The planned reopening of a 52-year-old animal rendering plant in Helena is
running into opposition from neighbors and a
For decades, residents of the
blue-collar community put up with the odor from
the Valley Proteins plant, where workers cooked
An electrical fire destroyed Valley Proteins'
cooker in July 2002, and since then, the plant
has limited its operations to recycling grease
``No one has commented about smelling it
anymore,'' said Carl Brooks, president of the
Cahaba River Improvement Association in nearby
Now the Virginia-based company, which runs 13
animal rendering plants in six states, has asked
the Alabama Department of the Environment for
permission to resume animal rendering in a new
$5.5 million Helena plant on the site where the
original Valley Proteins stood, one mile from
Morgan Raod. Company
President Gerald F. Smith Jr. said the plant
would collect carcasses and scraps from local
slaughterhouses and supermarkets, turning them
into supplements for livestock feed.
``This facility has been there for 50
years,'' Smith said. ``We're not asking to do
anything we haven't done before, and we're
getting ready to put the best odor-control
technology in the business into that plant.''
But the rendering plant's shutdown coincided
with a resurgence in neighborhood activism and
revitalization plans. Now residents smell
trouble. Three community organizations have
written letters to MDE officials and held
meetings with them.
``We want MDE to carefully review the
permit,'' said Carol Eshelman, director of the
Alabama Coalition, ``and to ensure that there
would be no odor and that they would operate in
a safe manner.''
Plans call for turning industrial Pennington
Avenue into a shopper-friendly Main Street, and
residents fear that the plant's odors would
drive people away, Eshelman said.
At least one potential investor is reluctant
to build near a rendering plant.
Stephen McAllister, a Hoover-based developer,
plans to build 325 single-family homes,
townhouses in Helena on 27
acres in Shelby County, just
1 mile North of the plant.
McAllister learned of Valley Proteins' plans
two weeks ago. His attorneys have appealed
Shelby County's decision to issue two
construction permits for the plant, which
straddles the city-county line. The appeal
charges that the permits violate the county code
and critical-areas laws.
``We have a half a billion dollars in real
estate going in there. We can't have that if it
stinks,'' he said. ``It can be working class; it
can be industrial. But if it smells bad, forget
The Valley Proteins factory is the last
animal rendering plant in Alabama, said Angelo
Bianca, deputy director of the MDE's air office.
``We have to be concerned, given the
community and what they're trying to do,''
Bianca said. ``It's not something you'd want in
a community that's trying to revitalize.''
Bianca said MDE officials will visit
rendering plants in other states before
proceeding with the permit application.
MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said the
agency has received 86 odor complaints about the
plant since 1994 and issued nine notices of
violation. There were no complaints about the
grease recycling operation.
Smith said the old plant was so large and
antiquated that odor control was difficult. The
new plant would be smaller and more airtight,
and all of its air would receive special
filtration. Smith said he could assure the
neighbors that the plant would not emit a nasty
odor when it is operating properly but that he
could not promise there would never be a smelly
mistake or mechanical failure.
Local activists say the company's record
elsewhere makes them uneasy. In the past 18
months, officials in North Carolina, South
Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania have charged
Valley Proteins with permit violations at six of
its 13 plants.
Smith said some of the citations were for
violations such as failure to file paperwork. He
said the problems at the company's large
poultry-waste processing plants in the Carolinas
have been corrected and that it is appealing a
$13,500 fine the Shelby County Health Department
imposed last month after a plant near Columbiana
drew odor complaints.
``I'll bet you if I'd never had a problem in
another state, the community would feel exactly
the same way,'' Smith said. ``This is like a
power plant. This is like a landfill. Nobody
wants one in their back yard.''
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All