Nicholas Meat breaks ground on new ‘sustainable’ waste treatment plant

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little girl shoveling dirt while wearing a hard hat
Kennedy Nicholas, daughter of Nicholas Meats COO Doug Nicholas, shovels dirt at the groundbreaking for the company's new waste treatment facility as her dad and others look on. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

LOGANTON, Pa. — Two months after the plant was temporarily shut down because of waste management issues, Nicholas Meat broke ground May 26 on a facility that should solve its waste issues and more.

The Sustainable Resource Facility is a biodigester and wastewater treatment system that will turn the meatpacking plant’s food processing residual into fertilizer and biogas.

“We will create renewable energy, capture greenhouse gases and odors, reduce water demand and create nutrient-rich fertilizer all while reducing truck traffic and minimizing odor,” said Brian Miller, the company’s director of sustainability.

The facility will cost about $50 million to build and take about two years to complete, the company said. It will be located across the road from the main packing plant, which employs about 350 workers and 150 contract workers. 

Past issues

Waste management was unexpectedly a problem for the plant when it shut down for a week in late February after the DEP ordered it to stop spreading waste from its facility onto snow-covered ground. 

Nicholas Meat said the DEP compliance order forced them to close temporarily, as they had no other alternative to store or dispose of its food processing residual, commonly called FPR. The plant processes about 600 cattle daily. The DEP decision was a surprise reversal after the company has been allowed to land-apply FPR year round for more than a decade when it exceeded its storage capacity, Miller said, at the time.

The DEP said, in a statement, it did not force Nicholas Meat to close and that the company had “multiple legal options available to manage its food processing residual.”

This temporary shut-down came shortly after the company received approval from the DEP to construct the Sustainable Resource Facility. The DEP said at the time that it viewed the new waste digester facility as a long-term sustainable solution for the company, but the company created its own problems by explaining its operations beyond its waste storage capacity. 

“That growth, coupled with an unusually long standing snowpack and no backup plan, is the genesis of this issue” the DEP said, in a statement. 

packing plant
Nicholas Meat as seen from the site of the future Sustainable Resource Facility, which will treat the meatpacking plant’s waste with a biodigester and wastewater treatment system. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Bright future

Those issues were in the rearview during the groundbreaking, though, as Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and U.S. Rep. Fred Keller gave remarks about the new facility and the company’s impact on the region. A representative with the DEP was also in attendance.

Nicholas Meat, in Clinton County, is a family-owned plant that processes under certified organic, grassfed certified organic, natural grassfed, natural and Angus programs.

“Sustainability is about doing the right thing today to benefit and enjoy natural resources for generations to come,” said Doug Nicholas, chief operating officer of Nicholas Meat. “I think about this everyday when I look at my daughter. I think about her future in Sugar Valley and beyond.”

The Sustainable Resource Facility has been several years in the making. Nicholas Meat completed a feasibility study in April 2017 looking at ways to better manage its waste. The study results in plans for a facility that would include a biodigester and wastewater treatment plant.

“Without question, this is the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken,” Miller said.

The waste will be piped underground from the plant to the facility, while some solids may still be trucked over. Anaerobic digestion of the waste will generate biogas, which will be captured and used to power boilers in the plant, Miller said. The remaining solids will be land applied as fertilizer.

The water treatment system will be similar to what is used by municipal treatment plants and should allow the plant to reuse more of its water. 

The company is also developing a 12-acre conservation reserve along Bald Eagle Creek 12 miles northwest of the plant to make up for conservation impacts during the construction of the facility. 

Related content:

Pennsylvania meatpacking plant remains closed after DEP order

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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