Birds Eye Foods in Darien

The Birds Eye Foods plant, W8880 County Road X, town of Darien, has been the target of neighbor complaints for years about foul odors in the area, but state environmental regulators say odor is not an issue in the new permit proposal. (File photo/Regional News)

DARIEN — A Birds Eye food processing plant associated with foul odors has sprung wastewater leaks as state environmental regulators consider renewing a permit for the plant.

State regulators said the leaks amounted to about 500 gallons a day, most of which officials believe was captured in a catch basin before it could seep into the ground.

A company representative told Walworth County officials June 20 that leaks were discovered this spring in a wastewater lagoon at the food processing facility at W880 County Road X.

Neighbors have been complaining for years about foul odors from the plant, largely because of the odor of wastewater.

The plant operates with air and water pollution permits from the state, and also with a general operating permit controlled by the county.

At a meeting June 20 with county zoning trustees, Birds Eye representative Kip Guyon said four leaks were discovered recently in the liner of a wastewater lagoon — one of two such lagoons where wastewater is stored.

The liner is used to prevent wastewater from seeping into the ground and groundwater from seeping into the lagoon, Guyon said.

Discovered about five or six weeks ago, the leaks forced the shutdown of equipment used to control foul odors in the wastewater. Each of the leaks, Guyon said, were about the width of a finger and were located near the equipment known as aerators.

Officials from the state Department of Natural Resources were notified of the leaks and were involved in the process of planning repairs.

“We’ve got those temporarily repaired,” Guyon said.

He did not elaborate on what repair work remains, saying only that work is planned in the fall “to further restore the integrity of the liner.”

Members of the county zoning agency applauded Birds Eye for its efforts to control odor from the plant, and they voted not to take action against the company’s operating permit, as neighbors have requested in the past.

County officials acknowledged that they continue to receive complaints from neighbors about the plant’s odor, although they said the number of complaints has declined.

“I think you’ve done a great job,” zoning agency board member Jim Van Dreser told the company representatives.

At Van Dreser’s urging, the panel voted to reconsider the Birds Eye plant again next June to assess whether foul odors warrant further action by the county.

Until then, Van Dreser said, “I don’t think we need to do anything more.”

The county review comes as state regulators are considering issuing a new five-year permit to Birds Eye for continued wastewater discharges at the plant.

Neighbors have lodged complaints, too, with the Department of Natural Resources, seeking a public hearing before the state pollution permit renewal is decided.

In their appeals to the DNR, residents again have cited the foul odors disturbing surrounding neighborhoods.

“There has been no permanent fix to their issues,” neighbor Joshua Wicyk wrote. “And complaints have gone on for years.”

Another neighbor, David Henderson, urged state regulators to reach out to the community “to fully understand the impact this company has put on our community and our property values.”

He added: “It’s time to make Birds Eye accountable for their actions.”

The public comment period on the state wastewater permit closed June 21, and state officials said they received enough requests to require a public hearing. No hearing date has been set yet.

Emily James, a DNR compliance specialist, said the state permit review also could take into account the recent wastewater leaks at the plant, which she learned about on April 24.

James said the state has requested periodic updates on the status of the lagoon, noting that about 500 gallons a day was being captured in a catch basin and pumped back into the lagoon.

If a state permit is approved after the public hearing, James said, it might include requirements regarding the leaks.

“It is believed that most of the water leaking from the lagoon is being returned to the lagoon,” she said. “Birds Eye Foods is currently evaluating the conditions and source of the leak in the lagoon.”

“It is in Birds Eye Foods’ best interest to repair the leak as expeditiously,” she added, “as possible as vegetable production is ramping up.”

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