Plant where worker killed in ammonia leak to expand

Posted April 15, 2010 1:25 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2010 6:16 p.m. EDT

Mountaire Farms Inc. processing plant

— A chicken processing plant in Robeson County where a worker died last year in an ammonia leak will expand, officials announced Thursday.

Mountaire Farms Inc. will invest $17.9 million and create 51 jobs in the next three years by adding cold freezer storage space at its Lumber Bridge operation.

The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of $27,553, plus benefits. The average annual wage in Robeson County is $25,948, officials said.

Mountaire has qualified for a $150,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund, which provides financial assistance to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create jobs. Companies must meet job creation and investment performance standards to obtain the money.

Last June, a high-pressure ammonia line ruptured in the plant, forcing up to 40 workers to evacuate the building, authorities said. Mechanic Clifton Swain, 49, of Fayetteville, died in the incident, and four other workers were injured.

The state Department of Labor fined Mountaire $73, 325 for various workplace safety violations, and the state Division of Air Quality fined the company $27,410 for improper handling of hazardous materials that led to the ammonia release.

Katherine Neal, spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, said both fines are still under appeal, and the One North Carolina Fund grant will stipulate that the company cannot receive any funds if it is found culpable in the ammonia release.

Mountaire employs more than 2,400 workers in North Carolina, including operations in Chatham, Iredell, Montgomery, Robeson and Stanly counties.