ST. PAULS — The poultry company from Mississippi that is building a chicken processing plant in St. Pauls and a hatchery in Lumberton has no plans to build chicken barns in Robeson County, according to the company’s director of development and engineering.
“At this time that’s not planned,” Bob “Pic” Billingsley told The Robesonian on Wednesday. “Our chicken houses will be in the four or five counties in close proximity to Lenoir County, where our feed mill is located.”
Concerns about the proliferation of chicken barns was raised at a Sept. 17 public hearing held in St. Pauls to discuss Sanderson Farms’ plans for its $115 million chicken processing plant being built on N.C. 20 near Covington Farm Road, about four miles from St. Pauls. Sanderson Farms will also build a hatchery on N.C. 41, just east of Lumberton, that would cost about $18 milliion. Sanderson has plans to hire about 1,100 to 1,200 emplpyees.
The hearing, led by the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, was required for Sanderson Farms to get a permit to build a 1.4 million-gallon per day wastewater treatment plant and an irrigation system with 350 acres of spray fields at the site of the chicken plant.
Kemp Burdette, with Cape Fear River Watch, said during the hearing that it’s estimated the plant will require more than 500 new chicken barns to provide the 1.25 million chickens that will be slaughtered weekly at the plant.
Billingsley said that there will be 60 to 70 farms near the Kinston feed mill that Sanderson will contract with to raise chickens.
“These farms together will support upward of 575 houses,” he said.
According to Billingsley, it makes economic sense for the chicken barns to be located near the Kinston feed mill.
“Having to haul feed to our growers is one of our largest expenses,” he said. “We haul multiple times to our growers during the growing process, but we haul only one time when hauling (chickens) to the processing plant.
“In an ideal world, it’s best to locate chicken barns within 30 to 45 miles of a feed mill,” Billingsley said. “… We always stay in as close of a proximity as possible to our feed mills. With a business like ours, to remain competitive, we have to manage every penny.”
Christine Ellis, with the Winyah Rivers Foundation, called it “good news” for Robeson County and neighboring Cumberland County.
“With no new chicken barns, there won’t be additional chicken waste impacting the Lumber River,” Ellis said. “That’s definitely good news.”
Ellis, who raised environmental concerns at the Sept. 17 hearing, said Wednesday that she is still concerned about the potential for a lot of waste from the spray fields to seep into the Gum Branch and Black Branch swamps, both of which drain into the Big Marsh Swamp. Eventually, Ellis said, this waste will make its way into the Lumber River near Lumberton.
Ellis said that a full environmental impact study of the processing plant needs to be conducted. No detailed study has been done by the state, Robeson County or St. Pauls, she said.
“This should have been done before the project was approved,” Ellis said. “But it’s still not too late to get it done.”
The state is accepting comments by mail through Oct. 2 related to the permit discussed at the public hearing on Sept. 17. After Oct. 2, the Division of Water Quality will have 30 days to decide whether it will approve, deny or revise the permit.
Written comments can be sent to Nathaniel Thornburg, North Carolina Division of Water Resources, Non-Discharge Permitting Unit, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C., 27699-1617.
Information about the permit and a fact sheet on the project can be found at portal.ncdenr.org/web/wq/aps/lau.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.