Community Ombudsman Ignores DE Advocate Concerns About Factory Farm Biogas Proposals

For more than a month, advocate requests for a meeting to discuss frontline community needs have been met with silence

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Food System

For Immediate Release

More than a month after having cancelled a meeting to discuss frontline constituent concerns, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Community Ombudsman has repeatedly ignored advocate requests for a rescheduled meeting to resolve environmental justice complaints about factory farm biogas proposals. Constituents representing the Sussex Health and Environmental Network, Delaware Civil Rights Commission, Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and Food & Water Watch have conducted repeated outreach to the office by phone and email, to no avail. This silence comes ahead of a survey currently being conducted by Delaware State University on DNREC’s responsiveness to community concerns.

The community surrounding the Bioenergy Devco proposed biogas site is home to people of color and people living in poverty at about twice the rate of Sussex County as a whole, and advocate outreach has demonstrated a lack of DNREC communication with these community members, many of whom are Spanish speakers, about the details and dangers of the proposed facility. The office of the Community Ombudsman exists to serve as an advocate for communities such as these that are affected by DNREC projects and environmental injustices.

Advocates are requesting a meeting with the Community Ombudsman to present a number of complaints regarding the injustice that the proposed Bioenergy DevCo factory farm biogas facility poses. Advocate demands include that:

  • DNREC conduct outreach to the Spanish-speaking population near the proposed biogas facility to provide them with information about the industrial activity possibly coming to their neighborhood — and to help them participate meaningfully in the public decision-making process.
  • DNREC hold all upcoming permit public hearings for the project in both Spanish and English.

“Latinos, due to language isolation and modest socio-economic resources, deserve special accommodation in having their voices heard. Instead, DNREC has ignored requests of their representatives for weeks to discuss their concerns related to the proposed biogas plant near Seaford,” said Charito Calvachi-Matetyko, of the Delaware Civil Rights Commission. “DNREC’s silence shouts out: Brown lives don’t matter. They are insulting the people they have been employed to safeguard, and putting their health and safety at risk.”

“Inasmuch as community engagement is a part of DNREC’s operation, one can only wonder why the agency has not responded to requests to meet with the community and interested parties to discuss their concerns about health and safety risks associated with the proposed biogas plant in Sussex County,” said Marlene Saunders of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice. “In this case, the community is attempting to do its part as a partner with an agency charged with ensuring a healthy environment for all Delawareans.”

“Those charged with protecting communities from environmental injustice are ignoring the very communities on the frontlines of the fight against factory farm biogas,” said Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton. “Biogas facilities are industrial, polluting operations that threaten the health and safety of those who live nearby, making it imperative that frontline communities are a part of the conversation. To shut neighbors out of the process and ignore constituent requests for inclusive public education is unjust. We demand a meeting with the DNREC Ombudsman to right this wrong.”

“This is a total dereliction of duty that has been the norm for years within DNREC and it must change,” said Maria Payan, Senior Regional Representative of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-founder of Sussex Health & Environmental Network. “The duty of the Community Ombudsman, according to DNREC’s website, is to increase the flow of information between communities and the department, increase community participation, and facilitate dialogue among all stakeholders during the decision-making process. That has not happened. We will no longer stand silent.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]