ST. PAULS — Sanderson Farms representatives met with state officials recently to discuss charges that the company violated environmental law by beginning construction of a wastewater processing facility before a proper permit was issued by the Division of Water Resources.
The meeting took place at the site of the propose plant, off N.C. 20, near St. Pauls.
Bob “Pic” Billingsley, director of development and engineering for Sanderson Farms, says that no construction on wastewater treatment infrastructure had been taking place. Instead, he said, some dirt was moved from a bar pit in the general area of where wastewater lagoons will be located and transported to where the pad for the plant has to be raised 11 feet.
Billingsley said Thursday that since being cited by the state, no dirt has been removed in the area of the proposed lagoons. Dirt, however, was being mined from a second bar pit on the property, but that has been interrupted by weather.
“Currently, with all of the rain, all work on the property has stopped,” he said.
Billingsley said Tuesday’s meeting with state officials was “good.”
“They are doing their job,” he said. “They are being very thorough”.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality last week cited the company and ordered that it stop any construction related to wastewater infrastructure or face fines. The state’s violation notice requested that the company provide an explanation for the violation within 10 days. Information will be reviewed before the agency determines whether to issue a civil penalty.
Billingsley said that Sanderson Farms must now follow up Tuesday’s on-site inspection with a written response.
“No permit has yet been issued,” Billingsley said. “We now have to wait for the state’s response.”
During a hearing held by the state Sept. 17 in St. Pauls to gather public input about Sanderson’s request for a non-discharge, land application permit, several people raised concerns that the company had already started construction on the chicken processing plant that will cost an estimated $115 million to build.
State Division of Water Resources staff inspected the site the next day and documented excavation activities taking place near the proposed wastewater treatment infrastructure, which include lagoons and basins for holding and treating wastewater.
“The permit is in draft form and has not been issued,” Sarah Young, a spokesperson with the Division of Water Quality, said Thursday. “Once the hearing officer has had a chance to review all of the comments he will make a recommendation to the division director, who will make the final determination.”
Young said that public comments on the project are being accepted through today.
The violation notice can be viewed at http://www.ncwater.org/files/novs/NOV2015CV0007SANDERSON_FARMS.pdf. The draft wastewater irrigation permit and a fact sheet are also available online at: http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/wq/aps/lau.
Sanderson Farms plans to build a plant that would process 1.25 million chickens a week while employing more than 1,000 people. In addition, the company plans on building an $18 million hatchery on N.C. 41 just east of Lumberton. It would employ about 75 people making an average of $40,000 to $45,000 a year.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.