State cites Sanderson, halts work

By: Bob Shiles

ST. PAULS — Sanderson Farms was cited Friday by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and told to stop some work where a chicken-processing plant is planned on N.C. 20, but a company official denies wrongdoing.

The state say that the Mississippi-based company violated a state environmental law by beginning construction on the plant’s wastewater processing facility before a non-discharge land application permit was issued by the Division of Water Resources. According to the notice, Sanderson farms must stop any construction related to wastewater infrastructure or face fines.

“Construction of the wastewater facility is not allowed until a non-discharge, land application permit has been issued,” Jay Zimmerman, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, said in a statement. “We take this action very seriously and appreciate the information we received from concerned residents during the public hearing process.”

The state’s violation notice requests that Sanderson Farms provide an explanation for the violation within 10 days. The information the company provides will be reviewed and considered by division staff before the agency determines whether to issue a civil penalty.

Bob “Pic” Billingsley, director of development and engineering for Sanderson Farms, told The Robesonian on Friday that there is no construction taking place on wastewater treatment infrastructure.

“What is being being done is that some dirt is being mined from a bar pit that is in the general area of where wastewater lagoons will be located,” he said. “The dirt is being moved to where the elevation of the building pad for the plant has to be raised 11 feet. We are not doing any construction on the plant or the wastewater treatment infrastructure.”

Billingsley said that since the issue was raised by the state, dirt is no longer being moved from the pit in question. Instead, dirt is being moved from a second bar pit located on Sanderson’s property.

“This is just a procedural issue with DENR,” Billingsley said. “We will be meeting with DENR next week.”

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 regional staff inspected the site Sept. 18 and documented excavation activities taking place near the proposed wastewater treatment infrastructure, which include lagoons and basins for holding and treating wastewater.

Christine Ellis, of the Winyah Rivers Foundation and a speaker at the St. Pauls hearing, told The Robesonian on Friday that she was glad to see that the state is requiring Sanderson Farms to stop any construction on the site until all permits for the project are issued.

“My opinion is that nothing should proceed prior to any decision being made by the Division of Water Resources, ” Ellis said. “… Now we are relying on DENR to assess the environmental consequences of the plant and ancillary structures, including the 500 chicken houses that will be needed to support the facility.”

The violation notice can be viewed at The draft wastewater irrigation permit and a fact sheet are also available online at:

The application and additional information about the project are available for public inspection at the division’s Raleigh headquarters at 512 N. Salisbury St., and at the division’s Fayetteville Regional Office at 225 Green St., Suite 714.

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 that would basically be the local corporate headquarters for the company, in addition to being the hatchery. It would employ about 75 people making an average of $40,000 to $45,000 a year.

Sanderson Farms officials said last week they do not expect new chicken barns in Robeson County to support the plant, saying they expected those barns would huddle around a feed mill the company runs in Kinston.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Company denies any wrongdoing

Bob Shiles