Sitting on the Sanderson Farms “fence”. Also: aerial photography of proposed site location (interesting findings)

Rocky Mount NC—After spending about two months keeping my mouth shut over the Nash County chicken processing plant that may (or may not) be built along Hwy 97, I checked into a few issues relevant to Sanderson Farms and the issue of possible waste water contamination.  My findings are below, so read on.

Also, I took some aerial shots of the location of the proposed site and surrounding areas to give readers an idea of what we’re really talking about when it comes to watershed runoff and property tax values.  When you see it from the air it certainly gives you a different outlook into what’s going on…in this case a picture is worth a thousand words.

Dave Perkins, of Jammin’ 99.3, asked me a few weeks ago where I stood on the chicken processing plant issue; I told him I really hadn’t decided one way or the other, but I did have a lot of respect for county commissioner Robbie Davis.  Politically, Robbie and I don’t have very much in common, but I’ve found him to be a “critical thinker” and he actually does weigh the good and bad of issues before he makes a decision.  I can’t say that about “all” of the county commissioners: some have a tendency to run their mouth just to hear themselves talk (in my opinion).

I can say, after several months of researching this issue, that it’s very convoluted and different people will tell you different things, depending on their job, their responsibilities, and  (well, let’s go ahead and say it) hidden agendas and biases based on political factors from North Carolina “movers and shakers”.

I can say that I’m a firm believer that the Nash county commissioners have been under pressure to get “something” started in Nash county.  I’ve been told from too many credible sources that the local economy is terrible, maybe even on a “tipping point”.  Time may be running out to salvage the hopes of a viable local economy and cash flow sufficient to sustain a population this size.

So, in walks Sanderson Farms.

Sanderson Farms didn’t just throw a dart at a map and pick Nash county.  Their business operational process is to look for distressed communities such as Nash and to pick the most viable options based on  a combination of factors including: cheap land, ease of major highway access, state and local incentives, abundant cheap labor and (in my opinion probably the most important) the ability of local community leaders to create a political “path of least resistance”.

The “path of least resistance” stopped at the Wilson county line, now Sanderson Farms is postponing the March build based on “rezoning” issues and “adjacent county” concerns.

The Wilson Issue:

I think Wilson, including community leaders and residence, have every right to be ticked off.  Both Nash and Wilson officials will tell you off the record, that Wilson was kept out of the loop of Sanderson Farms developments.  Some local property owners will tell you a similar story.  A local Nash county resident told me that, in the beginning, he saw the mandatory posted signs regarding the development, but they were so far off the road he couldn’t read them and, in fact, didn’t pay much attention until it was too late.  Less than a mile from his house, a Wilson county resident told me the the same story, but added that he didn’t build a 247K house to smell chicken shit all night and day.

The property tax values for the local residents of both Nash and Wilson counties may also be going from chicken salad to chicken shit.  Check out this blog entry that tells of a research group projecting at least a 6.6% decline in housing values across the board.  The site also has a petition you can sign asking Nash county to “Say No” to the  “factory pollution”. 


So, after reading as much as possible and trying to ask intelligent questions to the “powers that be” I was still on the fence about the chicken processing plant.  In my mind’s eye, I was still thinking: “what the hell is wrong with a $165M plant coming to town that will employee 1,100 people?”

A plane ride that cleared my head!

Below are some aerial shots taken of two things: where the processing plant will go and the proximity of Tar River to the actual site location.  When you see it with your own eyes from up in the air you really get a first hand idea of how closely this plant will affect the lives of everyone living here.

Sanderson Farms Site Location 1Sanderson Farms Site Location 2Sanderson Farms Site Location 3

The top pic is a road frontage view of the location of the plant, the bottom 2 pics are just above the proposed site which is the beginning of the reservoir basin.  From the air, you can clearly see both and realize just how close our drinking water is to the site and the spray fields.

Sanderson Farms Site Location 4

This wide angle shot shows only some of the homes that will be directly impacted by the decision to build the plant at the current location.  There are literally hundreds of homes along this waterfront.

In the end, it comes down to who you believe and to what extent you believe them.  Will Sanderson Farms “really” employ 1100 people (or 1500 as one article reported) ?  In my opinion, probably not.  After reading of their other sites and the projections based on their growth in the past, I think Sanderson overstates the actual numbers, at least in the beginning.  If we end up with 800 people employed at an average of $8.50/hour, we’ll be doing better than most others.

Will the Sanderson plant sustain our local economy through an increased tax base?  Even without looking at the final incentive package, I doubt it.  I base this opinion on my research of other plants and it’s impact on the local economies.

The “BIG” question is: will the Sanderson plant reek havoc on our local ecological system?  If you ask some Texas water officials, off the record, they’ll tell you probably so, given the fact that North Carolina is one of the least regulated poultry states in the country.  The problem will be that we won’t know until it’s too late and it’ll take millions to clean up when we finally realize it’s a problem.

So, the final question is: is the whole thing worth doing?  In my opinion, no.  I think Wilson as well as Nash has too much to lose in this deal and the home values of residents living around the area will certainly fall like a rock as it has with other plants in other states.  The eco system is my biggest concern because we all drink (in essence) from the same water source.  There are too many unanswered questions and no one from the State seems to be “really sure” exactly who’s in charge of what and to what extent each agency’s responsibility begins and ends.

This surely isn’t the best we can do…is it?  

About George Fisher

George is a freelance writer, an author and a Democratic political consultant. He has worked as Deputy Communications Director for a Senatorial campaign and Campaign Manager for several NC House races and one congressional race. He previously worked as a news producer for a local television station.
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5 Responses to Sitting on the Sanderson Farms “fence”. Also: aerial photography of proposed site location (interesting findings)

  1. Pam says:

    Nash Count Resident Pam and AGAINST the SANDERSON FARMS chicken mafia! I am totally impressed that someone has taken a stand for the PEOPLE of Southern Nash County. OUR WATER is the most IMPORTANT thing we have. Don’t let an industry in our neighborhoods that will do harm TO our quality of LIFE! I have been touting that the regulations for poultry farms in ILO’s are lax in North Carolina. I am glad you wrote it in this forum. Thank you!

  2. Keith says:

    You think these pictures are damaging to the water supply in Rocky Mount. Go to mapquest and look at the satellite view of what they built next to the Tar river at Old Bailey Hwy first path on right after bridge. Old Bailey Highway is the next road you will come to after leaving I-95 and going west on Hwy. 97 . Also looks like plenty of room for other growth. If these are chicken houses , how many more will be built next to the TAR RIVER or the local ditches and creeks that connect to the Tar.

  3. Kathy says:

    The Landowners’ tried to get help from Governor Purdue, but she’s more interested in announcing the 1100 jobs and doesn’t care if we have clean water. This could impact the water supply for 100k people and Nash County leaders continue on this path of destruction. It will be too late, when our water becomes unfit to drink. Where will we get water from, Wilson? Remember the drought of 2007?

  4. Martha Lamm says:

    Has anyone really thought about carpel tunnel syndrome and when we all have to pay for health issues concerning this viable issue.

  5. Martha Lamm says:

    Zoning in Nash county has ignored the residents concerns and the exact way their voting, changes,
    our living conditions.

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