Anaerobic digester proposed in Anson County to handle poultry waste causes a stink

By: By Imari Scarbrough -
Imari Scarbrough | Anson Record John Marek leads a listening session in the Anson County Chamber of Commerce describing an anaerobic digester facility that may be coming to the area.

The idea of trucks shipping chicken waste up their road to be cooked in a facility adjacent to their properties has ruffled the feathers of some Wadesboro homeowners. But Anson County’s economic development director says the project is misunderstood and that homeowners have little to fear.

A small crowd packed the conference room of the Anson County Chamber of Commerce on June 20 to learn more about a proposed anaerobic digester and electric generation facility that may be built on Stanback Ferry Ice Plant Road. A few were in favor of the facility, several were against it, and others wanted to learn more about it before making a decision.

The session was hosted by John Marek, executive director of the Anson Economic Development Partnership.

Marek provided participants a printout with several frequently asked questions, then went over each of the points during the session.

Many residents of the road were concerned that the facility will bring a large amount of trucks through the area loaded with smelly piles of chicken waste, and that the facility would be noisy. Some were concerned that properties on the same road — especially those adjacent to the facility — could lose their value.

Marek worked to ease those fears. After touring a similar facility in Charlotte, Marek said he felt comfortable with the idea of bringing a similar business to Wadesboro.

While some may fear that the facility would use chicken parts, Marek assured the crowd that there would be no “burning or electrocuting live chickens,” and that only chicken litter would be used.

Anaerobic digesters can heat waste to create methane used to generate energy.

“The anaerobic digestion process is biological and involves few moving parts,” Marek said in the FAQ. “It is, for the most, part silent. The electrical generation part of the facility does involve diesel generators. These are contained in sound-deadening enclosures which eliminate most of the noise. From the outside they sound like idling diesel trucks and cannot be heard at all from more than a few hundred feet.”

Since the facility would likely be placed near the center of the property and is surrounded by trees, Marek said nearby residents shouldn’t be disturbed.

With the plant being a closed system, Marek added that very little odor should escape. Even the trucks should have a minimal amount of smell, though he said there may be a “very, very little” amount that escapes.

The residue, which may have a small amount of odor, will be made into pellets, placed into bags and sold as agricultural fertilizer, according to Marek.

Wages for the facility are expected to be “significantly above average,” he said, though no amounts were specified. The grading contract is for more than $1 million, and 20 temporary construction jobs would also be created. The facility would use water and sewer services from the county and pay taxes, generating revenue. The business has not asked the county for any tax breaks or other incentives, Marek added.

Some at the meeting were unconvinced.

Although the proposed facility would likely be placed on the six or seven acres near the middle of the property, residents worried that the business could expand, with anaerobic digesters and trucks full of litter waiting near the road. Some were concerned with the wear and tear they fear the additional traffic would cause to the road, and with the prospect of lines of trucks bearing chicken litter waiting to be processed.

When participants asked if the facility was a sure thing, Marek said it was very likely.

“It’s not a done deal until a signature is put on it, but it’s 90 percent a done deal,” he said. The company has worked to obtain necessary certifications and has received the green light from investors, so long as the design is approved.

One audience member asked if the county government could do anything to stop it. Since the county is not zoned, Marek said there was little the county could do if it wanted to prevent the facility from coming.

Anna Baucom, chairwoman of the Anson County Board of Commissioners, briefly addressed the crowd. She encouraged anyone interested in the county adopting zoning to attend the July meeting of the county commissioners.

“I’m all for zoning the county,” Marek said. “It would tell me where I can put things or not put things.”

Johnny Hill Coble Jr., the owner of three properties located near the proposed facility site, asked Marek if he would build a house by the facility.

Marek said he wouldn’t build it beside it, but wouldn’t have a problem if there was a bit of distance.

“But I wouldn’t live next to Dollar General, Walmart, etc., either,” he said. “It’s a giant metal thing.”

Marek said that his disinclination to live by the facility would have nothing to do with truck traffic or smells, as he doesn’t believe it will be a problem.

Jeff Boothby, an audience member, said he doesn’t live on the road but asked if homeowners near the site would be reassured if they had proof that there would be no smell or water pollution from the facility, but one man said there was no way proof could be provided before the facility is actually built. One woman feared she would no longer be able to sit on her porch watching her grandchildren play in her yard if they were deterred by the smell of chicken litter.

Marek said the smell of chicken litter from the 900-plus poultry houses in the county, and the use of agricultural fertilizer, mean that the smell of chicken litter isn’t unusual in the county. In this case, the litter would be collected from those houses and contained in virtually smell-proof facilities, moving some of the problem.

“I’m not going to apologize for the fact that we’re an agricultural county,” Marek said. “I don’t believe it will destroy the value of the homes there.”

But some still feared that while the smell of chicken litter and agricultural litter can be detected in certain parts of the county — sometimes only when fertilizer is being spread — it will be pervasive on their road when loads of it are trucked by their houses.

The high number of poultry houses in the county was a key factor in the company eyeing Anson for the facility, Marek said. He added that he began his position in October 2016 and said that he believed the company began looking at Anson earlier last year.

The EPA describes some of the dangers of anaerobic digesters in its publication, “Common safety practices for on-farm anaerobic digestion systems,” including the possibility of explosions from the gas, noise levels and asphyxiation possibilities for employees — but added risks can be minimized.

“Anaerobic digestion provides a real opportunity to address farm-related environmental concerns, generate renewable energy, and diversity farm products,” it says in the conclusion. “It is important to realize, however, that AD systems pose unique challenges and safety risks not experienced on typical farms. These risks can be mitigated by practical measures, including educating employees about the risks associated with the system, implementing strict safety procedures, and having a detailed and up-to-date (Emergency Action Plan) that employees are familiar with.”

Loren Kennedy, a representative of Biogas Corporation, was supposed to be present but was caught in traffic and unable to attend, Marek said.

Some audience members, including Coble, were discouraged by the absence of Kennedy or other company representatives.

“I have some land I’ll sell the CEO tomorrow if he’ll buy it,” Coble said. He’d sent an email to a relative, William Coble, the day before the meeting with his thoughts on the facility. After the meeting, he said he’d hoped there would be a chance to communicate his concerns directly to company representatives and county officials and said he’d planned to read the contents of the email then.

With no corporate representatives and Baucom being the only commissioner present (county manager Megan Garner was also in attendance), Coble felt the meeting had been a promotional session for the facility.

The three properties Coble owns have been in his family for generations, even before the county had been formed, a printout of his email said.

“We’ve sent our sons to war to defend this land, many of whom did not come back to be buried here,” Coble wrote. “Now that land is in jeopardy, not from foreign aggressors but people in corporate board rooms. People who don’t live here, won’t live here, but will gladly use this land and this county as a dumping ground for waste and a waste processing plant that no one in their right mind would want in their own back yard.”

Marek sympathized with landowners, but said he sees the facility as a plus for the county and no different than any of the other businesses — which include a paint and body shop, a car parts salvage yard and others — and unlikely to detract from property value or quality of life. He said anyone left with concerns can contact him about touring the Charlotte facility to see what it is like.

Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.

Imari Scarbrough | Anson Record John Marek leads a listening session in the Anson County Chamber of Commerce describing an anaerobic digester facility that may be coming to the area. Scarbrough | Anson Record John Marek leads a listening session in the Anson County Chamber of Commerce describing an anaerobic digester facility that may be coming to the area.

By Imari Scarbrough