West Columbia homeowners, as well as walkers and others who use the city’s popular Riverwalk, could soon have a new tool to battle odors from a chicken processing plant on the Congaree River.
The City Council late Monday gave initial approval to a set of restrictions on “offensive” odors that disturb residents, with final adoption expected by mid-November.
Complaints about stench from the 60-year-old plant on Sunset Boulevard are increasing as new neighborhoods and businesses develop nearby.
Councilman Tem Miles called the proposal a message to the House of Raeford to end problems at the plant. “This is telling them to clean up their act, that the smells are no longer acceptable,” he said.
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Company spokesman David Witter had no comment, saying the proposed restrictions are under review.
The plan allows fines of up to $500 for a violation and up to 30 days in jail if an odor “annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others.”
Complaints from at least six residents in three days or from any city public safety official will spur a check into odors.
The move comes as West Columbia’s riverfront undergoes a renaissance. City leaders worry that continued development will be stymied by a plant producing 281 million pounds of meat a year.
Some residents are pushing for restrictions that would encourage the company to move. “I’m glad the city is finally taking a stand and doing something about it,” said Bruce Brutschy, who lives nearby.
Officials at the North Carolina-based company say it tries to be a good neighbor as it deals with residential and commercial growth. The company, which has owned the plant since 1998, isn’t interested in leaving the 1.5-acre site.
The plant’s 800 employees make it the largest employer in West Columbia and one of the biggest in Lexington County.
It also is a moneymaker for West Columbia because processing chickens for supermarkets uses lots of water. City officials say the plant paid $1.2 million for water last year, about 10 percent of the city’s utility revenue.
In addition, House of Raeford is a major donor to local charities and food banks.
Some residents say the fuss over odors is overblown.
“We’re very lucky to have a company willing to invest in the community.” said Patricia Ramsey, who has lived nearby for 43 years. “Things are not as bad as they once were. And where are we going to get the missing revenue if we run them out of business?”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483