Raleigh city officials say a proposed chicken operation in Nash County could cost them big bucks for waste cleanup.
Sanderson Farms’ proposed plant, dubbed “Project Baseball,” would be located in the Neuse River basin. Part of the operation’s infrastructure includes a spray application field that would receive 1.4-million gallons of industrial processed wastewater a day.
City officials recently submitted comments to the state saying, in effect, that the facility could force Raleigh to spend more money on clean water initiatives to mitigate the resulting chicken waste in the Neuse.
The Neuse River basin is already under nutrient management rules for excess nitrogen and phosphorus.
The 180,000-square-foot facility, to be located near the N.C. 97 and Interstate 95 interchange, drains into the Toisnant Swamp watershed. The watershed supplies part of the City of Wilson’s water supply.
Kenneth Waldroup of the city’s utility department summed up the city’s objections.
“It’s important from the city’s perspective that we encourage economic development, but not at the expense of health or the environment,” Waldroup said. “There are innovative solutions to the problem of poultry waste, such as waste-to-energy solutions that are being explored in eastern North Carolina today.”
To serve the plant, confined animal feeding operations, CAFOs, are expected to spring up in both the Neuse and the Tar-Pamlico river basins. Estimates project almost 600 chicken houses, along with the waste they create, will be needed to meet the demand.
Lower Neuse Riverkeeper Larry Baldwin said the CAFOs are only one of several concerns.
“The slaughter plant and spray fields are one. The impact that will have is particularly on the Contentnea Creek watershed, but an even bigger impact than just the slaughterhouses are the secondary impacts from all of the poultry houses that will be popping up in what could be a 50-mile radius around that plant. “
Baldwin said one chicken, from the time it is hatched to the time it is slaughtered, produces about 4.5 pounds of waste, which has high potency for bad nutrients.
“It has much higher concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus than hog waste,” he said. “Then we have the issue of arsenic, which is put into the feed to help the keep the chicken’s digestive tracts free of parasites.”
If Project Baseball is built as planned, Raleigh officials say nutrient levels in the Neuse and its estuary will rise. Should that happen, Waldroup predicts “the federal government, through the Clean Water Act, will require additional nutrient reductions from everyone upstream, not just the plant or the CAFOs.”
“Everyone within the basin will be affected, and traditionally point sources, like waste water treatment plants, will feel the brunt before non-point sources like land application operations,” he said. “Municipalities, rather than the CAFOs, will receive more scrutiny because of how the Clean Water Act is structured.”
Collectively, Raleigh’s three waste water treatment plants, Neuse, Little Creek and Smith Creek, have invested $25 million in capital expenditures and spend an additional $300,000 to $500,000 in annual operating costs to comply with the required nutrient reductions for nitrogen and phosphorus.
Nash County officials did not return calls for comment.