Selbyville officials wary of Mountaire water project

Date Published: 
Dec. 22, 2017

As Mountaire builds a new stormwater system near Selbyville’s water source, the Selbyville Town Council is hoping for the best, but definitely fears the worst.

“Our job is to project the groundwater supply,” said Councilman Richard “Rick” Duncan Sr.

Contamination is the horror story that town council members couldn’t shake from their imaginations as they heard a stormwater system construction update from Mountaire staff on Dec. 4.

The project is almost done.

The new infiltration basin is located behind the Mason Dixon Shopping Center, between Hoosier Street and Clendaniel Avenue. It would collect stormwater from several parking areas, including Mountaire’s live-holding shed, where tractor trailers do park with live chickens.

All water will pass through a forebay before emptying into the infiltration basin. As the enclosed forebay fills with water, sediment sinks to the bottom before water overflows into the main basin. Mountaire will be responsible for cleaning the forebay and mowing grass in the basin.

Town officials said they were thinking of Millsboro, where Mountaire’s failed wastewater system recently sprayed onto fields untreated water containing nitrates, coliform bacteria and other undesirable materials. Public and private entities are now trying to determine the extent of nearby residents’ well contamination.

Roughly a half-acre wide, Selbyville’s infiltration basin is 4 feet deep.

“From the top of the basin to the top of the water table, [government regulators] wanted a minimum of 2 foot. Then we hit the ground water,” said Greg Esham, a Mountaire engineer.

Esham said the land shouldn’t become saturated, which could cause the system to fail to filter properly.

“We’re only, like, 120 foot to where the aquifer is, and if you’re sitting on top, and this water percolates down …” said Councilman Clarence W. “Bud” Tingle Jr.

“The water, once it’s in the infiltration basin, it’s supposed to flow through the soil,” Esham said.

“See — there’s that ‘supposed to’ again,’” Tingle said.

Although engineers from the State of Delaware and Mountaire have explained what “should” happen, no one could promise that the system won’t fail and ultimately contaminate Selbyville’s aquifer.

To ensure Selbyville’s water really isn’t being compromised, the council had requested a nearby test well, but Esham said he hadn’t been instructed to design one. Currently, there is no monitoring well, because the Sussex County Conservation District did not require it. (Esham said they are the “gatekeepers” for DNREC, who are, in turn, the gatekeepers for the EPA.)

Mountaire staffer Eric Reeves promised to take that concern back to the head brass at the company.

If the electric system somehow failed, or a major storm overflowed the system’s capacity, the water would run into the nearby Sandy Branch. It was previously suggested that any contamination would be diluted by rainwater, but nothing is guaranteed. It could still put Mountaire over the legal limits for contaminants.

Mountaire is required to test water immediately after every storm. Councilman Jay Murray said he hoped the Town will also receive a copy of those results, so there will be no surprises.

To pump water from the south side of Hoosier Street, Mountaire planned a “wet well,” which Esham said is a concrete tank similar to a septic system that catches debris, with a force main that pumps water to the infiltration basin.

Duncan questioned how clean the well bottom could be, if there are no plans to clean it regularly.

“[If] water sits in the bottom of the tank, it’s going to start stinking. … We already have an odor problem in town — we don’t need another one,” Duncan said.

Esham said Mountaire will clean the well if it starts to stink.

Residents are always encouraged to call Town Hall to report unpleasant odors in the town, so they can keep a record for Mountaire to address problems. Monthly town council meetings often include one or two complaints from elected officials, which Mountaire staff promise to address.

“We’re still getting a rancid scent, like decaying flesh,” Councilman G. Frank Smith III said of the Mountaire facility in general.

Earlier this year, Mountaire staff repeatedly reminded Selbyville officials that the infiltration basin was required by the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC). The project was designed after DNREC filed a complaint on Mountaire’s violation of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit in 2015.

DNREC approved Mountaire’s suggestions for improvement in a consent decree, which soon became a binding court order with a Superior Court judge’s signature.

Legally, in the whole infiltration basin project, Selbyville’s only role was to grant a permit for Mountaire’s pipe to cross the street, which the council did reluctantly after meeting with state officials last spring.

The project is meant to eliminate Outfall 002, the last remaining point-source outfall at Mountaire’s plant, which dumped everything directly into the Sandy Branch of St. Martin River, leading to Isle of Wight Bay and Delaware’s inland bays. (Various pollutants had pushed the Maryland Coastal Bays Program to note in 2015 that the St. Martin River “continues to be the worst area for overall watershed health.”)

Meanwhile, Mountaire’s wastewater facility is supposed to pretreat all the unwanted materials that come from inside the plant before the wastewater flows into Selbyville’s municipal wastewater treatment facility. There was a slight glitch in the system, Mountaire staff told the council in December.

“There’s small hole in the pipe, … so we reengineered it so we didn’t flow right to y’all anymore,” said Eric Reeves, Mountaire’s liaison to the Town. “Now we’ve got that fixed. We’ve got a permanent plan we’re working on. We’re getting a couple more bids on it. We should be starting to fix that in the next week or so.”

Reeves has been attending council meetings all year long as he transitioned into the role.

“We did contact you all. I will be straight with you all on each and every thing. … It may not be what you want to hear, but I will,” Reeves told the council.

Smith said he was not pleased at the situation and was awaiting official lab results on potential total max daily load (TMDL) violations.