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DEP issues compliance order to Nicholas Meat

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LOGANTON, CLINTON COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued an order to Nicholas Meat which enforces their compliance with waste management rules.

According to the order, Nicholas Meat was continuing their disposal of food processing residual (FPR), or animal byproduct, by spreading them on snow-covered fields. The process is normally allowed by the DEP, however, regulations prohibit the practice on fields covered with snow.

The DEP compliance order says an investigator witnessed the company spreading animal byproduct on snow-covered fields on February 8 and ordered the company into compliance by the next day. That violation was reported just days after an I-Team investigation detailing a history of complaints against the company for how it manages the disposal of animal byproducts.

Read DEP Compliance Order

Read Nicholas Meat Statement

The order issued by the DEP states that Nicholas Meat must “immediately cease land application of FPR to snowcovered field.” However, a press release by Nicholas Meat says this was “issued with little warning and no explanation” and will force the temporary closure of the plant.

The compliance order from the DEP does not state Nicholas Meat needs to close.

“Nicholas Meat LLC, a family-owned business, has no alternative but to temporarily shut down its plant operations at the end of the day Tuesday, Feb. 23, because of a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) compliance order issued with little warning and no explanation,” the press release states.

The DEP order cites violation of 25 PA Code 287.101(b) (2) as reason for the complaint. This code states that “the Department will prepare a manual for the management of food processing waste which identifies best management practices and may approve additional best management practices on a case-by-case basis. If a person fails to implement best management practices for food processing waste, the Department may require compliance with the land application, composting and storage operating requirement.”

According to the DEP, part of the manual prepared for Nicholas Meat states specifically “field application of FPRs is not allowed on snow-covered ground.”

“Unless something changes, we’ll be forced to temporarily shut down the plant Tuesday until improved weather conditions permit us to spread FPR and reopen our plant,” Brian Miller, Director of Sustainability at Nicholas Meat said in the statement. “We want to work with the DEP on a solution that’s good for everyone – our employees, customers, farmers and the community.”

An earlier I-Team investigation revealed a number of complaints issued to DEP against Nicholas Meat including claims the company was over-using their right to land application. The new order was issued February 9, days after publication.

The DEP provided the following response to Eyewitness News along with attached documentation regarding Nicholas Meat:

“DEP has not ordered the Nicholas Meat operation to shut down.  In response to numerous community complaints, DEP has taken enforcement action within its authority to ensure that the Commonwealth’s environmental regulations are followed in order to protect the environment and public health.  In this instance, the Department’s action is driven by the increased potential for runoff due to the uncertain field conditions underneath the snow and the potential for increased runoff primarily due to melt. These concerns drove the February 9, 2021 order to immediately cease land application of food processing residual (FPR) to snow-covered fields.  Nicholas Meat recently appealed DEP’s order to the Environmental Hearing Board, and the company also asked to be relieved of the order’s obligations until a thorough hearing can be held on the matter.  Up to this point, the Environmental Hearing Board has twice denied that request, and has ruled that the DEP’s order is now in effect.

Nicholas Meat has always had multiple legal options available to manage its food processing residual, which are described in part within the Food Processing Residual Management Manual attached.  The choice to shut down facility operations is solely theirs. The Nicholas Meat facility has expanded greatly, from processing 150-200 cattle and generating 40,000 gallons of residual waste daily in 2013 to approximately 600 or more cattle today and generating 150,000 gallons of residual waste today. During this time, the storage for the residual waste the process generates has not expanded at all. That growth, coupled with an unusually long standing snowpack and no backup plan, is the genesis of this issue.  DEP recently issued permits to Nicholas Meat for the construction of a waste digester, which is hoped to provide a long-term, sustainable solution. 

To address winter spreading of food processing residual in more detail, attached are DEP’s Food Processing Residual Management Manual and a Word document with information from this manual and the manure management manual.  (Note: When a page number is referenced below, please refer to the actual number at the bottom of the page, not the PDF page number.) 
As noted in the PADEP Intent Statement on Page 4 of the FPR manual, this manual describes best management practices (BMPs) for the management of food processing residual (FPR).  A person managing food processing waste shall implement BMPs, and a failure to do so may result in DEP compliance enforcement.    

Table 8.11 shows the isolation distance standards (aka setbacks or buffers) for applying FPR to agricultural land.  As stated on page 90, “These buffer distances safeguard local water resources against potential contaminant migration off-site.” 

The first full paragraph on Page 98 of the FPR manual discusses winter application of food processing residuals, stating:  “Winter application of FPRs should follow standard practices established for manure handling.”  Page 2 of the attached Word document goes into more detail regarding the requirements for manure handling.

The FPR manual goes on to explain on Page 98:

“Winter application of FPRs should follow standard practices established for manure handling.  Additional Resource J addresses winter application as follows:  ‘Winter application (of manure) is the least desirable, from both a nutrient utilization and a pollution point of view, because frozen soil surface prevents rain and melting snow from carrying nutrients into the soil. The result is nutrient loss and pollution through runoff. If daily winter spreading is necessary, manure should be applied to fields with least runoff potential. It should be applied to distant or limited access fields in early winter and then to nearer fields later in the season.’  Field application of FPRs is not [emphasis in original] permitted on snow-covered ground. Remember, the potential for a pollution incident is greatest in the winter, and therefore so is your liability.”

Farmers may not mechanically apply manure (or FPR during winter) within certain environmentally-sensitive areas, as described in the manure management manual excerpts in the provided Word document.  This section also states:  “Winter application can lead to significant environmental problems if manure is not prevented from getting into streams, lakes and ponds.  Winter application is discouraged.” 

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