Gadsden Airport Authority rejects Pilgrim’s and Etowah community’s proposal

The Gadsden Airport Authority voted on Friday to reject a proposal by Pilgrim’s Pride to use GAA land for a rendering plant in Etowah County, as well as a competing proposal by a private group seeking to block the plan by buying or leasing the land for a light industrial park. .

A board attorney then called on opponents of the plant to drop their lawsuits against GAA, saying “all issues regarding the proposed developments are now resolved.”

If this is the end, it’s more of a moan than a bang.

Those who have been actively fighting the proposed plant for more than a year have greeted the vote with skepticism, turning to the lawyers who led the legal fight to try to clarify exactly what the vote means.

Chronology: Introducing the rendering plant saga so far: here are some of the key developments

Cynthia Toles: Toles attacks opponents of rendering plant: “Stay out of Gadsden’s business”

Lawyer Christie Knowles called it good news, but was not convinced this was the end of the story.

“He’s lying on the ground in blood,” Knowles said, “but it’s not dead.”

It remains to be seen whether Pilgrim’s – the company says it has invested some $ 2 million in plans and preparation for the proposed plant – will abandon its efforts to locate at the airport. Pilgrim’s has not yet responded to a request for comment.

After the meeting, attorney Jim Williams issued a statement from the authority saying the plant was dismissed and calling for the dismissal of lawsuits in connection with the proposed plant.

“In light of this unanimous action by the GAA board of directors, the GAA calls on plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ attorneys to immediately dismiss all pending lawsuits that have been filed against GAA.

“There are no more issues for the courts to resolve and all issues regarding the proposed developments are now resolved.

“The plaintiffs and their lawyers have asked the GAA to ‘reject the rendering plant’ over the past year,” the statement read. “Today, in unanimous action, the GAA did just that.”

As for the ongoing litigation – three lawsuits filed regarding zoning, allegations of open tapes and open meeting violations – Knowles has indicated these will not go away just yet.

“These are important stopgaps as we move towards a conclusion,” Knowles said. Last week Rainbow City, Southside and the Etowah County Commission announced their intention to file a complaint to shut down the plant; Taylor said it would be up to lawyers to determine what happens next.

The council unanimously rejects the two proposals

Authority member Ken Robertson had requested that motions be placed on the agenda to vote no on the two proposals. After the authority members met in executive session and then called for a public meeting, Jonathan Welch made a statement that ended with his motions to reject the proposal made by the community of Etowah and rejection of Pilgrim’s Pride proposal.

The authority voted unanimously in favor of the motions, and it was over so quickly that people present asked each other: what just happened?

Members of Advance Etowah reviewed their recording of the meeting to examine the exact wording of Welch’s motion, versus that presented by Robertson, and appeared to say the same thing.

Robertson demanded that the authority vote on his motions as well, but only got two affirmative votes.

“What does ‘no’ mean? “

“I think we can say that’s good news,” Knowles said. “This is an important first step in ensuring that a rendering plant never sets up in Etowah County.” It remains to be seen whether Pilgrim’s will return and make another bid for the property, she said.

The authority did not vote not to sell or lease this land, she stressed, but to reject the two offers made.

“What does ‘no’ mean? Asked a man present. “Does that mean maybe next time?” “

Rainbow City Mayor Joe Taylor said he believed this would mark the end of the rendering plant project. “We are happy,” he said. “We are pleased that they are the duly appointed council that they are” and are taking action on the matter. He said he thought it was “high time” to move on and start working together to do something good for the community.

Etowah County Commission Chairman Jamie Grant said he was glad the GAA was allowed to sit down and make a decision – “to do its job.” He said the authorities’ ability to meet and discuss the issues had been hampered by the conflict over the proposed plant.

“I think the board members love their county and its citizens,” he said, and that’s why they serve.

In his statement, Welch said the opposition had made it difficult for the authority to do its job.

“… through this process several strong voices drove the narrative,” Welch said. “In my opinion, this created a climate that delayed the final vote and cost the GAA a lot of time and money.”

Welch said the GAA heard about a concept to build a pet food ingredients plant at the same time it was made public, in October 2020, on property owned by the GAA. . The property is not usable for aeronautical purposes.

He said that prior to that, the authority knew there was a potential industrial buyer interested in the property, but had not received any details.

“As with any proposal to release properties owned by the airport, the GAA is committed to following FAA rules and regulations throughout the process,” he said. “The GAA is committed and will continue to be committed to making decisions based on the facts presented.

“In the year following this announcement, the GAA attempted to gather the facts and assess the proposal to determine if it would be an asset to the GAA,” he continued.

“The GAA did this in the face of baseless accusations of bribery, backstage deals and personal attacks,” Welch said. “These claims are false and no evidence of such an agreement has been presented.

Welch said the proposal submitted by Etowah Community, a group of businessmen and individuals opposed to the plant, for Citizen’s Business Park, would have been located on property usable for aviation purposes. He said analysis of the proposal by Neal Schaffer’s consultants revealed that it would violate several FAA regulations and that “it just wasn’t feasible.”

“It is unfortunate that this issue has become so controversial,” Welch said. He said he had no doubts about people’s legitimate concern, but that the problem “has turned from opposition to a proposed industrial project to a political campaign.

“This project was never just a proposition,” he said. “This project has never received the approval of the GAA or any other entity, and the tactics employed to combat this project have simply delayed the final resolution as the GAA has been forced to argue issues it does not think are ripe. and was barred from even voting on the project. “

Rejections based on “proposals themselves and existing FAA regulations”

He said the GAA now had the information to make a decision on the two proposals – based on the facts of the proposal and an assessment of their merits.

“The end result is not influenced by ongoing lawsuits or charges against the GAA and its members,” Welch said. “We are basing this decision on the proposals themselves and the existing FAA regulations.”

Lawyer Joshua Sullivan said he believes this process has shown failure of government processes and a lack of transparency.

He said he hopes that with the resolution of this problem, this type of situation will not happen again and that there will be a better way to operate in local governments.

Welch said there had been a positive outcome in the process – the interest generated in Gadsden Airport. “I have heard more about the incredible asset the airport represents to our community than I have in the past five years,” he said. “I hope you will not forget the airport after our vote. I agree that we have a great asset in the airport, and I hope that interest in the airport will translate into tangible support.”

Contact Gadsden Times reporter Donna Thornton at 256-393-3284 or [email protected].

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