Sanderson abandons plans for chicken plant in Nash County

dranii@newsobserver.comNovember 13, 2012 

Nash County’s long-running quest to attract a new chicken processing plant has fallen victim to serial legal battles, a failure that in turn spells victory for the city of Wilson’s persistent efforts to derail the project.

Nash officials reluctantly concluded it couldn’t meet Sanderson Farms’ timetable for eliminating all obstacles to constructing a plant “due to lingering lawsuits and threats and predictions of other lawsuits,” County Commissioner Robbie B. Davis said.

Consequently, Sanderson, which is based in Mississippi, announced Tuesday that it was abandoning plans to build the plant in Nash and instead is looking elsewhere.

“We are of course very disappointed by the decision, but it is a business decision,” Davis said. “Nash County desperately needed those 1,100 jobs.”

The proposed plant, about an hour’s drive east from Raleigh, was beset by controversy for more than two years. Critics derided its touted economic benefits, saying it offered only low-paying “slaughterhouse jobs.” The environmental risk of waste runoff in the Neuse River Basin also became an issue.

“I just think there is so much misinformation,” County Commissioner Mary Wells said. “If people knew the truth they wouldn’t be against it. But it’s a done deal now, and we have to move on.”

Wilson Mayor C. Bruce Rose was pleased that the city’s mission was accomplished.

“We worked real hard on this thing,” he said. “Our main job is to keep our water clean and our community clean, and that is why we did what we did.”

Davis said Nash County’s setback was especially frustrating because Wilson has been losing the legal battles it picked.

“We’ve been to court with them four times, and we have won all four cases thus far, and we would win any future cases,” he said, “but quite frankly, it is just going to take too much time to do it.”

Rose countered, “Our purpose was to never give up.”

Mike Cockrell, Sanderson’s chief financial officer, referred questions about the abandonment to local officials.

“It’s a joint decision,” he said. “We have been talking with the folks in Nash County for many years. We consulted with each other to make this decision.”

Cockrell declined to discuss what other sites the company is exploring for a new plant.

Sanderson previously announced that construction of a new processing plant was on hold because of the high price of corn and soybeans, the main ingredients in chicken feed. Nevertheless, Davis said the company was keen to line up a site where it could proceed immediately once conditions improve, given the approximately 16-month lag time between giving the project a green light and it being ready to start operating.

“They’ve got to have a site sitting and permitted, ready for them to begin when that time comes,” Davis said. “We couldn’t guarantee Sanderson when they could build. That’s the trouble.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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