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Meat processor that would employ 1,400 looking at Christian County

Land currently planted in soybeans on John Rivers Road adjacent to the CSX rail line a few miles outside Pembroke is being considered for a 500,000-square-foot meat processing plant.
Jennifer Brown (Hoptown Chronicle)
Land currently planted in soybeans on John Rivers Road adjacent to the CSX rail line a few miles outside Pembroke is being considered for a 500,000-square-foot meat processing plant.

An undisclosed, out-of-state company is considering a site between Hopkinsville and Pembroke to build a 500,000-square-foot meat processing plant that would become one of the county’s largest employers, with 1,400 workers earning $18 to $25 an hour.

Limited details about the project began to circulate locally a few days ago, and opposition is mounting among residents.

Carter Hendricks, executive director of the South Western Kentucky Economic Development Council, confirmed information about the industrial-ag prospect but said he couldn’t name the company because he signed a non-disclosure agreement. He said it is a family-owned business that plans to process beef in a $300 million facility.

The site being considered is near the CSX rail yard on John Rivers Road off Pembroke Road. Live cattle would be trucked to the facility and slaughtered there.

Brothers Billy and Phil Garnett, who run one of the region’s largest farming operations, own about 375 acres at the proposed site, Phil Garnett confirmed. It is adjacent to the rail line and utilities. The Hopkinsville Industrial Foundation, which often works as a real estate arm of economic development, has an option to purchase the site. The contract between the Garnetts and the industrial foundation expires sometime in November.

Hendricks said he’ll give an overview of the project during a regularly scheduled EDC board meeting at noon Monday in the Pennyrile Electric community room, 2000 Harrison St.

Another meeting, set for 6 p.m. Monday in the old Pembroke school gymnasium, is being organized by a group that wants to stop the project.

“It’s been a pretty top-secret deal,” said farmer David Wimpy, who lives a little more than a mile from the site.

Wimpy, one of the organizers of the Pembroke meeting, said he doesn’t want Christian County to become known as a slaughterhouse community that pays wages in the $20 range. If the county is going to secure an industry that employs that many workers, it ought to aim for one that pays higher wages and doesn’t have the negative image associated with slaughtering animals on such a large scale, he said.

No one directly involved in the project had spoken about it publicly until Wednesday evening, when Hendricks addressed several questions.

But Wimpy and others said they met Monday with Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble, Hopkinsville Mayor Wendell Lynch and Magistrate Jerry Gilliam.

Theresa Nichol, who is a sister of Billy and Phil Garnett, attended that meeting. She said the elected officials told her group they could not discuss a number of the details, including the name of the firm, because they had also signed non-disclosure agreements with the company.

Hoptown Chronicle asked one city council representative if the 12 members had also signed non-disclosure forms. The member said they could not discuss anything that occurred during a closed session.

Nichol said it was her understanding that council members had given their pledge to not discuss the company and its plans with anyone. She said she disagreed with that action because it prevents the public from interacting with their elected representatives on a project that would have a significant, long-range impact on the community.

Many large industrial developments are secured by offering local and state tax incentives, and the council could have discussed such proposals in a closed session. Any approval of incentives would have to occur later in an open session to comply with the state’s open meetings law.

But Nichol questioned non-disclosure agreements with a company that would prevent local residents from discussing proposals with their elected representatives before a deal was all but concluded.

“I have a right to call my city councilperson, don’t I?” she said.

Hendricks said he and a few others representing a Christian County delegation visited a meat processing plant that the company runs in another state. He said he understands the concerns that local residents are expressing — but after visiting one of the company’s other facilities, he is confident they would run a modern plant that wouldn’t be an environmental nuisance.

“From the outside looking in, you wouldn’t know what was happening inside,” said Hendricks.

Wimpy doesn’t believe the county can count on an operation that doesn’t become a nuisance.

“I know intentions are good, but there will be a lot of waste,” he said.

Christian County is known as one of the state’s best grain producers, and it has milling operations — Siemer, Continental and Hopkinsville Milling — to complement that identity, said Wimpy. He thinks a meat processer as large as the one proposed would lead the county in the wrong direction for agriculture.

“We are fixing to change the culture of Christian County in a big way if we bring something like that in here,” he said.

Wimpy, 65, said he doesn’t want to give the impression that he’s just opposed to change. He pointed to the fact that he has been a big supporter of the consolidated high school because he sees where certain changes are needed to steer the community in a more prosperous direction.

Jobs paying in the range of $20 an hour are not the future, he said.

“People are not going to work for those wages. We’ve got to educate people. What we’ve been doing isn’t working,” he said, referring to his support for a modern, consolidated high school.

Hendricks said the owners of the meat processing company are considering more than one location. Local industrial recruiters have been working with the prospect for about four months. The state Cabinet for Economic Development referred the company to the local EDC.

The company will generate an estimated $3 million annually in local tax revenues for the community, said Hendricks.

The owners of the company and their consultants have visited Christian County more than once. Some of their representatives were present for a gathering Thursday, when a large tent was erected on the proposed site.

Nichol and others have said they want to see a feasibility study before a deal is finalized. They want to know more about the environmental impact with waste from animal carcasses, blood and manure — and other factors, such as housing for workers and whether the new, consolidated high school scheduled for completion in three years would have enough capacity for an influx of new families.

This story is from a content sharing partnership with the non profit news service, Hoptown Chronicle. See more stories, and support the Hoptown Chronicle here.

Jennifer P. Brown is the founder and editor of Hoptown Chronicle.
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