Updated: Frankford Appeals DNREC Well Drilling Decision - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Updated: Frankford Appeals DNREC Well Drilling Decision

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Mountaire Farms started pumping water for its Frankford mill plant from its new well in January 2016 (Photo: WBOC) Mountaire Farms started pumping water for its Frankford mill plant from its new well in January 2016 (Photo: WBOC)

FRANKFORD, Del.- Citing legal, environmental and health concerns, the town of Frankford has formally appealed a decision by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to issue a permit to Mountaire Farms to drill a well at its mill plant located in town limits. 

Frankford Town Councilman and Treasurer Marty Presley said the town inadvertently found out in April that the poultry company had received permission from DNREC to drill a non-potable, or non-drinking well directly into the underground Columbia Aquifer, which is the main source of water for Frankford, and one of Delaware's primary aquifers. 

“We were discussing the sharp water drop usage in the town since January and were talking out loud in a meeting about why that possibly could be,” Presley said. “And that’s when a Mountaire rep sitting in the back stood up and said, 'It could be because of the well, which went online in January.'”

Presley said that for nearly 40 years, Mountaire Farms’ mill plant received all of its water through the town’s water plant, which made up about a third of total water consumption. 

Presley said that while Mountaire Farms still gets its drinking water through Frankford's municipal water supply, the poultry company’s new well provides water for all of its other needs. Presley said that by using its own well, Mountaire Farms is saving approximately $80,000 a year, which equates to $800,000 in savings for the company over the course of 10 years.  

However, there have been no costs savings to Frankford, one of the smallest towns in Sussex County with 880 people. In fact, the substantial drop in water consumption has had a negative impact on the town’s bottom line.

Presley said because Mountaire Farms has tapped directly into the same aquifer Frankford uses without going through the town itself, residents have seen their water rates rise by 48 percent. 

One of the chief reasons why water rates have skyrocketed is because Frankford still needs to pay off debts from when it remodeled and upgraded its water plant in 2000-2001, according to Presley. He said the project had a $3 million price tag, half of which was funded by grants and the other half by town debt.

Presley said Frankford accrued the debt based on estimated total water consumption, including Mountaire Farms’ consumption. However, the town did not anticipate the company would construct its own well to remove itself to a great extent from the town’s water grid. So when Frankford officials discovered what Mountaire Farms had done, it took them by surprise. 

“We found out about this in April and our fiscal year starts in July, so we had a very short period of time to prepare for it,” Presley said. “If we had more heads up, we could have possibly been able to mitigate it some.”

Town officials also cite environmental concerns. Presley said the town is concerned that backflow from Mountaire Farms’ plumbing system connected to the non-drinking well could possibly get into the town’s water supply. 

“There’s the possibility it could contaminate the entire water system of Frankford,” Presley said, citing as an example what happened in Flint, Mich.  “That's a pretty serious issue.”

Presley said that prior to 2001, Delaware law required that anyone wanting to build a well inside a town would have to get that town’s permission. However, Presley said in 2001 the state changed the law so that a town’s permission was no longer needed when building a non-drinking well. A permit from DNREC is still required to build a non-drinking well, but as Presley said Frankford discovered to its surprise, a town can be excluded from the process.

However, the town is now taking legal action on the matter and last week filed a 7-page appeal to the Delaware Environmental Appeals Board asking it to reconsider DNREC’s decision to grant the permit to Mountaire Farms. The town’s appeal claims the permit was improperly granted and poses environmental and health hazards to the town.

However, in a response to Frankford’s health and environmental concerns related to Mountaire Farms’ well, DNREC’s Division of Water Director Virgil Holmes said in a statement, “As director of DNREC’s Division of Water, I want to alleviate any misconception that Frankford’s water supply might be compromised by the installation of a non-potable well at the Mountaire Farms of Delmarva facility in the town. 

“Water was previously supplied to Mountaire by the town of Frankford.  Mountaire requested and was granted a permit by the Division of Water to install a well that is now supplying water to their facility.  

It is important to understand that existing law does not afford DNREC the ability to withhold a non-potable well permit solely on the basis of the well being installed in a water utility area. Nor does the law compel the Department to issue a well permit if doing so would adversely affect public health and the environment. Delaware’s Division of Public Health’s Office of Drinking Water inspected the new Mountaire well and determined that the non-potable well’s water supply had no interconnection with Frankford’s municipal water system that could threaten the town’s potable water supply.”  

Michael Tirrell, Mountaire Farms vice president of human resources and business services, said the company made the decision to build a well because "we couldn't get consistently good water from Frankford and it would clog our filters." He said the mill plant's filtering system was being clogged up multiple times a day, which forced the company to shut down its feed mill process in order to change the filters. 

"We've got to have quality water, a good quantity of water and right pressure of water," Tirrell said. "Those are things we have to have in the feed milling business. We were having issues with all three so we had to come up with a solution. The town wasn't able to solve it and we couldn't wait."

Tirrell said it was then that Mountaire Farms applied for and received a permit to build a well, in order to address what he described as a "business problem."

Tirrell said Mountaire Farms still buys approximately $25,000 in water a year from Frankford, which the company uses for drinking, its laboratory and fire protection. Despite what has transpired, Tirrell said his company remains committed to working with Frankford "to talk about how we can amicably resolve this." 

"We're waiting for the opportunity for them to come to the table to talk with us," Tirrell said. 

Click here to read Frankford's appeal to the Delaware Environmental Appeals Board.

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