ETOWAH COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Neighbors in Etowah County continue to question plans for a proposed animal rendering plant in Gadsden.
The proposed facility is expected to create jobs in the area, but neighbors also worry about odors, spills, impacts to the environment, and property values.
Few details have been made public, but CBS 42 obtained documents that show the state of Alabama and the Gadsden Mayor have been in communication with Pilgrim’s Pride since the summer.
Neighbors feel like they have been kept in the dark.
“The people that live in Rainbow City and work in Rainbow City and live in Gadsden and work in Gadsden, they don’t deserve this. It is a sellout,” said Teresa Drummond-Rieger.
Drummond-Rieger moved to the area in 1994 and is a veterinarian. The proposed plant would be near the property line to her home and farm. She’s currently in the process of converting it to a wedding venue.
“Who is going to get married in an environment that is just putrid? I am just devastated and i am just one of many,” said Drummond-Rieger.
Despite concerns from neighbors, officials involved in project discussions insist that nothing was done in secrecy.
“This project has been handled no differently than any other project we have done in the past,” said David Hooks, Executive Director for the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority.
Hooks said confidentiality agreements prevented leaders from sharing details with the public.
“For me to have disclosed anything prior to this time, without Pilgrim’s approval would have been against the law quite frankly,” said Hooks.
According to Hooks, the plant is needed for the Alabama poultry industry. Hooks said there is only one similar facility near Hanceville and more operations will be needed in the future.
If approved, the plant would create 97 full-time positions, around 150 construction jobs, and provide a $73 million investment to the community.
Hooks told CBS 42 he toured a similar facility in another state and believes new technology will keep any odors out of the community.
“It goes into a pipe, it stays in the pipes the entire time it is in the enclosed plant. It comes out in a pipe, goes into a truck that is covered and goes away. There was no smell whatsoever,” said Hooks.
Hooks said Pilgrim’s Pride initially looked at the industrial mega-site in Etowah County, but determined the infrastructure was not sufficient for the project.
Land by the Gadsden airport was chosen as a back-up site.
According to Hooks, there are seven homes within a half-mile radius of the airport site and 35 homes within one mile.
By comparison, Hooks said 16 homes were located within a half-mile radius of the mega-site and 78 homes within one full mile.
The site is in the city of Gadsden, but it lies directly across the street from homes and businesses that are in the city limits of Rainbow City. Neighbors in Rainbow City and other nearby communities feel they are powerless to decisions being made and have doubts about whether odors will be prevented.
“They can say that they have new technology that is going to sequester that smell, and I am going to tell you right now, it will not happen,” said Drummond-Rieger.
The property, Hooks said, is zoned for industrial use.
“People knew when they bought their houses that it was zoned industrial. If you go to the county there is no zoning whatsoever,” said Hooks.
Hooks said the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is working on plans for a public meeting before making a decision on granting a permit related to air quality.
When asked if there were any assurances about limiting the odor, Hooks deferred to other agencies.
“That’s left up to the state agencies, ADEM, federal agencies, EPA, people who have to do the guidance of both water, air, and sewer safety and we rely on those agencies to make sure they meet all criteria and continue to do that,” said Hooks.
The Federal Aviation Administration will also need to weigh in after looking at the height of buildings at the facility near the airport.
If those items are approved, the Gadsden City Council is expected to consider tax abatements for the project.
Hooks said he understands the fears of neighbors living near the site, but does not believe it will impact people living in distant communities.
“I hope that we can resolve their concerns, but if they live within a half mile, they should be concerned. If it is beyond that, from them as individuals or their property values, there is to be no concern whatsoever,” said Hooks.
According to Hooks, city leaders have not been given all of the information about the project.
“City Council, my industrial development authority board, have never seen the specifics of this project. They’ve seen the generalities. They’ve never seen the specifics, the technology,” said Hooks.
A representative for Pilgrim’s Pride is expected to share more details at a Gadsden City Council meeting Tuesday morning.
“I think it is an opportunity to show people that we are a progressive community looking for high tech projects that will expand how business is done,” said Hooks.
While Hooks said the project is still in preliminary stages, neighbors hope their voices will be heard during any public meetings.
“Whether the plant comes or it doesn’t come, I will always say it was a very underhanded way and the only possible reason they would have done it is because they knew there would be objections,” said Drummond-Rieger.
Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton declined multiple requests for an interview with CBS 42. His office released the following statement:
During the economic development process, discretion is essential and confidentiality is required by law. This privacy should not be confused with secrecy – the Industrial Development Authority and its partners, like the City of Gadsden, have followed the usual standards throughout the recent process.
Stay with CBS 42 for updates on the project.