Area Poultry Plant Permit Renewals Face Opposition

BERLIN – While county elected officials have pledged that there will be no new wastewater discharges to local waters, pending state discharge permits for two defunct industrial buildings could test that policy, a local environmental activist fears.

The discharge permits at the Tyson chicken plant in Berlin and Perdue chicken plant in Showell are now up for renewal, although neither plant is currently in operation. Both buildings have sat empty for years.

Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, also executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT), opposes renewing those permits.

The Waterkeepers of the Chesapeake region have an ongoing policy of reviewing all pending discharge permits in Chesapeake area watersheds.

The Perdue permit renewal is almost official, Phillips said, but the Tyson plant renewal will be open for public comment until mid-September.

If a new industrial use comes into either building, a new discharge permit could be considered then, Phillips said.

If renewed, ACT’s concern is that those permits could be considered an existing use and not be required to follow county policy mandating land application instead of water discharge.

“It’s still a discharge and the county has committed through the Comprehensive Plan to put all discharges to spray irrigation,” Phillips said.

Phillips is also concerned about the impact of any discharge on local waters, like Kitts Branch, where the Tyson property discharge is deposited.

Under Maryland law, wastewater discharge permits, which are about to expire, can be administratively extended until a new permit is in place.

According to Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Director of Communications Dawn Stoltzfus, MDE did not want to simply extend the Tyson plant permit as it currently stands.

At this point, the Tyson discharge permit allows 800,000 gallons of industrial wastewater per day to be discharged into Kitts Branch.

Instead, the agency proposes to issue a permit for the discharge of clean water, such as stormwater, only.

When a new use comes into the building, a modified permit would then need to be applied for, said Stoltzfus. The applicant would need to go through the full public process and meet all current regulations and restrictions.

MDE does not want to continue allowing the current level of discharge from the defunct plant, Stoltzfus said.

“You won’t just have an automatic renewal. It sort of puts it on hold,” said Stoltzfus.

Troy Purnell of Berlin Properties North (BPN), which owns the Tyson plant, said there is no use in the wings for the former chicken slaughterhouse.

“All we’re trying to do at this point is retain what we have,” Purnell said.

Having an existing wastewater discharge permit is a big selling point in BPN’s efforts to lease out or sell the large industrial building. It is common for industrial processes to need wastewater discharge capability, Purnell said.

While he has had two or three different inquiries on the building, there is no future tenant involved in permit renewal request, Purnell said. 

MDE will hold a hearing on the Tyson plant discharge permit renewal on Aug. 19, at 6 p.m., at the Ocean Pines Library.

Stoltzfus urged the public to come out to the hearing to learn more.

“It sounds like there might be a little bit of confusion about it,” Stoltzfus said.