After residents opposed a previous location for a new waste water treatment facility in north Forsyth, county commissioners are now considering a new site at a chicken rendering plant.
At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners discussed an agreement with Tyson Foods to potentially build a new water reclamation facility on 100 acres owned by the company on Leland Drive. No action was taken at the meeting and county employees and legal staff are working on a memorandum of understanding with the company.
“One of the other things, I think, that was attractive to us at looking at this as a better site was the ability to have immediate customers, basically coming on with Tyson being a large customer," Chairwoman Laura Semanson said, "so we could get to a point where we start recovering the costs to the water and sewer authority of actually building the facility, and it would position it well for the commercial development that we hope to see in that northern part of the [Ga.] 400 corridor."
Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he is working on a draft of the agreement that could be sent to Tyson within about 10 days of the meeting.
The site was formerly operated by American Proteins, which was owned by the local Bagwell family for 69 years.
In 2018, the company was purchased by Tyson for about $850 million, which included American Proteins’ four rendering plants in Georgia and Alabama and 13 blending facilities located throughout Southeastern and Midwestern states.
The property includes an existing water treatment plant used by American Proteins, but District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said Tyson has its owned closed system that would not need the plant.
“What makes our plant so much more advantageous is they've been using spray fields and the treated water has been going back into the creek and made the nutrients very high,” Mills said.
County officials largely said they preferred the Tyson site to the previous proposal and said having a water facility in the area could help promote industrial growth and would be closer to customers than the previous proposal.
If approved, the plant would not be a reality for a few years and would cost about the same as the previously proposed plant.
Also in 2018, a proposal for a wastewater treatment facility on 99.9 acres at the end of Millwood Road became a large point of contention for the north Forsyth community.
At a commission meeting in December of that year, so many people showed up to a public hearing for the project that the crowd reached capacity at the commissioner's meeting room at the Forsyth County Administration Building and had people standing in the hallway.
During that public hearing, county officials said the county had been looking to build such a facility in northeast Forsyth since at least 2002 and was among 82 sites initially considered before being whittled down to six, with two of those being preferred.
The initial site was unpopular with residents, some of whom said they had not been notified by the county of the proposed project until after the purchase was approved, with others raising concerns that they were concerned about potential spills, health issues and some residents on sewer felt they would be impacted by the plant but not able to use it.
Some of the speakers at the meeting recommended the plant go at an industrial site, including the Tyson plant.
At the work session, Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt said the county had not had any further discussions with the property owner after the county terminated a contract for $3 million to buy the land in late 2019.
During Tuesday's discussion, there were some fiery moments between commissioners, particularly from Mills and District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper toward District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who brought up issues relating to the costs of the project.
“My point is we act like Tyson is doing us a favor and helping out, but my point is in reality, they'll end up saving millions and millions while not having to build their own plant... if we're paying for a system and they don't have to, they're saving a lot of money and the amount they may pay for using this may barely cover some of the capacity costs, but is it really a good business plan in the long run for us?” Levent said.
Mills said she had initially reached out to Tyson about the project after the public hearing and pointed out that the company would be both a water and sewer customer.
“They pay the city $58,000 per month for water, and they had said that if the studies come back and everything is conclusive and this is where [the water treatment facility goes] and we're able to get the easement and we get the [memorandum of understanding], that they would become not just a sewer customer, but they would become a water customer as well,” Mills said.