11/15/10 — Wilson says 'no chicken plant'

View Archive

Wilson says 'no chicken plant'

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 15, 2010 1:46 PM

Nash County commissioners earlier this month moved to solidify their county's position as a contender for a $94 million chicken processing plant.

Northern Wayne County also is in the running for the plant, which would employ 1,000 people.

But even as Nash's commissioners voted 4-3 to rezone property that is reportedly under consideration for the plant, some residents of Nash and neighboring Wilson County oppose its construction.

A "Save the River Rally" was held Sunday at the intersection of N.C. 97 and Tar River Church Road in Nash County.

The plant is being proposed by Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi-based company that already has a recently-built processing plant outside Kinston.

Sanderson is the fourth-largest poultry company in the country, processing more than 8 million birds a week.

"I can tell you that we have not made a final decision," Mike Cockrell, Sanderson Farms CFO, said in a telephone interview Friday. "We have not bought any land. We are continuing to do our due diligence."

Cockrell said he understands that is what the people who are opposed to the plant are doing as well.

"I hope that we can respond to all questions and concerns," he said. "We are still asking questions, too. We have not made a decision. We hope by Dec. 14 to make a decision by then."

Cockrell said he is aware of some opposition to the plant, but that to his knowledge no one from Sanderson Farms had been asked to speak at the rally.

Cockrell said he would make himself available for meetings anywhere in the area to talk about the company.

"We are proud of our facilities," he said. "We let people tour them, particularly if they are potential neighbors."

No possible site has been identified in Wayne County, but speculation has centered on northern Wayne.

The project, announced last spring, would consist of an expansion of the feed mill for the Kinston plant, a hatchery, a processing plant with capacity to process 1.25 million "big bird" chickens per week and a wastewater treatment facility.

The company needs 100 acres for the plant itself and between 400 and 500 acres for a hay spray field.

Construction could begin in the spring if the land can be found in time. Operation could start as early as June 2012 and could be at full capacity within 15 months after that.

Saying the project has generated strong opposition would be an understatement, said Robbie Davis, chairman of the Nash County Board of Commissioners. However, Davis said that the county would still be "extremely delighted" to have Sanderson Farms locate there.

"What we did, we were asked by an agent for a landowner to rezone property from residential to rural industry," he said. "I personally know that Sanderson Farms is looking at that tract."

However, Davis said the board's action was not driven by that knowledge. Rather it was simply a matter of responding to a citizen's request to have property rezoned, he said.

Davis said close to 250 people attended the board meeting and that 15 people spoke in opposition and another four spoke in favor.

"It was very civil and everybody conducted themselves well. It was a very interesting day," he said.

Davis said that opponents are concerned about how the plant could affect property values, traffic congestion and environmental problems it might cause by being located so close to a river.

"It is an extremely rural area and there are no homes nearby," he said. "Honestly, I do not understand their concerns."

Davis said he has met with Wilson County Mayor Bruce Rose and County Manager Ellis about the project.

According to published reports Frank Emory, chairman of the Wilson County Board of Commissioners, Rose and Craig Myers, Wilson Economic Development Council chairman, and John Hackney III, Wilson Chamber of Commerce chairman, have sent a letter Billy Ray Hall, president of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, to postpone any grant application benefiting Sanderson Farms for 90 days after receiving the Nov. 4, letter until Wilson leaders can evaluate any impact from the processing facility.

Wilson County has an "undue concern" about the spray field and the wastewater application process, he said.

Davis said that opponents would change their opinion of the process if they would study it.

According to the reports, the location of the facility is in a watershed area where Nash and Wilson counties draw water for public water systems. The site is near the Tar River and Wilson County's watershed area that includes the Toisnot and Wiggins Mill reservoirs.

Davis said the area under consideration for the spray field is about five miles from the site the board rezoned. The second area is already zoned agriculture and would not require rezoning since crops would be grown on the spray field, he said.

Sanderson Farms did $1.8 billion in sales last year and posted net sales of $487 million for the second quarter of the year and earnings of $35 million, a record for the company.