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DNREC issues permits to Mountaire for wastewater upgrades in wake of court settlement

Courtesy of Mountaire Farms

DNREC has issued permits to Mountaire Farms to make improvements to its Millsboro wastewater treatment facility.

This comes a month after a $65 million settlement in state court between the chicken processor and local residents who say the site contaminated area groundwater.

The class action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 600 Millsboro residents claimed a 2017 failure at the wastewater facility led to high nitrate levels in area drinking wells, devaluing the local property and endangering residents' health. 

The settlement is subject to notice, a fairness hearing and court approval.  It is expected to be final in the coming months.

Mountaire also settled with a separate group of residents in February of last year.

Maria Payan is a Regional Representative for the Social Responsible Agriculture Project and a member of the Sussex Health and Environmental Network. She says the new permits give Mountaire an opportunity to be a good corporate neighbor.

“[Mountaire] has two very important clients: a community of people who are depending on them, and the health of the Inland Bays there,” said Payan.    

The first of two permits allows Mountaire to make improvements to the Millsboro site to reduce nitrogen levels in the wastewater it sprays on nearby fields to federal and state drinking water level standards.

Mountaire agreed to the upgrades in a federal court case. They could total upwards of $120 million.

Payan says this has been a long time coming, but warns permits are only as good as their enforcement.

“The neighbors there have been waiting for clean water and to be able to go outside and breathe clean air,” she said. “I know I spoke to some neighbors last week who are still talking about the air quality. Obviously, it’s going to take some time to do the upgrades to the facility.”    

The second permit renews the chicken processor’s permit to spray wastewater onto 893 acres nearby, but adds “more stringent effluent limitations and enhanced monitoring requirements.”

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