The Wilson Times



Saturday, January 19, 2013 12:31 AM

Sanderson Farms sends Nash County $1 million

By Jon Jimison | Times Editor

Sanderson Farms has sent a reimbursement check to Nash County government for $1,000,389.22, officials announced Friday.

The money is intended as compensation for costs incurred in attempts to located a chicken processing facility in Nash County, officials said.

The reimbursement was received in a letter from Bob Billingsley, director of development and engineering for Sanderson Farms.

The money is intended to replenish Nash County and Carolinas Gateway Partnership funds used for legal and consulting fees to lure the new industry, attempts that were ultimately unsuccessful.

Sanderson Farms officials announced in November their decision to abandon plans to open a large-scale chicken processing plant in Nash County on N.C. 97 just north of the Wilson County line.

Bob Billingsley, Sanderson’s director of development, has said the company’s decision was related to the ongoing legal challenges that did not allow Nash County leaders to meet Sanderson’s project schedule without the possibility of delay.

"Being reimbursed for our legal fees and other project costs was not the outcome we had hoped for,” Nash County Commissioner Robbie Davis said in a written statement. "However, it makes the bitter pill of having lost the plant easier to swallow. This gesture is just another example of what a great company Sanderson Farms is and what an exemplary corporate citizen they would have been in Nash County.”

The city of Wilson had previously launched several lawsuits directed toward the Sanderson project due to concerns about area water supplies. City leaders joined with residents opposed to the plant who lived near the proposed site.

The Sanderson Farms project — more than two years in the making — has been embroiled in controversy because of health, environment and quality-of-life concerns but equally supported by Nash-area officials due to the economic boost the project could bring to the region.

"This reimbursement is great news for Nash County taxpayers,” Frank Harrison, chairman of the board for the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, said in a statement. "But it pales in comparison to the benefits that the actual Sanderson plant could have provided not just for Nash County, but for our entire region.”

Wilson Mayor Pro-Tem James Johnson III said he’s happy some of the taxpayers are being reimbursed.

"Our concern all along was the water,” Johnson said.

The city was particularly concerned about the unregulated proliferation of factory chicken farms and the waste they would produce, Johnson said.

"Hopefully our state will step up to the plate and other cities won’t have to suffer a loss like the city of Wilson has money-wise,” Johnson added.

Sanderson officials have walked a fine line trying to balance company interests in expanding the corporation while keeping distance from local concerns. The project has been surrounded by three lawsuits, all designed to challenge the Sanderson project. And even though Nash County has won each lawsuit, Sanderson officials still made a decision to pull out.

Two prominent farmers had also sued, asking the courts to make Nash County’s purchase of 145 acres for the project void because the county bought the land without holding a public hearing.

The planned 185,000-square-foot processing plant was promised to create 1,100 jobs and a company investment of $95 million. Project supporters touted the significant economic impact of the project for a region suffering from chronic double-digit unemployment.

Mike Cockrell, Sanderson’s chief financial officer, did not say where the company would seek to locate its next plant.

Sanderson Farms has previously considered other areas of the state, including Wayne County, where an incentive draft was prepared but later removed when the company decided in 2011 to put the project on hold. The majority of the company’s work has been in Nash County where tests have been performed on the proposed plant site on N.C. 97 and property purchased for a hatchery.




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