Rocky Mount, N.C. — Sanderson Farms Inc. announced Tuesday that it has selected Nash County as the "site of a future new poultry complex" near Rocky Mount. The news angered a local landowners association, which accused the company of making a backroom deal.
The Nash County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 in March to support the proposed chicken processing plant that has created a bitter battle over the economy and the environment.
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.
"Construction of the Nash County (chicken plant) facilities remains subject to other contingencies, such as obtaining the land on which the processing plant will be built, obtaining the necessary permits to construct and operate the facilities and obtaining acceptable economic incentive permits from the State of North Carolina and the local government," Sanderson Farms said in a statement.
Supporters say the plant would create more than 1,000 jobs in an area where the unemployment rate was 12.4 percent in July. Opponents say that the county risks contaminating area water supplies and creating an environmental hazard by allowing the plant to open.
"Sanderson Farms announcement just confirms the worst kept secret in town. This project was already a done deal made in backrooms before the public knew about it," the Nash County Landowners Association said in a statement. "They only started pretending it was not a done deal after the lawsuit was filed, but Nash County citizens are not fooled."
The City of Wilson sued to block the proposed plant, alleging that it could threaten the city's drinking water supply.
In an Aug. 23 letter to Gov. Bev Perdue, Wilson Mayor C. Bruce Rose compared the city's fight against the chicken plant to the governor's fight against fracking.
"(Gov. Perdue), you said, 'Our drinking water and the health and safety of North Carolina's families are too important; we can't put them in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards,'" Rose wrote. "I agree with you most of the time but never have I agreed with you more. In fact, if you remove the word fracking and insert massive chicken growing operations, your quote is almost identical to several of my own."
Perdue responded and asked both sides to "resolve their differences in a way that grows and protects jobs" in Nash and Wilson counties. "It is important in the current economic environment for us to be growing jobs – but it is also important to be sensitive to the concerns of existing industries," she said.
Wilson City Attorney Jim Cauley released a statement Tuesday, saying that "it would be improper to make any comments at this time regarding the (chicken plant) announcement" since they are in the middle of a mediation process.