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Darien open to expansion at Birds Eye

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ANN MARIE AMES
January 26, 2011
— The Town of Darien Planning Commission on Tuesday welcomed with open arms a possible expansion at Birds Eye Foods that could add 140 jobs.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of two conditional-use permit applications. The town board could take action on the applications at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 1.


The Walworth County Board will have the final say in the matter.


"We have an existing company that wants to expand and bring in 100 jobs," said plan commission member Dale Wheelock. "I don't think we can in any way say 'no.'"


The food processing plant is one of three on the corporate office's short list of possible product-line expansions, said plant superintendent Steve Schuh. The plant, located at W8880 County X, Darien, is owned by Pinnacle Foods.


Officials at the Darien plant want the paperwork taken care of and everything set to go if Pinnacle gives the nod for expansion, plant environmental supervisor Eric Hudson said.


"The Darien plant has a reputation as a can-do facility, which we are very, very proud of," he said.


One of the two permit applications is for the expansion itself, which would bring the plant to 55,000 square feet, Hudson said. It would include expansion of production space, ingredient storage and equipment storage. The project would include the addition of four dock doors, expanded parking and improvements to raw-product staging areas.


The second application is for the addition of a 35-million-gallon wastewater-storage lagoon that would be lined with high-density plastic.


The current clay-lined lagoon was built in the 1960s, Hudson said. It is used to store wastewater from the plant during the winter and early spring months.


In the summer, the wastewater is applied to a nearby alfalfa field through a center-pivot irrigator, Hudson said.


Because of increased production and expanded product lines in the last two years, the plant has "challenged the capacity of that lagoon," he said.


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also has permitting power over the wastewater storage lagoon, Hudson said. The DNR regulates the plant for nitrates and chlorides, he said.


The nitrates come from vegetable particles that slip through the waste screen, he said. The plant removes salt from the wastewater.


Most of the plant's waste is used as cattle feed, Hudson said.


The proposed lagoon would be aerated to reduce odors, he said. The current lagoon has few odors; most occur in early spring when aerators are turned on for the first time, Hudson said.


The Birdseye plant employs 450 to 500 people, he said. It operates three shifts seven days a week during the summer harvest season and five days during quieter times of the year.


The Darien facility processes green beans and carrots in the summer as well as prepared rice and pasta dishes such as Birds Eye's Steamfresh, Freshlike and Voila products.



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