Mountaire Farms of Delaware issued the following statement regarding the consent decree announced on Monday
Mountaire Farms of Delaware, Inc. signed a Consent Decree agreed to by both Mountaire and DNREC, after careful discussion and negotiation which will resolve all issues raised in lawsuits brought by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in the Delaware Superior Court and in the Federal District Court for the District of Delaware.
These lawsuits, and the Consent Decree that will resolve them, were brought on by an unfortunate upset condition in our Millsboro facility’s wastewater treatment plant. This upset condition – which we voluntarily reported to DNREC – caused us to exceed our permit limits. While the worst aspects of the upset condition were brought under control very quickly, our plant is not back to operating at the level we want, and will not be until after both interim corrective measures and long-term system upgrades, in total costing $60 million, are completed.
The Consent Decree accomplishes three objectives:
First, we are committed to having the long-term system upgrades completed in just 24 months, and DNREC has agreed to expedite the permitting process to help us accomplish this objective. This cooperation is critical if we are to meet this accelerated time frame. Once these system upgrades are complete, we believe our wastewater treatment plant will be the most modern in Sussex County, if not all of Delaware.
Second, we have committed to providing a permanent alternative water supply to all of our closest neighbors who want it. Even though we know that the system upset could not have had an impact on local drinking water wells, we chose to offer this step to ease the concerns of the Millsboro community that is so important to us. The costs associated with this project will be partially offset by the civil penalty agreed to in the Consent Decree.
Third, because the system upset resulted in excess levels of nitrogen being applied to our spray fields, we have agreed to a process for treating high nitrate groundwater that will remove double the excess amount. To our knowledge, no other waste spray operation in Delaware is taking such steps to remove nitrates from the groundwater.
Some facts about nitrates – nitrates have been present in groundwater at elevated levels throughout the Millsboro area for decades. In fact, in 1981-1982 (18+ years before Mountaire acquired the Millsboro facility) a study was performed that sampled drinking water wells east of Millsboro. This study produced strikingly similar results in terms of nitrate contamination to what we find today. The unavoidable fact is that nitrates are present in Sussex County due to one hundred plus years of agricultural operations and the lack of central sanitary sewer systems in most parts of the County. Moreover, nitrates are present in large concentrations in many of the foods we eat, especially green leafy vegetables and cured meats. So even in places like Millsboro, where the groundwater has historically contained relatively high levels of nitrates, most nitrates consumed by people actually come from these foods rather than from the water they drink.
Mountaire very much values the communities where we operate, and where our employees live. For four decades, Mountaire Farms has played in an integral role in serving as an economic engine for greater Delmarva. Our company’s operations support more than 5,000 direct jobs, 35,000 indirect jobs and hundreds of local growers and farmers across the state.
Mountaire and its employees are proud to live here, work here, and serve our fellow citizens. We remain committed to working with state and local officials to implement sustainable solutions to improve Mountaire’s operations and will continue to partner with our community for the future.