An environmental group last year named Sanderson Farms as the second worst water polluter in Texas.
Residents who oppose the company opening a plant in Southern Nash County point to the report as evidence that it has the potential to contaminate the area’s water supply.
“That is what we're afraid off — that all the true information has not gotten out,” said Bert Daniel, a Stanhope community resident who is opposed to the poultry production plant. “I think we are cutting ourselves short by not digging deeper and further into research.”
Nash County officials are trying to convince Sanderson Farms to open a poultry processing plant at the southeast quadrant of Interstate 95 and N.C. 97.
Company officials are considering piping water from the plant six miles west to a spray field, and building a hatchery at N.C. 58 and N.C. 97.
Using water discharge data supplied by the company to the Environmental Protection Agency, the nonprofit group Environment Texas reported a year ago that the chicken plant near Bryan, Texas, released about 1.2 million pounds of nitrate compounds into Cottonwood Branch creek in 2007.
Lisa Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, said the Sanderson Farms discharge was within the state’s permitted levels.
But Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said he would be concerned about water quality if Sanderson Farms was planning on opening up a poultry processing plant and spray field in a watershed.
The city of Wilson, which has sued Nash County over its approval of a rezoning that could allow the project, has alleged that the project is in its watershed.
“Sanderson Farms has a terrible track record here in Texas of polluting our waterways, and if they move into your neighborhood, I’d be concerned,” Metzger said.
In 2008, Sanderson Farms released more than 2 million pounds of nitrate compounds into Cottonwood Branch creek, which might have made it the top water polluter in the state, Metzger said. He said they have not done a formal analysis of the 2008 figures to determine if Sanderson Farms got the top ranking.
He said in Texas, most water permits are issued by the state.
“Over time, permits were supposed to be ratcheted down to zero (discharge),” he said. “They haven’t been ratcheted down. In some cases, (pollution discharges) were allowed to increase because business was a bigger priority for the state than protection of the environment.”
Bob Billingsley, the director of development for Sanderson Farms who flew to Nash County on Tuesday to meet with residents who have concerns about the project, noted that the discharge in Texas was within state permit levels, as would be the case with a plant built here.
In fact, he said the quality of the water discharged on the spray field off N.C. 97 would be of a better quality than the farmland there now.
He said groundwater samples of the company’s spray field that is being used for discharge of water from its Moultrie, Ga., plant show improved water quality, he said.
“We have significantly improved the characteristics of the groundwater on that site,” Billingsley said. “It would be the same (in Nash County).”
He said the state of Texas had no issues with that company’s water discharge.
The company designs its wastewater plants to treat water within permit limits for various states.
He said the permit limits for a spray field in Nash County would be more stringent than in Texas.
“It would be a totally different set of permit requirements,” he said. “(The water) will be very, very treated.”
If a poultry processing plant and spray field was built in Nash County, it would be highly regulated by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said department spokeswoman Susan Massengale.
The state requires constant monitoring of discharge on spray fields.
“I know we would not allow something to contaminate groundwater,” she said. “They are going to have permit requirements. We are going to require clean water to a certain level. We’d require them to have monitoring wells to ensure they are not going to contaminate groundwater.”
Sanderson Farms would be required to test the effluent on the spray field twice a week, she said.
“They are not allowed to have runoff from the fields where they do land application,” she said. “They are not allowed to have any waste go to surface waters.”