A $70 million poultry rendering plant for pet food ingredients is being proposed in Franklin County by Pilgrim’s Pride.
The company touts the facility as a way to be environmentally friendly by processing chicken byproducts instead of dumping them in a landfill, but opponents of the facility say it would not be good for the environment, including the Broad River in Madison County.
Bobby Martin, tax commissioner of Franklin County, who doesn’t live far from the proposed facility, has been outspoken in his opposition to the proposal.
“I want the people of Madison County to understand the significant risk that this company is posing to the Broad River,” said Martin. “Based on Pilgrim’s history of violations as well as that of the Brazillian-owned parent company, JBS, the totality of all that, the pleas, the settlements, the fines, I’m convinced that they cannot be trusted and that the Broad River and the entire river basin for that matter is at significant risk of pollution. It appears their business model is to exceed the limits, then if you get caught, pay the fine and file it as a miscellaneous expense. Once that occurs the ecological damage is done. We have one shot to stop this.”
The proposed plant will be on 109 acres off of Highway 320 near its intersection with I-85 just outside Carnesville.
Pilgrim’s officials say the plant will have 90 permanent employees, along with 100 construction and trade jobs during the development of the facility. The company said there will be an on-site water treatment plant “to meet Pilgrim’s high clean water standards and exceed state requirements.”
“This treatment includes the cleaning of process water and storm water that falls on hard surfaces outside,” stated a Pilgrim’s press release.
This water would then be released into the Broad River. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division would oversee that process, but the EPD said nothing has been filed so far with the proposal.
“We do not have any pending wastewater permit applications for a new Pilgrims Pride facility,” said EPD spokesperson Kevin Chambers.
Scott Deloizer, planning director for Franklin County, said the proposal includes a projected wastewater treatment load of up to 450,000 gallons a day.
Pilgrim’s also said the proposed building is “designed to be kept at negative pressure, containing odors in the facility.” The company said trucks will be covered and only unloaded inside the facility and cleaned before leaving.
“Following all necessary reviews and approvals from Franklin County and state officials, the plant built here will be truly state-of-the-art, ensuring that jobs and positive economic development are created in a way that safeguards and promotes the sustainable use of natural resources,” said Mark Glover, head of Pilgrim’s protein conversion division, in a press release.
Pilgrim’s Pride also said both process and stormwater will be a “model for high clean water standards.” An on-site lab will “test the cleaned and treated water to make sure the company meets the state’s clean water regulations.” The company also promises to contract with an independent lab to confirm it is meeting the state clean water requirements. The plant will receive an average of 2.5 trucks per hour and all trucks will be cleaned before exiting the facility. The water used to clean the trucks will be treated upon completion of the truck sanitation process.
A number of area leaders were quoted in a Pilgrim’s press release in February voicing support for the proposal in February.
“Pilgrim’s is an important anchor tenant in Georgia’s poultry and overall agribusiness industry,” said Gary Black, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture. “The proposed investment represents a long-term commitment to the community and the state.”
District 32 State House representative Alan Powell said: “It’s great news for Franklin County to see this type of investment that will provide quality, high-paying jobs in the area. The infrastructure needed to accommodate this growth will make us more attractive to future economic development opportunities.”
But a number of citizens in Franklin County don’t want the plant in the county. And a website has been set up in opposition of the plant, www.renderitworthless.com. That group is planning a community meeting at 3 p.m., Sunday, May 2 in the Franklin County High School Ag Center.
Local poultry farmers said the company didn’t live up to promises it made to them and their farms as an integrator. The Franklin County Citizen quoted Eric Segars in March detailing how a few years after signing to grow chickens for Pilgrim’s, the company started being late delivering feed.
“They’re going to do Franklin County the same way they did the growers,” Segars said.
Along those lines, four Madison County poultry farmers are currently suing Pilgrim’s Pride alleging that they were the victims of a scheme by Pilgrim’s Pride to force small, family chicken farms out of business, a claim the company denies. Meanwhile, the company was sentenced to pay a $107.9 million fine in February to settle federal charges it conspired to fix chicken prices and passed on the costs to consumers and other purchasers.
Martin says Pilgrim’s isn’t trustworthy and has shown that in Florida, where Environment Florida sued the company, alleging that Pilgrim’s had 1,377 days in violations since 2012 of the Clean Water Act at its poultry processing plant in Live Oak, Fla., with wastewater discharge into the Suwannee River that “exceeds pollution standards by as much as triple the legal limits.” Pilgrims settled with the environmental group, agreeing to make equipment upgrades, reduce discharges and pay $1.43 million, with $1.3 million going to improve soil, groundwater and surface water quality in the Suwannee Basin, and $130,000 going to the U.S. Treasury as a civil penalty.
“People in Madison County are downstream,” said Martin. “And it’s not right for us to pollute the river and for you guys to have to deal with the consequences.”
Pilgrim’s Pride still needs to rezone two tracts totaling 109 acres and receive a conditional use permit from the Franklin County commissioners to operate the facility. The Franklin County zoning board recommended denial of the Pilgrim’s request in March after opposition from a large crowd. Pilgrim’s subsequently withdrew its application. The Franklin BOC then met to put a moratorium on conditional use permits for industrial use, but Pilgrim’s resubmitted paperwork for the rendering plant four hours before the BOC’s moratorium vote, meaning the moratorium would not apply to their request.
Now, the Franklin planning commission will once again consider the Pilgrim’s project at its May 19 meeting, with the commissioners hearing the matter at their June 7 meeting.