Residents, officials call for Wilm. composter to be shut down

By Tom Lehman 5:30am, August 28, 2014 - Updated 8:57pm, August 28, 2014
VIDEO: WDEL's Tom Lehman reports. (File footage courtesy of NBC 10)
More than 200 people turned out for a public hearing Wednesday night, with many of them against a permit renewal sought by a Wilmington composting company.

WDEL's Tom Lehman reports.

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The hearing featured mostly negative comments from residents in the Wilmington and New Castle areas over what they said was a foul stench originating from the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center, located on Christina Avenue near the city's Southbridge section.

Peninsula Compost Company, the site's owner, has asked the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to renew its "beneficial use determination" permit, which expires in September.

DNREC Secretary David Small will ultimately decide whether to renew, revoke or modify the conditions of the permit.

However, a group of elected officials urged DNREC to stop the composting operation because it generates a smell that's become unbearable for residents.

"If you had to live there, you might understand why this room is full," New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon (D) said.

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Since opening in 2009, the 27-acre facility has periodically drawn fines from DNREC over issues like odor, waste piles exceeding size limits and materials being stored outside approved boundaries.

The growing list of offenses prompted former DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara in 2013 to order Peninsula to spend a portion of the fines on a consultant that would help bring the facility back into compliance.

Company officials like Waylon Pleasanton, the facility's quality control manager, said staff members are taking steps to help reduce odors.

"We're committed to being more selective about our inbound organics, avoid foul smelling food loads for instance," Pleasanton said.

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Members of the public, who occasionally heckled and interrupted Peninsula employees during a presentation, said the smell emanating from composting operation was too unpleasant for the facility to remain open.

Many area residents like Charles Fleming, who lives at Justison Landing in Wilmington, said the odor generated by the composting site interferes with everyday life.

"We smell that smell and we have to keep our windows closed and our air conditioning on," Fleming said.

Stephen Shaw, a 16-year-old boy who lives near New Castle, said the smell from the compost facility is so overpowering he has to "jump out of bed" in the morning if he slept with his window open during the prior night.

"There's been days when I've come home from football practice, get out of the car and if I don't smell bad enough, if I come outside and it's smelling like that, it's even worse," Shaw said.

Other residents who live in Brandywine Hundred and the Highlands section of Wilmington also complained about smelling the odor on certain days.

State Rep. J.J. Johnson (D-Jefferson Farms) said DNREC should halt the operation and Peninsula broke assurances made in 2007 about odor coming from the facility.

"We've heard the promises, they've broken the promises," Johnson said. "I think it's about time for them to give it up."

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams (D) was present at the hearing and invited to speak at the podium, but made his opposition to the permit renewal known from within the crowd.

"I'm gonna do anything I can to throw Peninsula out of the city," Williams said.

You can contact Tom Lehman at or follow him on Twitter at @teelehman.

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