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I-Team: Clinton County residents call for accountability from meat plant

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LOGANTON, CLINTON COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Hundreds of Clinton County residents are calling for accountability from a local meat processing plant they allege is impacting the environment.

Animal byproducts are legally used as fertilizer for local farmland in a process known as land application. But neighbors of the Nicholas Meat slaughterhouse say the company has been exceeding their legal limit of land application and subjected the community to a constant odor. Some even suspect it may be negatively impacting local water quality.

They say a recent increase in the volume of Nicholas Meat’s land application will only make matters worse.

“The smell of blood is so much different than the smell of manure, or skunk, or anything like that,” Loganton resident Yvonne Weaver told Eyewitness News. “It’s just overwhelming.”

The Loganton residents are now turning their voice into action. Two petitions signed by hundreds of people are calling on Pennsylvania’s elected officials to push the Department of Environmental Protection to begin monitoring local air and water standards they fear are being compromised by Nicholas Meat.

Cited in the petitions is a July 2020 nutrient management plan Eyewitness News obtained from the DEP. The plan outlines an increase in Nicholas Meat’s waste output to allow 120 thousand gallons of food processing residual, or animal byproduct each day.

Weaver is among those that signed the petitions. She had concerns about the environmental impact of the company’s waste long before this latest plan.

“They were good people, they are good people. They just need to sit down and actually talk and be a part of this community instead of isolating themselves,” she said.

In response to queries from Eyewitness News, Nicholas Meat says that pending state authorization, they intend to build an ‘anaerobic digester’ to mitigate the slaughterhouse smell and limit their carbon footprint.

Eyewitness News obtained a copy of the company’s first application to the DEP for a digester, dated May 2019, after dozens of complaints had already been filed against Nicholas Meat. Since that 2019 application, the DEP has found “technical deficiencies” that kept the company from building a digester three different times, the latest just last month.

In the meantime, Weaver says they continue to wait.

“Just been taking years, we’re waiting and waiting for this. And I know they have a lot of regulations they have to follow to get the digester in. Hopefully it’s going to help,” she said.

The community’s concerns don’t stop at the bad smell.

Lifelong Loganton resident Trish Leigey filed several complaints with the DEP, claiming that animal byproduct runoff from a nearby field contaminated her water. The recent increase in output isn’t helping.

In documents obtained by Eyewitness News, the DEP sent Nicholas Meat a notice of violation in June 2020 regarding Leigey’s complaint. We also obtained Leigey’s previous complaints to the DEP that the land application of animal byproducts had contaminated her water. Leigey’s complaint was just one of several water quality complaints filed with the DEP naming Nicholas Meat since 2013.

“It’s very frustrating because it’s still allowed to continue, and I never know when I turn on my faucets or whenever I turn on my taps, what’s going to be coming through those lines,” Leigey said.

These allegations are vehemently denied by Nicholas Meat.

“That allegation is untrue,” the company said in a statement. “We understand there are concerns. However, we are not aware that any of our land application practices have directly resulted in contamination of area water and wells. Any speculation to the contrary has not been substantiated.”

Leigey stands by her claim, pointing to a 2017 report from the US Geological Survey of her well water that shows the presence of dangerous bacteria like E. coli as proof against Nicholas Meat.

In response to a November 2016 complaint, state documents we obtained show a DEP investigator couldn’t determine whether application occurred appropriately but says Nicholas Meat was notified and “did not follow the PA Code on reporting known contamination of waters.”

A local environmentalist who reviewed the USGS data told Eyewitness News E. coli can appear naturally but the levels found were concerning.

“Looking at the levels, and looking where she lies with comparison to the fields around that were being spread upon, there definitely could be some connection there as well,” John Zaktansky, Executive Director of Middle Susquehanna River Keeper, a Sunbury-based environmental organization, said.

Zaktansky has visited Loganton as part of his work to protect the watershed.

While land application is federally permitted for fertilization purposes, Zaktansky says the lack of crop growth on the lands receiving that fertilizer was striking.

“Typically when you spread something like that, with the intent of improving land quality for agricultural purposes, you would see more growth, more response than what I was seeing,” he said.

In all, Eyewitness News obtained eight complaints about Nicholas Meat’s land application of animal byproducts and dozens more about the plant’s odor.

Clinton County Commissioner Angela Harding says the volume of concern out of Loganton ultimately required her attention.

“As a county commissioner, first and foremost, I hear what the people are saying. And when you have hundreds of people saying the same thing, you need to listen to that,” Harding said.

Harding embraces the economic benefit provided by the company and says many in the community do as well. However, she believes those community members are beginning to feel forgotten.

“The common theme that I believe I have heard, has been ‘why doesn’t the corporation, or the company, or the industry care about the residents that are right here, and a part of this community,” Harding said.

In a statement received Thursday, Nicholas Meat says a recent DEP report confirmed that the land application of its FPR is being done “correctly, safely and in accordance with regulations.

Eyewitness News has requested a copy of the report from both, Nicholas Meat and the DEP.

The statement also notes that the proposed digester is part of a larger “sustainable resource facility” plan which is moving forward despite delays in the permitting process, which the company says it “common for complex projects such as this.”

Read their full statements below.

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