GADSDEN, Ala. (WIAT) — An Etowah County lawmaker has announced plans to introduce a local constitutional amendment aimed at stopping a controversial rendering plant from being built in Gadsden.
Since November 2020, thousands of citizens have been fighting plans for a facility that would convert chicken parts into a protein that is used for pet food.
State Senator Andrew Jones’ proposed amendment would prohibit a company with $50 million in past federal fines from building a rendering plant within 10 miles of any municipality in Etowah County.
“Given that there are 11 municipalities within Etowah County, it would be virtually impossible to find a rendering plant location here in Etowah County,” said Jones.
All four lawmakers who represent Etowah County in the state legislature would need to approve the amendment in order to hold a public referendum on the issue during the May 2022 primary election.
“If all four members of the Etowah delegation sign a local constitutional amendment, then in general, other members of the legislature will help to advance that amendment through both the house and the senate, “said Jones.
According to Jones, the local constitutional amendment would not need approval from Governor Kay Ivey. If it passes, it would be retroactive to January.
While the project was recruited by the state of Alabama and the Etowah County Industrial Development Authority, it has been met with pushback by Etowah County neighbors.
Some city leaders have expressed the need for more jobs. Pilgrim’s Pride is expected to hire around 100 people for the plant.
The land is on airport property in the city of Gadsden. While some individual members of the city council have shared thoughts and opinions on the project, the full city council has yet to take an official stance.
“It is unfortunate that more than three months since this all began, Gadsden city officials and corporate bigwigs still just haven’t gotten the message,” said Jones.
Pilgrim’s Pride has previously said the new facility would use state-of-the-art technology to prevent odors from leaving the site. Neighbors have expressed doubts and pointed to previous fines and violations incurred by the company in other locations.
Some living near the site would move if the plant was built.
“This is our forever home and a few years ago, we were homeless, so this is a big deal to me. We don’t want to leave our home,” said Samantha McCoy, who lives across the street from the proposed facility on Steele Station Road.
Neighboring municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the project, but citizens don’t feel their voices are being considered because they are just outside city limits, but within a stone’s throw of the location.
“We’re not Gadsden. On this side of the road, we are Rainbow City. So they don’t care to listen to us in Gadsden, but I mean they are the ones who are over it, so that is who we have to voice to,” said McCoy.
McCoy said she understands the importance of jobs, but believes there are plenty of open positions at other companies that have not been filled.
“They say it is going to bring jobs. I’ve worked at several of the plants around here before. There are jobs out there,” said McCoy.
In an effort to recruit other businesses and employees to Etowah County, Jones also made a second proposition at a Monday news conference. He also plans to introduce a local amendment to phase out a 2% occupational tax that is used by five cities in the area.
The occupational tax amendment would also require support from the Etowah County delegation, but would not be voted on until a referendum in November 2022.
“How can we be competitive when our employees would take a 2% pay cut to stay in Etowah County and work?” Jones asked.
If approved by voters in 2022, the occupational tax would decrease from 2% to 1.9% beginning in the fiscal year of October 2023. The tax would decrease by .1% every year until completely phased out in 20 years.
According to Jones, he hopes to introduce the ideas to lawmakers in Montgomery this week.
As for the proposed facility, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is still going through comments from a public hearing at the end of January before deciding whether to issue an air permit for the facility.
It is unclear when a decision will be made. The Federal Aviation Authority is also expected to weigh in on building height requirements since it is near the airport.
The Gadsden City Council is also expected to weigh in on tax abatements for the proposal, but a timeline has not been released.