AP NEWS

Rejected slaughterhouse looks here

June 30, 2016 GMT

Developers of a proposed $7.6 million meat-processing plant the City of Port Arthur rejected in April are now considering at least five Southeast Texas communities for their project, three of which are in Hardin County, company officials said.

Riceland Farms has met with leaders in Kountze and is scouting Lumberton, Silsbee, Beaumont and Newton, as well as Dallas, for the site of a commercial-scale slaughterhouse that could employ up to 200 people, company spokesman Nick Lampson said.

“The plant is going to be built,” said Lampson, a former U.S. congressman.

Lampson expects the company to give multiple presentations in the next few weeks in Southeast Texas communities to gauge interest.

In the works for months, the proposal faltered amid high infrastructure costs in Chambers County and was rejected in Port Arthur, where residents expressed concern about the smell, and the strain on the water and sewer systems.

Lampson said the plant will not emit an odor, that the water released into a sewage system will be treated and the facility will humanely slaughtering the animals.

The project is backed by the Javed family, who own Beaumont-based Starco Implex, a national distribution network. Tahir Javed, CEO of Riceland Health Care in Winnie, hosted a fundraiser for likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at his Beaumont home earlier this year.

The project aims to supply a Houston-based chain of meat markets that primarily serves the Hispanic community, Lampson said. Riceland’s long-term goal is to broaden its reach nationally and process up to 800 cattle and 10,000 goats or sheep per week, he said.

The possible Kountze locations are outside of city limits, but close enough to link with the town’s water and sewer systems, City Manager Rod Hutto said.

Neither the city nor Hardin County have zoning laws, meaning the local governments would have little means to block the proposal if they so desired, Hutto said.

“If it’s a private landowner and their private business, the taxpayers don’t have anything to do with it,” he said. “If they do what they say they’re going to do, it’s going to stimulate the economy.”

Lampson said Riceland would likely seek job-creation incentives economic development groups offer as a “show of support.”

Port Arthur City Council approved in April a land-use rule the city’s Economic Development Corp. wrote - against its director’s advice - that prevented Riceland from building a slaughterhouse in the EDC’s industrial park.

Port Arthur’s mayor and two city councilmembers asked Riceland Farms to find a location inside the city limits, but off EDC property. The city’s unemployment rate in May was 8.3 percent.

EBesson@BeaumontEnterprise.comTwitter.com/EricBesson_news