Sanderson Farms’ recent decision to build its next chicken processing plant in Texas could help Nash County move past a contentious dispute that continued for more than two years.
“It’s time to move on,” said Nash County Commissioner J. Wayne Outlaw.
Nash County spent more than two years embroiled in a debate over an attempt to bring a Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant to Southern Nash County, near the intersection of N.C. 97 and Interstate 95.
Even after Sanderson Farms officials announced in November that the company was abandoning its plans to build in Nash County because of ongoing legal challenges, some residents who opposed the project said they still had concerns that company officials might change their minds.
Sanderson Farms officials announced this month that they have selected Palestine, Texas, as the location for the company’s next poultry complex. The facility will include a feed mill, hatchery, poultry processing plant and wastewater facility.
Joe F. Sanderson Jr., chairman and CEO of the company, said in a statement that construction will remain on hold until the company has “better visibility” on future prices and the availability of grain. Construction of the new facility also is subject to other contingencies, such as obtaining necessary permits and construction contracts and obtaining board approval for the project, according to a statement from Sanderson.
Outlaw said the best way to bring closure to the Sanderson Farms situation is to stop talking about it.
“I think there’s been quite enough said about it,” said Outlaw, who had opposed the plant coming to Nash County.
He said he would like for Nash County leaders to have discussions with representatives from Wilson, Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County about what can be done to help bring growth to the region.
“It’s time for us to start working together more cooperatively with all governmental entities in the region,” Outlaw said.
The news of Sanderson Farms’ decision provided some sense of relief to some local residents who opposed the chicken processing plant locating in Nash County.
Con Ward, co-chairman of the Nash County Landowners Association, said he is glad Sanderson Farms has moved on and decided to build its next chicken processing plant somewhere other than a watershed protected area.
The Nash County Landowners Association opposed the idea of a poultry plant coming to the county. Plant opponents raised a variety of concerns, including that the chicken plant and chicken houses to supply the plant would have caused property values to decline and would have had negative impacts on the environment.
Rather than focusing on the division that the Sanderson Farms project created, the county should now focus on attracting jobs that will benefit residents and the area, Ward said.
Anything the county does along the N.C. 97 corridor should be done with respect to the county’s neighbors to the south, Ward said.
“We need to be moving forward, and we need to move forward in a cooperative effort with Wilson,” he said.
Nash County Commissioner Robbie Davis said it is sad that the county lost the jobs that Sanderson Farms would have provided. Officials had said the chicken processing plant would have created more than 1,000 jobs. An opportunity like that doesn’t come around very often, Davis said.
He said he doesn’t think Sanderson Farms’ decision to build in Texas will provide much closure to people who opposed the chicken processing plant coming to Nash County.
County leaders remain committed to working to recruit jobs to the area, Davis said.
“This is not going to keep us from working every day just as hard as we’ve worked on (the Sanderson Farms project) or any other opportunity,” Davis said. “In fact, it really is going to force us to work even harder because we’ve got to bring new jobs to our area.”
The county owns the tract of land near N.C. 97 and Interstate 95 that would have been used for the chicken processing plant, but the land currently is tied up with ongoing litigation.
The city of Wilson and a group of landowners filed two lawsuits challenging the rezoning of the land. The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in Nash County’s favor, but Wilson and the landowners are seeking an opportunity to present their case to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Two Nash County landowners filed a separate lawsuit challenging the purchase of the land. An N.C. Superior Court judge ruled in the county’s favor, but the landowners filed an appeal with the N.C. Court of Appeals. They filed their appeal after Sanderson Farms announced it was not coming to Nash County.
Newly elected Commissioner Lisa Barnes, who campaigned against the processing plant, said in an email that it’s time to put the plant aside and look for other economic opportunities.
“After two-plus years of controversy, I’m glad to finally put the (Sanderson Farms) issue to rest,” she said. “Nash County commissioners have the perfect opportunity to exhibit incredible leadership skills in settling the pending lawsuits, developing the (land) and meeting with Wilson to move forward and grow our communities by working together.”
The decision by Sanderson Farms officials to build their next chicken processing plant in Texas has had no effect on the lawsuits, County Attorney Vince Durham said. He said the lawsuits and their appeals are continuing.
County Manager Bob Murphy said it will be difficult for the county to market that property while the lawsuits remain ongoing.