Kensington, Ga., residents want to know if a poultry processing plant is coming to their area.
The rumor has swept through the unincorporated Walker County community for months. And yet, residents have heard no definitive statement from government or business leaders. Questions about the rumors have elicited a kind of Catch-22 response: We can't talk about pending deals, and by the same token we can't deny deals that don't exist.
Tori Phillips, owner of The Georgia Book Company in Kensington, worries county officials won't hear residents' concerns about a poultry plant until a deal is final. By then, she believes it may be too late to make a difference. And so — despite no authoritative word on the issue — she will host a community forum April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Cedar Grove Community Center.
Phillips worries trucks coming in and out of the plant will clog traffic in the rural community. She remembers the Civil War re-enactment of 2013, when cars sat idle more than 2 miles away from the Mountain Cove Farms parking lot. A comparison to an event like that isn't perfect. Thousands of people rushed to the cove that day. But her point is, Phillips doesn't think the infrastructure could handle the plant's traffic.
Will the area need a sewer system upgrade, too? Will taxpayers foot the bill?
"I love progress," she said. "I want to make progress. But I want to make sure we do the right thing prior to arriving. I want the commissioner, other elected officials, to know it will affect our lives. I want to make sure they know our concerns before they strike a deal."
During the meeting, Phillips will jot down concerns raised by residents. She then will write Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield a letter, making sure he understands how members of the community feel, she said.
Phillips said she first heard rumors about a poultry plant coming to Kensington six months ago. She declined to name her source, but those rumors have become more frequent around the community over the last couple of months. Phillips heard the plant would go in the old Barwick- Archer carpet mill, located across the street from her business. She said surveyors have been on the land in recent months.
Drennon Crutchfield, of Dalton, Ga., owns that mill. But a representative of the company has not returned multiple emails over two weeks, asking if the mill is going to host a poultry plant.
Cameron Bruett, a spokesman for Pilgrim's Pride, also declined to provide details about a potential deal. A Times Free Press reporter asked him if the company planned to move a Chattanooga facility to Walker County.
"As a corporate policy, Pilgrim's does not comment on rumor or speculation," Bruett wrote in an email. "We have made no decisions that would impact the Chattanooga facility, our team members, or our growers who support the facility."
Pilgrim's Pride has two facilities in Chattanooga's Southside neighborhood, on Broad and Peeples streets.
Whitfield also declined to discuss a poultry plant in the county at a March 22 public meeting.
"I can't speak publicly to any company specifically that we've talked to on any project until they're ready to announce," he said. "We have to honor that request from companies and follow their leads. We don't want to get out here ahead of a company and say something and actually scare a company off because we may do something that they're not ready to put forward."
On Friday, county spokesman Joe Legge said Whitfield will not attend the April 26 community meeting because he is going to a government training session. Speaking generally, Legge said Whitfield will hold public meetings on any development once a company signs off on a deal.
"I don't want people to get the impression that we're not willing to talk about things," he said. "We are. But things need to run their proper course."
Sam Bowman, a chicken farmer in the area, said he is interested in a new plant in the area. He raises chickens for Koch Foods — about 160,000 at a time — but would like to see more local competition. Like Phillips, he heard rumors around town about a new plant. But he hasn't heard anything official.
Sid Hetzler has heard the same talk. In the 1980s, he said, neighbors formed the McLemore Cove Historical Preservation Society to fight Georgia Power's development effort. He said the utility wanted to put a hydroelectric pumping station on Lookout Mountain, but the preservation society stopped them.
He predicts a similar resistance now.
"We would probably do all we could to urge the company to put it somewhere else," he said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.