Residents sue Nash County over chicken plant

Posted September 25, 2012 6:19 p.m. EDT

— Two Nash County residents filed suit Tuesday against the county and chicken processor Sanderson Farms Inc., alleging that they improperly used a secret deal to bring a chicken plant to the area.

Sanderson Farms announced last month that it would build a "poultry complex" on 26 acres the company bought in December near the intersection of N.C. Highways 97 and 58, a few miles north of the Nash-Wilson county line.

A year before that, residents Carson Barnes and Clay Strickland allege in their lawsuit, the Nash County Board of Commissioners voted to spend $1.2 million to buy the property to lure Sanderson to the area. The men claim that no notice was given before the vote and no public hearing was held, which violates state law.

“Governmental bodies should conduct the people’s business with transparency and openness,” Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer representing the men, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this deal appears to have been made in a back room, and then pushed through without the required public notice and public hearing.”

The chicken plant has created a bitter battle over the economy and the environment.

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.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop Sanderson from developing the site and a court order voiding the company's title to the property.

The City of Wilson also has sued to block the proposed plant, alleging that it could threaten the city's drinking water supply.