12/01/10 — Official: Chicken company a good neighbor

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Official: Chicken company a good neighbor

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

With less than three weeks remaining before an expected announcement on the site selection for a $94 million Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant, local development officials are remaining mum on the escalating battle north of Wayne County against the project -- a battle that puzzles a south-central Georgia economic development official who says his community has benefited from a similar Sanderson plant that opened five years ago.

Not only is the city of Wilson suing the Nash County Board of Commissioners over its decision to rezone a potential site for the plant, it has adopted a resolution authorizing use of up to $1 million of the city's general fund resources "to oppose the slaughterhouse project and any adverse impacts on the city's public water supply."

A number of Wilson and Nash residents are party to the lawsuit, which alleges Nash County officials did not follow state rezoning laws in their effort to entice Sanderson to locate in Nash County.

The resolution alleges that the company "has been operating covertly and through a third party to acquire options in lands located within the city of Wilson's watershed for the purpose of spraying chicken waste on the ground."

According to the resolution, the city of Wilson has invested in excess of $50 million "without financial assistance from any state or federal resources, in order to acquire, construct and maintain a high quality and abundant public water supply."

It adds that the water supply benefits the citizens of both counties.

Wilson also complains in the resolution that the operation and its accompanying waste disposal requirements will "cause problems with odor, flies, respiratory issues, and adverse impacts to the city's water quality, thus negatively impacting the quality of life of the citizens of the city of Wilson."

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.

The plant would employ 1,000 people.

Wayne County Develop-ment Alliance officials have declined to comment on whether the Wilson-Nash conflict could bode well for Wayne's chances of being selected.

"I can confirm that Sander-son Farms has looked at Wayne County and that it is my understanding that they are also looking at Nash County for potential sites for their next operation," said Joanna Helms, alliance president. "I have no further comment at this time."

Sanderson Farms CFO Mike Cockrell also declined comment.

"We have not made a final decision. Nash County rezoned the area they want us to look at," he said.

Cockrell has said that a decision is expected by mid-December.

As for the controversy in Wilson and Nash counties, Cockrell said, "We expect communities to be involved and do their due diligence."

He said he wants to make sure that residents know the facts and are able to make a decision based on those facts.

"We will continue to that end to do that and hopefully make something work whether for Nash County or Wayne County," he said.

Sanderson is looking at a 150-acre site in southern Nash County just across the Nash-Wilson county line for the plant. The spray field would be located about five miles from that site.

The company is also looking for a site in Wayne County.

"We would love to have them here if we could," Fremont Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie said. "At the same time, what I was told back in July was that they were not looking at northern Wayne County. They were referring to north of U.S. 70, not up here (northern Wayne County).

"I have not really been made aware of what is going on. We went to the Development Alliance to try to help out and to encourage them to come to this area. We were told there was nothing they needed from us and that they would not be coming to our area and that they would be coming closer to Goldsboro if they came to Wayne County."

Darrell Moore, president of the Moultrie-Colquitt (Ga.) Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, said he is puzzled as to why people in Nash and Wilson counties are so vehemently opposed to the Sanderson Farms operation that they would go to court to stop it.

"It has been a good thing for us," he said. "It is hard for me to believe anyone would be opposed. It has had a tremendous positive impact on the county."

The Moultrie plant opened in 2005. It processes about 1.25 million birds weekly. Located just 60 miles from the Florida line, Moultrie has a population of about 15,000 and sits in the center of Colquitt County, one of Georgia's major agricultural counties.

Moore said that Colquitt County last year had $480 million in agriculture income. The county has a population of about 46,000.

"(Sanderson Farms) fit right in. They are good corporate citizens," he said.

As an incentive, the county had offered the company a graduated break on ad valorem taxes. Also, the county's board of education had made a similar offer on the county's school tax.

The company accepted the ad valorem tax offer, but not the one for the school tax, something that Moore said impressed him.

"They opted to pay the full (school) amount," he said. "They are good people to deal with. Any issues they have had to deal with they have met head on."

Nash County commissioners have met in closed session to discuss possible incentives, but have not yet taken any action.

Moore said the "only rumblings" of opposition in his community had been heard early on while site selection was in progress.

It was a kind of a "not-in-my-backyard issue," he said.

There also was a scramble to buy local farms by people who wanted to produce birds for the plant, he said.

Moore said he is not familiar enough with any environmental issues to comment on whether or not there has been any negative environmental impact. The plant is located just south of town on a primary four-lane road in a major commercial area and is less than two miles "as the crow flies" from a large nice subdivision, he said.

"If you were just driving by, you would never know that it is there," he said.

The county's sales tax revenues have increased by 30 percent since the plant opened. Moore contributes a "major" source of the increase to the plant. He said the plant provided jobs for people who are able to spend the money in the community.

Moore said the county has not witnessed any decline in property values because of the plant, or any influx of migrant workers for jobs at the plant.

"We have not experienced that all," he said. "It (work force) pretty much represents the demographics of the county."

Moore said his county had been spared the worst of the recession and that no companies have been forced to close. However, some had cut back on jobs. Without Sanderson, the county probably would have a higher unemployment rate, he said.

"If they (Wilson-Nash area) have another industry they don't want, tell them to call me," he said. "We have had a good experience. I thought that South Carolina and North Carolina were more industry friendly. There have been no issues (with Sanderson) that I am aware of."

The opposition could be that people just don't like change, he said.

"I hope you have the same experience that we have had with them," he said.