On Aug. 6, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper John Zaktansky submitted a letter of recommendation to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) concerning permit requests the organization was reviewing from a Clinton County slaughterhouse, Nicholas Meats, which would allow the business to greatly expand operations.
To Whom It May Concern:
Since starting as the new Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper on Feb. 17, 2020, I have spent considerable time researching the issues surrounding the Nicholas Meats slaughterhouse operation in Clinton County -- continuing a process begun by my predecessor a few years ago and following up on concerns reported to our office by residents of that region about the practices of this business.
Initial reports revolved around the company’s excessive withdrawal of water from the aquifer, something the current permit applications would increase substantially. Proposals under review would allow the company to draw upwards of 120 gallons of water per minute (or nearly 173,000 gallons a day) from the aquifer -- water that would be used for the cooling, cleaning and processing of raw meat from Nicholas Meats’ slaughterhouse. Additional plans for expansion within the next 15 years could increase that need for water to close to 700,000 gallons of water per day.
From information gathered via landowners and in speaking with various experts on the matter, there definitely is concern about additional water draw -- especially in light of a recent spike in well issues reported to the Clinton County Conservation District. Dry summer conditions likely have played some factor in this, but the region has dealt with dry summers in the past. It is possible that the previous two summers featuring wetter-than-average seasons were really masking a growing issue with the increasing water draw by Nicholas Meats, and now we are seeing some of the red flags that were missed previously.
In the past month, we have also been contacted by a landowner who has serious concerns about the waste materials that are exiting Nicholas Meats and being applied to fields within the Sugar Valley region. Per landowner claims, backed by observations from Clinton County Conservation District employee Wade Jodun, Nicholas Meats has been excessively spreading this combination of leftover blood and liquified animal by-products and numerous negative ripple effects are being felt in the region. Pools of this waste have run across pastures and along roadways, impacted residential wells and left behind a wake of stench and flies that affects the quality of life for homeowners in that area.
A conversation with DEP executives recently revealed an additional concern with Nicholas Meats: their human waste system is drastically overtaxed by the number of current employees. One official suggesting this is the most pressing concern the business faces as it looks to expand its workforce.
There are allegedly plans for Nicholas Meats to erect a wastewater digester that would allow the company to recycle a majority of the water it uses, drastically lowering its reliance on freshly drawn groundwater and cutting its waste materials in the process. However, a realistic timetable for this digester is likely years off, even if permitting for that project is approved soon.
Considering all of this, it is apparent that Nicholas Meats is already at -- and likely past -- its threshold in terms of what it can handle in terms of water draws, waste discharge and infrastructure needed for the growing workforce. It would be environmentally irresponsible to give them a green light to draw even more water, create more waste they are ill-equipped to handle and expand their employee pool beyond what their current systems can handle.
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association therefore highly recommends that the SRBC indefinitely postpone any permits by Nicholas Meats regarding potential expansion, additional water draws or practices that create extra waste until the company properly approves, constructs and proves operational a wastewater digester that can efficiently handle the extra flow that would be caused by any semblance of expansion in the future.
Our association will continue to be closely involved in this matter, and we look forward to continue our work with the SRBC, DEP, county conservation district, local landowners and other groups with a vested interest in the Nicholas Meats situation.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Executive Director of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.