PA Council upholds EDC ban on slaughterhouse

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2016




By a vote of 6-1 Port Arthur City Council members bowed to the concerns of residents hoping to stop a Beaumont company from building a meat processing plant in the city’s new business park.

About 250 people mainly from the Port Acres Community filled Council Chambers and spilled out into outside rooms with the intent of making their voices heard.

Twenty-seven people signed up to speak before council with the majority detailing reasons why what they called a slaughterhouse should not be built so close to their neighborhood.

“From our house we will be able to see the facility” Vicky Seen, of Port Acres, said. “I was raised on a farm and believe me, there is an odor.”

One-by-one opponents of the facility raised concerns that a slaughterhouse would not only produce a foul stench, but had would likely overload and possibly contaminate the city’s wastewater system along with the air.

“The wastewater that is going to come from this plant is going to wreck havoc on our system,” Tami Carlos, of Port Acres, said.

Some opponents of the facility said they feared a slaughterhouse built on the new business park acreage would not fit in with existing tenants, and would scare new ones away.

“Our local economy is based on the oil industry. Most, if not all of the business park tenants are also oil industry based,” Jerry Norris, Port Acres resident, said. “The compatibility of a slaughterhouse to the current tenants is for from what is currently occupying the business park at this time.”

The $12 an hour starting salary for the estimated 100 or so jobs at start-up was not enough to pay someone to kill animals all day long, the citizens said.

“We want business here. We are not here saying we do not want jobs — we want the right kind of jobs,” Keren Arlege, of Port Acres said, adding that she was unemployed herself.

Arlege presented petition against the slaughterhouse to Council. The petition contained 1,136 signatures opposing the facility — all gathered in a five-day period.

The crowd wanted to know what would happen to waste when the trucks bring animals for slaughter waited in line.

“We do not want to hear it, see it or smell it,” Delissa Fawvor, said.

Before a group of businessmen associated with Riceland Farms, the company proposing to bring the $7 million project to Port Arthur, made their presentation, supporters of the facility voiced concerns that the city would be losing out on much-needed jobs.

“It appears to be a safe project,” Kelvin Cormier Sr., of Port Arthur, said. “It appears to be a safe project, and we need to be concerned with the future of Port Arthur. We need jobs.”

Thurman Bartie said he was in support of the facility.

For a very long time, in a city with 70 percent people of African American descent, the city’s unemployment rate has been high, he said.

“Don’t’ make a decision based on fear or unmitigated or unfounded circumstances,” Bartie said.

The company already has several successful businesses in the area, and employees local citizens, he said.

“The odor, water situation, all this stuff, with the new technology this will not be a problem,” he said while noting that industry could not employee everyone.

The Rev. Leo Lane Sr., pastor of Morning Chapter Church of God in Christ in Port Arthur, also urged that the proposition not be looked at in just one way.

“It’s going to be built. It’s going to be built somewhere, and the city needs gainful employment. This is a very touchy situation with the city of Port Arthur’s unemployment rate one of the highest in the state,” Lane said. “I believe it will be a blessing for the community.

Port Arthur Director of Utilities and Assistant City Manager, said the city could meet the meat processing plant’s needs.

Former U.S. Congressman Nick Lampson was the first to provide information from Riceland Farms detailing what the company proposed to develop.

“I know that there is high emotion here. We did not intend that,” Lampson said.

The ownership of Riceland Farms is made up of a number of Southeast Texas physicians, attorney and entrepreneurs, Lampson said.

Lampson assured the group that none of their fears were founded. The company, he said, had gone to great lengths to make sure the complied with the rules dictated by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

“I would be embarrassed if I were bringing something of that quality to Port Arthur,” he said.

Lampson said the meat processing plant would not be the only manufacturing company at the business park that was not oil and petrochemical related.

One company processes human waste and another disposes of biomedical waste.

“We recognized much of the information that has been disseminated has been erroneous,” Lampson said.

The company is a zero risk to the city, Lampson said.

“If we cannot honor our commitment of not being a nuisance, the EDC can close us down,” Lampson said. “I promise you this company has no intention of doing that. I think you will find Riceland Farms will be a good neighbor.”

Hani Tohme, a representative of Riceland Farms, explained how the company planned to operate and not create a nuisance to the community.

“Lets not kid our selves. There is nothing pleasant about slaughtering animals, but it is a growing business, and probably 99 percent of those sitting behind me are meat eaters,” Tohme said.

Because of citizen concern, the company opted to change its original location from the front of the property, to the back part adjacent to the city’s water treatment plant.

Because of the close proximity to the wastewater plant, the company would be able to discharge straight into the plant.

“Clogging lines is a non-issue,” he said. “It is not in anybody’s yard except the wastewater treatment plant.”

Tohme explained there would be no smell because any animals held while waiting to be slaughtered would be held indoors on concrete. Animal parts, such as blood and renderings, would be captured and used to make other products such as pet foods.

Tohme said the renderings process would be contracted out to a faculty in Houston.

Additionally, an air scrubber would be used to capture the smell as a backup to a system that utilizes UV light.

The actual slaughtering system is the most human way of doing it, Tohme said.

“We walk the animals into a box, close it to where the head is sticking out for a kill,” he said.

While there was nothing pleasant about slaughtering animals, Tohme said it was an industry with a growing demand.

“Most of you are going to leave here today to eat a burger or a steak,” he said.

There would be no waste of the animal carcass, he said.

“There is even a market for the paunch. It’s called menudo,” he said.

After the slaughtering process, the meat would be packaged on site, and shipped all over the state.

The facility would be regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA, as well as the EDC.

There would be no air quality issues because the facilty does not generate emissions, and does not require a permit.

Additionally, USDA inspectors have to be on site when the meat is processed.

The safeguards combined with the new technology would prevent any of the residents concerns from occurring, he said.

“Why would a business owner want to come to Port Arthur and build where we can be shut down if not confident there is no odor,” Tohme said.

Riceland officials said they are looking at other locations other than the business park, including some in Port Arthur.


Twitter: sgsturdivant