Del. Superior Court approves Mountaire wastewater settlement
MILLSBORO, Del. – Millsboro residents got a major win Monday after a years long legal battle with Mountaire Farms over contaminated groundwater. “The people of Millsboro, Delaware refuse to be silenced and fought for their community, their health, and their quality of life,” said Attorney Chase Brockstedt.
The Delaware Superior Court approved a $205 million settlement in the lawsuit filed against Mountaire. The settlement will create a $65 million fund for impacted residents, and force Mountaire to upgrade its waste water treatment facility. Mountaire will also have to remediate groundwater contamination. Attorneys in the case reached the agreement last December. But it wasn’t final until the court approved it on Monday. In 2019, Mountaire resolved all issues with a separate group of plaintiffs.
It all started four years ago when Millsboro residents Gary and Anna-Marie Couppels returned home from dinner and found cases of water on their doorstep. “I went to walk into our back door and I tripped over the damned things. I was like ‘What the heck is going on here?'” said Gary Couppels.
Attached to those cases was a note from their “friends” at Mountaire, advising the couple not to drink their well water. The note suggested the couple should drink the bottled water instead. “I don’t even have any friends at Mountaire. It was a Friday evening, so we sort of struggled over the weekend, wondering what the heck was going on,” said Couppels.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the problems that residents are facing as a result are two fold. “One one hand we had a nitrate toxicity problem that was causing problems for many people – problems like cancer, problems like gastrointestinal problems. People actually died. We were having problems with hydrogen sulfite, which smells like rotten eggs. The ingestion was likewise causing health problems,” said Attorney Phillip Federico.
Residents say another issue they had to deal with was property values plummeting alongside the quality and safety of groundwater in the area. One plaintiff tells 47ABC she had to spend thousands of dollars repairing parts of her home because of damage from Mountaire’s sprinkler system. “You want to talk about loss? Talk about losing a whole trailer. So far, I have paid out of my pocket $50,000. Now I need a deck on this property. This deck, because of the prices out here, is costing me anywhere from $6,800 to $7,800,” said Joyce Logan.
Couppels says one of the things that stings the most is that what was once his family’s dream home turned into a nightmare. “Our house was our dream house. It’s on the water and we have a long bulkhead. All of a sudden, one of the key components of living anywhere was taken away from us, in terms of the water,” said Couppels.
Plaintiffs also tell 47ABC that they appreciate the millions of dollars they now have to work with to start resolving these issues. But the emotional and physical pain they’ve had to deal with will likely never go away. “The damage has already been done. They’re not going to repair that,” said David Neal.
47ABC did reach out to Mountaire for comment. They sent a statement, explaining that the company does not believe that it caused any damage to any of the plaintiffs. However, Mountaire says it chose to settle the case in order to achieve a final resolution and to allow construction of a new wastewater treatment plant to proceed. “We are moving ahead with building our new state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, which is advancing quickly,” said President of Mountaire Phillip Plylar. “We’re ready to put this chapter behind us and forge a new relationship with our neighbors moving forward.”
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued construction and operation permits to Mountaire in January to begin construction of the new wastewater treatment plant.