanently— is really great.”

But Culpepper worries the section of the agreement dealing with clean water alternative is not explicit enough— and may force residents into tough decisions.

“What it says is, for those choosing filtration, Mountaire does not need to then provide a hookup to a central water in the future or a deep well if that does not become available. So it seems if filtration is available immediately, [and] if a household wants it, it may mean that they don’t also get the other permanent solutions,” she said. “It also seems that maybe you’re stuck with a design of Mountaire’s choosing.”

“So I think it’s like a gamble,” she added. “Do you choose filtration now and then nothing else, or wait for clean water for a couple years, not knowing if it’s going to be central [water connection] or well.”

An attorney representing hundreds of residents who claim they have been harmed by Mountaire told media outlets he thinks the agreement does not adequately address the environmental issues caused by Mountaire’s practices. 

Under the agreement, Mountaire faces a penalty of $420,000, along with other mitigation requirements.


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.