Chicken farm ruffles feathers

By Keith Strange

March 17, 2014

ELKIN — The Surry County Board of Commissioner’s message to opponents to two poultry farms in the Shoals community Monday night was simple: It’s legal. Enough said.

The message was delivered as the board took its show on the road, holding its meeting in the media center of Elkin High School.

The issue came to light after residents of the community learned there were plans to build two “broiler houses” known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, one on Kiser Road and the other on Shoals Road. They are being constructed by Andy Scott and Don Scott, who are not related.

Opponents of the proposition organized the Shoals Clean Air Clean Water group to lobby against the chicken farms, and held a community meeting to air their grievances. They say they are concerned about how the farms will affect the air quality and value of their property.

During Monday night’s meeting, Mary Stanley Marshall, spokesman for the community group, asked to be placed on the board’s agenda for its April meeting in order to present a presentation outlining their concerns.

But Board Chair Eddie Harris quickly quashed that idea.

“We have certain protocols, and one of those involves a certain amount of respect for the opinion of the commissioner in whose district an issue resides,” he said, noting that the Shoals community is in Commissioner Paul Johnson’s district. “He has no desire for the Shoals Clean Air Clean Water group to be on the agenda, and as chair I respect that. I’m inclined not to honor the request to put on the agenda.”

“So we don’t have any recourse?” Asked Marshall.

“This is an agricultural issue and it’s entirely legal,” Harris responded.

Several other opponents followed Marshall, asking again to be placed on the April agenda, but Harris held firm.

Jerry Cunningham told the board that the issue has less to do with a certain district and more to do with the quality of life in Surry County.

“People have a right to do what they want on their own land, and I respect that. This is America,” he said. “But I’m going to tell you that the people who live around these operations will lose their property value. They worked hard all their lives too, and the tax base is going to be destroyed. People put their life savings into their homes and they aren’t going to be able to move.”

Kathy Kellum, one of the residents spearheading Shoals Clean Air Clean Water, protested, asking once again to be placed on the April agenda.

“I’m a former elected official myself, and I’ve never heard of a policy where the public cannot bring an issue to the agenda,” she said. “We are citizens of the county. You may disagree with what we present, but we have the right to be heard.”

Following the public comment, Johnson told the standing-room-only crowd that he attended the February community meeting in Shoals, and objected to some of the portrayals of his address in the media and community.

“Supposedly I stood up and had a tirade,” he said. “I didn’t know what that was but I looked it up. I was calm and presented the facts. I didn’t raise my voice and I didn’t get ugly with anyone.”

But Johnson said the presentation was “one-sided and so fictional in some regards that in my opinion it doesn’t even deserve the 30 minutes we’ve spent on it tonight.”

Johnson told the crowd that he visited the community and the sites of the proposed chicken farms, and “can’t even understand why we’re talking about this.”

“It’s a legal business and it’s regulated by the state,” he said. “I don’t think this presentation has any business being on our agenda. It’s a legal business that’s already regulated. It has nothing to do with us other than being located in our county. My mind is pretty much made up.”

With that, supporters in the audience applauded.

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.