National Guard letter states position on rendering plant

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By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Gadsden City Council’s February 2 meeting introduced yet another element into the conversation surrounding the proposed Pilgrim’s Pride rendering plant on Steele Station Road.

The meeting shared a letter highlighting the Alabama National Guard’s position on the plant, which stated that the guard does not oppose the plant, nor will it take a public position on the matter. 

City Council President Dr. Cynthia Toles received the January 26 letter from Major General Sheryl E. Gordon, the Adjutant General.

The letter states the following.

“On December 1, 2020 Deputy Commander LTC Robert Griggs (Fort McClellan Training Center) emailed COL Lee Desmond (Alabama National Guard (ALNG) Construction Facilities Management Officer) about Gadsden’s effort to place an animal rendering plant next to Ft. Clearance Rhea in Gadsden. The email noted that there are opposition groups with significant concerns including smell and that the plant would be located within one mile of Ft. Rhea, Martin Air Station (GSB) and FMS#8 and that these installations would likely be impacted.

“COL Desmond sent the email to COL J.R. Bass (ALNG Chief of Staff) and others. It was decided that the ALNG would contact the Alabama Department of Commerce for guidance as to what, if any, position the ALNG might take. The ALNG made contact with both the Governor’s office and the Dept. of Commerce. As a result of that contact and information received, it was decided on December 8, 2020 the ALNG would take no public position on the matter and certainly not oppose the project.”

Gordon noted that if any person, civilian or active guardsman, commented publicly on the matter (other than regarding what was previously stated), those comments were made without her permission. Gordon stated that the National Guard has no opposition to the plant and understands that Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Commerce support the plant’s location in Gadsden. The Guard will not participate in any public hearings, nor make statements of non-support.

“The letter from the National Guard reaffirms the working relationship the city has had with the Guard for years, which has always been good and mindful of their projections for continued growth,” said Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton. “Due to some misinformation in the community concerning the National Guard’s issues with potential industry in the area, the letter dispels those rumors and confirms that their plans for growth remain unchanged.”

The letter follows the circulation of discussion that the National Guard opposed the rendering facility. In a previous council meeting, Trent Thrasher shared that a conversation with a Guard representative regarding how the proposed plant would affect the unit that trains at the airport. Thrasher stated that an 8-acre lagoon would require the Guard to provide a medic and rescue boat in the lagoon during jump training, while the 130-foot tower would pose a hazard during night jumps.

Toles commended the National Guard’s role in the community, hoping that the letter clarifies any miscommunication or concerns regarding the Guard’s position on the plant and sheds a positive light on the situation. She emphasized the corresponding relationship between the city and the county, noting how decisions made by one affect the other.

Toles understands the concerns of the opposition, having lived near the Koch Foods facility for years. She also considers the need for revenue and jobs within the city, examining the situation from all perspectives.

Toles offered a message to the Gadsden community.

“I want the community to be supportive of Gadsden progressing and moving forward,” said Toles. “I want the community to believe that their city representatives would do what is best and what is right for the entire city, as well as the county. The citizens trust us to elect us. Trust us to do the right thing for them and their future. We want to do right by the city and right by the citizens. We want to do what’s best.”

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