By Charlotte Smith
The Town of Bladenboro town council held an administrative hearing on Tuesday, December 11, for water usage issues with the local Carroll Poultry, LLC. Members in the audience left upset after requests to be heard were denied by Bladenboro Mayor Rufus Duckworth.
Carroll Poultry operates a Muslim Orthodox Halal poultry processing plant. The Halal method of killing the poultry and preparing it for processing has to meet the standards of the Halal tradition by offering a blessing over the birds after they are killed. The company must also pass the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspections.
The processing part of the local business has more obstacles to face than adhering to religious and government guidelines. The amount of water needed for the poultry plant to process the meat may sink the business. The town’s water discharge permit from the state of North Carolina will not allow as much water processing as the company needs, according to Mayor Duckworth.
To add to the situation’s dilemma, another local business owner in Bladenboro, Bricklyn Rooks, owner of Southern Bell Organics, told council members back in August 2018 about a new company interested in opening another poultry operation in the industrial park. Rooks went to the October Bladenboro Town Board meeting proposing the town allow another poultry operation to locate in the town’s industrial park. Rooks told the board again the new company is willing to make a “pretty good deal,” estimating the creation of at least 70 jobs and more local economic growth.
“I’m just trying to get an idea of what you (the board) are thinking. Last time you met you were waiting to see what Carroll (Poultry) was going to do,” said Rooks at the October meeting.
The town board made the decision to revoke Carroll Poultry’s wastewater permit at an October board meeting, but made no decision on Rooks’ request for the proposed new business.
When asked about the new (unnamed) poultry processing company and whether or not the board will grant the new business a permit after the October meeting, Mayor Duckworth said, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
A certified letter was sent from the Town of Bladenboro to Carroll’s Poultry notifying them of the termination of their wastewater permit in November, according to Melanie Hester, who was acting as Interm Town Administrator at the time. The Bladenboro Town Board hearing on December 11 started with Mayor Duckworth referencing a binder of evidence with flow meters and fines against the poultry operation.
Attorney Matt Dixon took the floor on behalf of his clients, owners of Carroll Poultry, LLC. Dixon started his argument stating the millions of dollars the company has invested with the business in the town since 2013 and future plans of continued investments.
Dixon commented on a presentation given by business owner Bricklyn Rooks’ with a proposition about adding a new competing poultry plant in the industrial park.
Dixon said, “From what I can tell Carroll Poultry’s permit has to be revoked before this new crowd can move in. After hearing from Rooks and listening to his presentation about this new company wanting to move into the industrial park… this board voted to revoke Carroll Poultry’s discharge permit. After that meeting a letter was sent about the discharge permit being revoked to Carroll Poultry and Carroll Poultry requested this hearing in response to that letter.”
There are three reasons for termination of Carroll Poultry’s waste water permit Dixon explained. “Not listed is to make room for another poultry business,” Dixon said. “All the prior violations have been punished by with fines as I have pointed out,” he continued. “They haven’t been opened recently, so it couldn’t be because of anything they have done recently.”
Dixon told the board the company has been working hard on a way to resolve their wastewater management. He introduced an engineer, Sam Nobles, who is working with Carroll Poultry to address the wastewater issues. The engineer presented plans and drawings to construct a 450,000 gallon tank to hold water to allow the company to stay within the permit limits with the town.
“That will hold about three days worth, then what are you going to do?” Town Commissioner, Rodney Hester asked.
The Manager of Carroll Poultry, Hera Khan, stood up and explained the plan is to cut production days from four days a week to two days a week.
Hester and Town Commissioner Sara Benson both made statements alluding to Carroll Poultry representatives not being truthful when communicating with the town, but gave no references with specific details.
Mayor Duckworth made remarks about the board’s disappointment with the company when there was a hearing held on July 16, 2018, at the request of Carroll Poultry and no company representative attended the scheduled meeting.
Khan explained issues from his view point. He explained to the board about conversations he had with the former Town Administrator, John O’Daniel and Melanie Hester with the town about payment of the fines and meetings. Khan added he did not receive mailed information about the fines and had to request an email be sent with the information.
Khan told the board O’Daniel was aware no one from his company would be able to make the hearing back in July before the meeting was held. He added O’Daniel told him he would have payment arrangements made for all of the company’s fines. However, Mayor Duckworth said the board decided at the hearing in July to not allow any more payment plans for the company since there were no company representatives at the meeting in July.
Khan agreed with the board about issues in communication. The manager told the board he received fines in June, but the company was not in operation in June, so he didn’t understand why he was charged.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble with reports being turned in on a timely manner, too,” Duckworth stated.
Dixon made a rebuttal. A firm will handle the paperwork for the company now and communication between the town’s attorney, Alan Maynard, and Dixon should alleviate any communication issues.
Mayor Duckworth asked the board if they had any more questions with slight murmurers, the mayor asked if Khan had anything further to add? Khan replied no. Duckworth closed the hearing. In the audience there were about eight employees from the poultry plant raising their hands and starting to speak.
A local business owner, Douglas Lacy, said in a loud voice, “Do we get a chance to say something?”
“No. The hearing is over.” Duckworth stated as he started to adjust his chair. “We will put you on the agenda for the January meeting,” Duckworth stated while looking at Khan and Dixon.
Just after the meeting some of the employees and other poultry plant supporters gathered outside the Town Hall doors.
“It’s not fair they didn’t allow us to speak. What about business owners and the employment opportunities they offer our community, Lacy said outside.
Khan and Carroll Poultry CEO, Gulzar Khan standing outside said they employee 70 people.
“Seventy employees with families!” Israel Lennon echoed. “They also allow convicted felons another chance by offering jobs to them,” he added.
Erica Lewis, a supervisor at the poultry plant said, “It would be different if it were their children’s jobs on the line.”
Khan said O’Daniel and Hester both told him he would be able to make payments on the fines. “I guess I should have gotten that in writing,” Khan said.
Rooks reported after yesterday’s meeting, he has been waiting for months on the town board to decide if the new poultry operation can set up shop in the industrial park. He added, the new company is still interested in the Bladenboro location. Rooks did not attend the Bladenboro hearing last evening.
Bladen County Economic Development Director Chuck Heustess was not present at the meetings in October, November or December. However, Heustess said in October the Carroll Poultry plant has been idle for several months while the owners work to find a solution to the wastewater issue. He added the company miscalculated the volume of wastewater the plant would generate when they initially applied for their permit from the town.