Nashville, N.C. — The Nash County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 Monday to support a proposed chicken processing plant that has created a bitter battle over the economy and the environment.
Although Sanderson Farms hasn't yet committed to building its next North Carolina plant in Nash County, the company purchased 26 acres in December near the intersection of N.C. Highways 97 and 58, a few miles north of the Nash-Wilson county line.
Supporters say the plant would create more than 1,000 jobs in an area where the unemployment rate was 11.4 percent in December.
"I think we all realize the need for jobs in the area. I think this whole issue has gotten very emotional, but we do need jobs here and we have the workforce to staff it," said Frank Harrison, chairman of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, an economic development agency for Nash and Edgecombe counties.
Rocky Mount City Councilman Andre Knight spoke in favor of the plant during a public hearing the commissioners held before voting on the resolution.
"I believe anytime a man or woman can get up in the morning and go to work and punch a clock, that's a decent job, that's an honest job," Knight said.
Opponents said, however, that the county risks contaminating area water supplies and creating an environmental hazard by allowing the plant to open.
"A million chickens don't belong in any location," resident Lois Ridgeway told commissioners.
Wilson has sued to block the proposed plant, alleging that it could threaten the city's drinking water supply.
The mayors of several area towns plan to meet next week to discuss possible legislation to prevent Sanderson Farms for locating in Nash County.
"We have great concerns and are appalled there is no concern for the quality of life for our citizens," Sims Mayor Dana Hewett said. "We understand that water supplies could be affected all the way to the coast if Sanderson Farms locates in Nash County."