Prioritizing Water Over Chickens

What exactly is going on in Walker County, and why was it a secret?

There must be a mole in the Walker County Government lower echelons. How else could the word have leaked out that Pilgrim’s Pride wants to build a chicken processing plant in McLemore Cove?

Walker County officials say they can neither confirm nor deny because they have a non-disclosure agreement and can’t renege. However, the McLemore Cove Preservation Society was convinced enough to file a lawsuit asking for information and to mount a “Don’t Slaughter Our Cove” movement garnering support in opposition.

The proposed location is at the Barwick-Archer carpet mill site that ceased operation about 30 years ago. It’s a brownfield.

While the lawsuit has been dropped after some intimidating remarks from Walker County officials, the group remains committed to protecting the natural and cultural resources of this land. They favor clean, not dirty, industry.

So what is special about McLemore Cove that makes it unacceptable for a chicken processing plant? After all, we have a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant in Southside Chattanooga as the offensive odor often reminds us. It has been noted for its inhumane treatment of chickens.

Will this local plant be moving there? They deny it, but supposedly the plan on the 300 acres would be the largest chicken processing plant in the South.

This beautiful pastoral cove has rich historical stories to tell. The cove was named for John McLemore, a Cherokee chief and son of a white father and Cherokee mother. His mark is on an 1806 land treaty between the U.S. and Cherokee. There were Civil War maneuvers in McLemore Cove that played a key role in 1863 leading up to the Battle of Chickamauga.

The valley contains antebellum buildings and historical farm complexes. In 1994, the cove with its some 50,000 acres was placed on the National Register of Historical Places. Recently Hollywood came to make a movie there. Today it’s about farming. One tale tells of a farmer mowing his field followed by eagles gleaning food from the cut areas.

More than its history and beauty, the water features of the cove comprise a critical natural resource vital to save from pollution. McLemore Cove is a steep dead end valley where Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain come together at the southern end of Chickamauga Valley. It contains the headwaters for the South Chickamauga Creek watershed. That water begins its journey downstream draining myriad other tributary waters eventually ending up in the Tennessee River just upstream from Tennessee American Water’s drinking water intake.

The majority of drinking water for Chattanooga area customers comes from the South Chickamauga Creek watershed which also harbors the federally endangered Snail Darter and Chickamauga Crayfish.

Chicken processing plants are notorious for poisoning water. They require a great deal of water as they slaughter, disembowel, defeather and clean chickens. Just this year Pilgrim’s Pride settled a citizen’s suit from Environment America for $1.43 million for dumping toxic wastewater into the Suwanee River in Florida.

Where will the water come from for processing and what will they do with wastewater? Can the state of Georgia assure that there will be no dumping of wastewater into groundwater or the creek on site? Many of the citizens in McLemore Cove use wells for their water.

Whenever such environmental issues come up related to new industry, elected officials show up to rave about how fortunate it will be having all these new jobs to improve the economy. Sure, jobs are important, but one has to ask at what cost? In this case, taxpayer cost will increase.

There is no interstate in Walker County so taxes will be used to repair the two lane country roads and who cleans up the water? Chicken plant jobs are low paying so any employees will reduce average median income in the county lowering it from $41,000. Can likely employees afford to move or travel to this rural area?

The better answer for economic growth in Walker County in addition to agriculture is to build up the outdoor recreation business based on the natural treasure that is McLemore Cove. Hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, biking through the central cove area loop, linking to the Great Eastern Trail and greenways, and programming for historical Native American and Civil War events are just a few possibilities that would then lead to businesses supporting visitor needs.

Restaurants, equipment rentals, campgrounds, supplies, motels, and trail leaders would slowly add to the Walker County’s economy while preserving the environment and drinking water at the same time. Meanwhile Walker County does have a new industrial site. Use it for clean industry and protect water in McLemore Cove.