Council approves conditional use zoning for anerobic digester endeavor
GEORGETOWN, Del. — Sussex County Council voted unanimously at its April 20 meeting to approve conditional use zoning for an anerobic-digester project near Seaford that would transform poultry litter and processing waste to renewable energy.
The digester project by BioEnergy DevCo was first approved by the county’s planning and zoning commission with several conditions and a vote had been tabled by the county council since its March 16 meeting and public hearing on the matter.
The company announced in 2019 it had purchased the former Perdue AgriRecycle facility and property with plans to build a digester.
BioEnergy has proposed to construct four digester tanks, three holding tanks and a water treatment system on a 228-acre property now operating as a compost facility, according to Peter Ettinger, BioEnergy’s chief development officer.
Using poultry waste as a feedstock, the digester would produce methane gas, which will be cleaned and marketed through Chesapeake Utilities as natural gas, and a nutrient rich compost byproduct.
The company operates 220 digesters worldwide including one at the Maryland Food Center Authority in Jessup, Md., which processes about 100,000 tons of food waste annually.
The Bioenergy Innovation Center micronutrient-processing facility, south of Seaford is designed to handle 220,000 tons of waste per year from local poultry farmers and processors, Ettinger said.
In his comments on the issue, Council President Michael Vincent said the original application filed by Perdue AgriRecycle in September 1999 was for a micronutrient plant, and each time the site came up for conditional use permits, it referenced a micronutrient plant with a truck entrance and rail spur for processing and handling of poultry litter.
“The overall use of the plant does not change. It is still being used as a micronutrient plant, and poultry litter is still being used,” said Vincent, who represents the Seaford-Blades area. “The application as submitted does put the public on notice that not only is the same activity on the site being continued but also expanded through nutrient recovery for natural gas and electrical generation.”
Vincent added while concerns were raised at the public hearing over state permits from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Fire Marshall compliance and other regulations, the council’s decision is solely focused on “land use, and land use only.”
“Those things are not done by this body. Those are separate entities,” Vincent said. “Nothing can happen on that site until these approvals are received by the planning and zoning office.”
Opposition to Bioenergy’s proposal has focused on truck traffic, odor, potential contamination from spills and wastewater transport and risk of fire.
Following the Sussex County Council’s decision, groups in opposition said the council was concerned more with corporate interests than the county’s residents.
“Today’s decision proves that local elected officials are more interested in lining the pockets of agribusiness and dirty energy interests than addressing the needs of their most vulnerable constituents,” said Greg Layton, who is the Delaware organizer for Food & Water Watch.
At its March 11 meeting, the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the application, with conditions that stipulated the proposed facility shall be subject to DNREC and other state and federal regulatory approvals; shall only accept, process and handle poultry litter and dissolved air flotation waste; shall not be stockpile poultry waste, poultry litter or wastewater on-site; shall be located behind the site of the existing pelletizing facility, and the area of disturbance related to this new use shall be no greater than 11.3 acres and the company shall submit a final site plan, which will be subject to the review and approval of the Planning & Zoning Commission.
The company said last week it will submit its application to DNREC.