Meat plant proposed in Port Arthur; EDC considering concerns over untested technology

Published 9:53 am Friday, March 11, 2016

Representatives of proposed meat processing facility wanting to build a state-of-the-art facility in Port Arthur haven’t quite sold city officials on the idea of slaughtering cows, sheep and goats at the city’s recently expanded business park.

Nor, have they assuaged the fears of some who think the project just doesn’t smell quite right.

“Some people have expressed concerns that there will be a stench in the neighborhood,” Langston Adams, secretary for the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation, said.

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Adams chaired a Port Arthur EDC meeting Monday night when Hani Tohme, with Riceland Farms, Inc., made a presentation to the board.

Riceland Farms would be a new company for the Rice Company in Beaumont. The company also owns Riceland Hospital in Winnie and Beaumont, and wants to branch out into the meat processing business.

“It is a new technology completely different from what others are using in the U.S.,” Tohme said.

The biggest difference is the way animals are slaughtered.

Where most meat processing facilities shackle the animal’s hind leg, then use a crane and pick it up and hang it upside down to slaughter, this facility takes another approach, Hani said.

“At this facility the cow walks inside a mechanical box. The box tightens up on the animal and slips it on its side, then they do not know what is coming,” Hani said. “It is quick, stable and steady and very clean. The other animals do no see it.”

Hani said every aspect of the animal would be processed. What is not sold for human consumption will be used in other products such as feed for dogs and cats, or manure.

Hani said processing the entire animal would also reduce the amount of smell and waste as well as the amount of discharge into the sewer system.

Animals brought to the meat processing plant will be held in indoor pens, and will be slaughtered that same day.

About 80 head of cattle, and 1,000 sheep/goats would be processed per shift. The company plans to start with one shift before adding a second shift.

The facility would be at the rear of the business park on 10 acres recently purchased by the PAEDC off of FM 365 at Jade Avenue.

Though the tract is part of 140 acres recently purchased for future of expansion of the business park, Adams said he is not at all sure this is the right type project for Port Arthur, let alone the business park.

“I’ve got to say at least I was informed about the methods that they would use to slaughter the animals, but the ultimate question to be answered was to what degree will that facility create a nuisance affecting tenants in the business park and surrounding area,” Adams said.

That question, he said, was not answered satisfactorily.

“In the presentation they said the technology would be odor controlling. Well, you can control an odor, but still have an odor,” Adams said. “To my knowledge I am not aware of any business in the business park that wants it. I have not had one call with support.”

At Monday’s meeting several people spoke their concerns — mostly against, though former State Representative Nick Lampson, who has an interest project, voiced his support.

“Nick Lampson is not a Port Arthur resident, and when he spoke, he identified himself as an investor,” Adams said.

Once the facility is fully operational, it will bring an anticipated 230 jobs to the city and payroll the first year between $1.5 million and $1.8 million.

The company plans to partner with Lamar State College-Port Arthur to offer training to the workers.

The facility would also create spin-off jobs such as truck drivers, ranchers, packing materials workers, etc.

Monday was not the first presentation Tohme made to the EDC board concerning the proposed meat processing facility. In January, he first pitched the company’s plans.

At that meeting, he said the company planned to employ the Halal method of slaughtering animals. Halal refers to religiously acceptable products and food according to the Muslim faith. The method requires certain rules be respected during the slaughter of animals, and that Muslims perform the slaughter.

Tohme said in keeping with Halal, the facility would have three Muslim employees that would be on site to slaughter the animals.

“The processing part would be done by other employees no matter what their religion,” he said.

The Halal slaughter practice was one of the concerns voiced in Winnie going on a year ago when Riceland was contemplating building there.

According to an Aug 27, 2015, article published by the Hometown Press, Riceland Farms planned to build in Winnie at a 500-acre site on Jenkins Road.

At the January PAEDC meeting, Tohme said the company decided not to build there.

“We saw discrimination, so we chose to move to a place where the people know us,” he said.

The people in Winnie worried about the smell and odor, but their worries were unfounded.

“We had not built the facility yet, so it was all in their minds,” he said.

Meat processing facilities are strictly monitored by numerous agencies including Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the PAEDC itself.

“The EDC will have the capability to say hey, you are, or you are not abiding by these rules and regulations, “ he said.

The facility would not require an air quality permit from TCEQ because it does not produce any air pollution.

Right now, the company is looking at purchasing the land for a price of about $350,000.

The EDC has not yet made a decision whether to sell the property to the company, or to decide the project is not right for Port Arthur.

Adams said the EDC should reflect more on the proposal, on both the economic and environmental impact.

“We were told that this state-of-the-art technology does not exist anywhere in the U.S. So, are they asking Port Arthur to be the testing program? It is almost like we would be the pilot program,” Adams said.


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