Chattanooga city councilman seeks to enforce 'noxious odors' regulation that could affect chicken plants

Crates of chickens are unloaded from a truck at the Pilgrim's Pride plant on Broad Street on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The South Broad Street corridor has been targeted by developers for new apartments and businesses.
Crates of chickens are unloaded from a truck at the Pilgrim's Pride plant on Broad Street on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The South Broad Street corridor has been targeted by developers for new apartments and businesses.

Chattanooga City Council Chairman Ken Smith has introduced an ordinance amending the city code for health nuisances by adding a section that addresses "noxious odors," something that could directly affect the city's chicken plants.

But while the amendment was spurred by a "tremendous" number of calls complaining about the stench, Smith said, the intent is not to target Pilgrim's Pride, one of the downtown plants that has garnered numerous complaints over the years. It's meant to address all businesses that have problems containing odors, he said.

The amendment will bring the current ordinance "up to an enforceable standard and clarify the language as it pertains to businesses that may need to be held more accountable," Smith said Tuesday.

Specifically, the amendment would allow the city to enforce a $50 fine for any property owners found to be in violation and who haven't abated the issue within a certain period of time. An early version of the amendment stated that anyone found in violation of the ordinance would be charged with a misdemeanor, but the city does not have the authority to oversee criminal proceedings. Therefore that language has been changed, Smith said.

Odors become a nuisance when at least eight out of 25 people who are exposed to one believe it to be objectionable, the proposed amendment reads. Or when there are fewer than 25 people exposed, at least one half have to believe it to be objectionable.

But Smith, who represents District 3, said the amendment is not meant to shut down local chicken plants.

"They employ a lot of our citizens," he said. "It's purely to show what we expect and will hold [businesses] accountable to the standards that are already set."

Pilgrim's Pride, which has two locations in Chattanooga, employs more than 1,000 people, according to news archives. It's one of the main employers for convicted felons and one of the handful of businesses locally that do so.

Under successive owners, including Tennessee Egg Co., Central Soya, Seaboard Farms and Pilgrim's Pride, a poultry processing plant has operated at South Broad Street and 16th Street on Chattanooga's Southside for more than a half century.

Koch Foods also operates a chicken processing plant in Chattanooga's Southside.

The areas around Pilgrim's Pride's plants have seen a development and housing boom in recent years, including the construction of a $15 million apartment complex next to the Pilgrim's Pride plant on South Broad Street. That complex is expected to open later this year.

For residents and business owners, the smell has become too much.

But there are ways to contain noxious odors, Smith said, pointing to information from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau.

Smith said equipment exists, such as diffusers, that will emit odor-eliminating chemicals. But the problem is they aren't always functioning, he said. If they were, he said, the odor would be significantly reduced.

Attempts to reach Pilgrim's Pride for comment Tuesday were not successful.

Local business owners say the stench coming from Pilgrim's Pride is a hindrance.

Kevin Boehm, a partner at Imbibe liquor store on Broad Street who owns several real estate properties nearby, said he thinks "it's embarrassing for the city to have this type of problem."

"It's offensive," he said. "It stinks. It negatively impacts business. There's no reason we should have to smell the chicken plant on certain days of the week."

Boehm, whose properties are all within one to 10 blocks from the chicken plant, said he's had people back out of leasing properties from him because of it.

"When you're trying to attract new businesses to the area and the chicken has a bad smelling day, it's hopeless," he said.

Matt Hullander, another local businessman, said he's been to some meetings with downtown residents and other business owners to discuss the stench. Those meetings have been going on for a number of years, he said.

"I'm glad to hear that, hopefully, [the city is] discussing something that will help the problem," he said. " I'd love to see everybody get together and help with the problem because it is a growing part of town and there's a lot of nice homes and restaurants and businesses in those areas now."

In 2018, Walker County residents raised concerns after a proposal that would have relocated the Pilgrim's Pride plant to McLemore Cove in North Georgia. At one point, a local group filed a lawsuit to stop the move, fearing odor and increased heavy truck problems would negatively affect the area. The lawsuit was later dropped.

The amendment will be up for a vote during next week's council meeting. If approved, it will take effect within two weeks.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

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