PRINCESS ANNE — CleanBay Renewables, which intends to create biogas, electricity and fertilizer from chicken manure on its 133 acre property on Old Princess Anne Road, had its site plan approved by the Somerset County Planning and Zoning Commission.
It was the fourth plan submitted in the past 5½ years. The major changes included access via Benson Road, a larger but less tall processing building, a relocation of the truck scale, and use of precast concrete structures rather than bladder systems for the anaerobic digesters.
"Those tanks will last the life of the project, for 25 years," said Tom Spangler, CleanBay executive chairman, rather than replacing bladders every seven to 10 years.
There is also more landscaping on the east side fronting Old Princess Anne Road. Three rows of evergreens when mature will shield from view much of the industrial infrastructure. And by using Benson Road, only empty trucks will exit onto Old Princess Anne Road.
The company is now negotiating with the Department of Natural Resources for an easement from Benson Road, which DNR is in favor of granting across its land. "This is going to decrease a lot of the heavy truck traffic that would otherwise use Old Princess Anne Road," said Brendan Mullaney, the attorney for CleanBay.
The first site plan went to the planning commission in December 2015 and was modified in January 2017 and again in March 2019. "The project has continued to evolve," Mr. Mullaney said, but the latest plan "is a net benefit that really enhances the site."
"It’s now closer to construction," which could start later this summer.
CleanBay must meet seven conditions before a zoning certificate and/or a final occupancy certificate are granted. They include:
• An approved stormwater management plan;
• An approved erosion and sediment control plan;
• Implementation of the landscaping plan;
• An approved water and sewer plan;
• Completion of all roadway improvements;
• Compliance with any other local, state or federal regulations; and
• Meet with fire, EMS and public safety officials about emergency contingency plans and provide contacts especially after hours.
The property is zoned General Industrial I-2 and it was the Board of Zoning Appeals in January 2015 that granted a special exception for the manufacture of chemicals and generation of electricity. However, at that time the plans were focused on anaerobic digestion for the conversion of hatchery waste to produce carboxylic acid for products such as cosmetics, soaps and lubricants, with around 2 tons per day of poultry litter for methane and electricity production.
While there is now no hatchery waste required and no carboxylic acid production, from the county’s perspective, there is no violation of the original approval because chemicals and electricity are still being produced in a location with the least restrictive zoning.
"The Board of Zoning Appeals did not put a limit on what could be brought into the site," said Gary Pusey, county planning director, but the building permit will limit chicken manure inputs to 250 tons per day which is approximately 12 truckloads. If CleanBay wants to go larger, it will have to return to the Board of Zoning Appeals, he said.
Safe for Somerset advocates led by Old Princess Anne Road resident Ronald DeClement decry the changes, calling it "the greatest deception" in decades. From a majority use of hatchery waste for fatty acids to now using only poultry manure for methane, fertilizer and electricity, the volume of inputs required "has increased 33,000%."
He said no citizen could apply for a permit for a 3,000 sq. ft. house "and build a 300,000 sq. ft. Hyatt Hotel. You would stop it, and this is not being stopped."
There was also a grading permit, he said, approved in December 2014, "before the project was ever presented to the public...which means the original hearing was already determined."
"The citizens believe that the facts presented at the original hearing were intentionally misled and distorted so that they would get approval," Mr. Declement said. Based on the original facts there was no appeal but several days later the manure processing plans changed. "The citizens have been 100% deceived by this," and appellate rights were denied because the change in plan was nine days after that window closed.
Mr. DeClement said the site plan should be based on what was originally sought, and nothing more, and if approved a lawsuit would be filed against the zoning board, "because this action should not be allowed."
Commission Chair Kathleen Garton said use of the property falls within the purview of the Board of Zoning Appeals. "That is not our jurisdiction," she said, although in response to questions from Perry Road resident David Medland she said the size of the operation "is germane" and that’s why the limit of 250 tons per day is being imposed.
"We will keep our thumb on what’s going on," she said, "but we do site plan approval," however, the Department of Technical and Community Service will have "serious consideration" about what’s going on there.
"Use," said CleanBay’s attorney, "has already been approved in front of the appropriate forum," and this is for site plan approval. Mr. Mullaney said the questions Mr. Medland was asking "are applicable to the Board of Zoning Appeals. They’re not criteria considered during the site plan process."
Old Princess Anne Road resident Jack Schermerhorn said this wasn’t the first time this property was targeted for what seemed like a benign use at the start only to morph into something more shocking. In 1993 he opposed Leo Dahlmanns who had plans to bring rail cars full of garbage from cities or as alternative contaminated soil for remediation.
Mr. Schermerhorn said he’s still concerned about the site, the safety of the process and its impact on health and local wellbeing.
Mr. Spangler said carboxylic acids could still be produced through a different chemical process, but "it made a lot more sense to focus on the ag industry and fertilizer production" rather than the luxury market.
Construction will be managed by Kiewit Corporation, the largest employee-owned construction and engineering firm in North America which serves oil, gas and chemical companies plus those involved with power, water/wastewater and other industrial systems.
Mr. Spangler said potable water will be from a well on the property, but for all other water uses CleanBay will tap the water pumped from two wells on Revell’s Neck Road for which the Somerset County Sanitary District cannot get a potable water use permit from the state without utilizing reverse osmosis.
This is a closed-loop process so the only wastewater will be from normal employee operations. The slurry of water with the manure will be recycled back once nutrient-rich fertilizer is strained out through chemical and mechanical processes, Mr. Spangler said. Evoqua Water Technologies will have a 25-year contract to run the technical plant.
The biogas produced will not be stored on the property but piped through a transmission line that will be extended under U.S. 13 to the site by Chesapeake Utilities.
In all Mr. Spangler said 26 full-time employees are anticipated, but during the 18 months required for construction there will be over 200 workers not including local contractors.
Commission members in attendance in addition to Chairwoman Garton were Janet McIntyre, Skip Colborn and Laverne Stewart with Matt Webster, Steve Raab and Vice Chair Jeremy Mason absent.