A Delaware judge on Monday gave final approval to a $65 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving thousands of residents of a southern Delaware community affected by groundwater contamination from a local poultry processing facility.
Approval of the settlement by a Superior Court Judge Craig Karsnitz coincided with a federal magistrate judge signing off Monday on a consent decree between state environmental regulators and Mountaire Farms. The consent decree was submitted more than two years ago but was held up by the legal dispute between Mountaire and area residents in state court.
The approvals bring an end to lengthy and convoluted litigation in state and federal courts stemming from a wastewater treatment system failure at Mountaire’s Millsboro facility in 2017.
In addition to settling the class-action lawsuit, Mountaire is expected to spend at least $120 million as part of the consent decree to upgrade its wastewater treatment system. In settling the lawsuit, Mountaire denied any liability for nitrate contamination in residential supply wells, excessive air emissions of hydrogen sulfide, or any health problems experienced by residents.
“While Mountaire does not believe that it caused any damage to any of the plaintiffs, it chose to settle the case in order to achieve a final resolution and to allow construction of a new wastewater treatment plant to proceed,” the company said in a statement.
Mountaire has been the subject of several lawsuits involving its handling of wastewater and sludge from poultry processing operations.
The company agreed in December 2019 to pay a $420,000 civil penalty and upgrade its wastewater system as part of the proposed consent decree with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
The agreement was aimed at resolving spray irrigation and land application permit violations cited by DNREC in 2017.
In addition to the civil penalty, Mountaire agreed to offer residents living near its Millsboro plant options for an alternative water supply, including whole-house filtration systems, deeper wells or connections to a public water supply system.
The company also agreed to pay a $230,000 administrative penalty regarding violations at its Selbyville facility and other violations in Millsboro that were not related to the 2017 wastewater treatment system failure. The company was allowed to offset up to $115,000 of that administrative penalty through a wetlands restoration or enhancement project.
In January, DNREC issued two permits enabling Mountaire to move forward with the required facility upgrade and remediation efforts.
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