Controversial Mountaire road closure hearing to continue Monday

Posted 8/25/21

SILER CITY ­— Siler City’s board of commissioners will host a continuation Monday of a contentious public hearing on Mountaire Farms’ request to reroute part of East Third Street away from …

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Controversial Mountaire road closure hearing to continue Monday

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Posted
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This story was updated to include a change in venue.  The public hearing will now be held in the media room at Jordan-Matthews High School, not the Wren Memorial Library.

SILER CITY ­— Siler City’s board of commissioners will host a continuation Monday of a contentious public hearing on Mountaire Farms’ request to reroute part of East Third Street away from the national poultry processor’s 255,000-square-foot facility.

The hearing began on Aug. 2 as part of a regular meeting of the board of commissioners. Mountaire’s official proposal calls for closure of parts of East Third and East Fifth streets and all of Johnson Avenue, plus rerouting of a portion of East Third. The road project is awaiting approval or rejection from the board of commissioners and the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation.

The continued public hearing will be held as part of a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in the media room at Jordan-Matthews High School.  The public is encouraged to speak in person, but must be signed up no later than 7 p.m. Zoom attendees will not be permitted to speak.

This video was produced by Mountaire Farms and is a part of company's Aug. 2 presentation to the community regarding its plans to re-route East Third Street. The video was made available to the Chatham News + Record (for which the Youtube creator, Hannah McClellan, works for) ahead of the presentation, and is shared with Mountaire's permission.

Mountaire’s $6 million project is motivated by safety concerns for vehicles passing by the plant, according to company representatives. Each day about 148 trucks enter and leave the $170 million property, which opened in 2019 and employs more than 1,500 workers.

“Those trucks have to cross over Third Street to reach the scales and back, and offsite trailer storage and back, several times a day,” Mountaire Director of Communications and Community Relations Cathy Bassett previously told the News + Record. “With the new configuration, we would reduce those trucks from crossing Third Street an additional 464 times a day.”

But 10 out of the 11 town residents — mostly nearby business owners — who spoke at the Aug. 2 hearing objected to Mountaire’s rationale. Shifting East Third Street would only hurt the town and help Mountaire, they said.

“The impact [of the Third Street closure] on my business would potentially be anywhere between 30 and 40% in revenue, which is huge for a small business owner like myself,” said Krystal Desai, who owns a local Quick Way Mart Exxon gas station with her husband Mike.

Several other speakers echoed Desai’s concerns for local businesses. Others complained about possible impacts on school-hour traffic, water quality during construction and rescue routes for emergency vehicles. Some were worried about re-routed truck traffic affecting Raleigh Street and downtown Siler City, while others took umbrage with poor driving habits from the truckers hauling product to and from Mountaire’s facility. The News + Record reached out to several of those who spoke on Aug. 2 for additional comments, but none returned calls.

After the hearing, Bassett told the News + Record she thought some commenters misunderstood Mountaire’s request. At no point in time, for example, would thru-traffic close, she said. The road’s current trajectory would remain open until a new route has been completed, contrary to what some from the public expressed.

“I think some people are just learning about this even though we’ve been talking to the town about it for over two years now,” she said. “But this is the first time the public’s really had an opportunity to try to learn about it. That’s part of our process, trying to educate these local businesses.”

But that was not to say Mountaire would discount the public’s anxiety, she emphasized.

“Some concerns were raised and we’re going to go back and take a look at the things that were raised,” she said. “That’s the nature of what we do, and we’ve done that at every step of this process.”

Mountaire President Phillip Plylar, who flew in from Delaware to attend the hearing, made similar attempts to assuage residents’ fears in his comments before the board.

“I would say that some of the concerns that I’ve heard tonight — we’ll do our best to address them,” he said. “To me, you are our customers, the community. And where we can work to address, we will. On Raleigh Street, I understand your concern there. We’re chicken people, we’re not traffic experts. So we went to the traffic experts — the Department of Transportation and a third party consultant that this group recommended. They said we didn’t need to widen the road, so we went with that. However, if we need to put in a turn lane, we can do that. If you guys want a cul-de-sac, we can do that.”

Plylar, along with Bassett and Vice President of Operations Services Bob Kenny, will attend the continued hearing on Monday. They hope to reassure the public of Mountaire’s good intentions, Bassett said, and demonstrate the value it brings to Siler City.

“This is a significant project that’s going to impact the town and we want to be good neighbors,” she said. “We’ve tried to be good neighbors from day one and we’re going to continue to do that and try to work towards common ground. We know not everyone’s concerns are going to be addressed but we’ll continue to review and tweak and work with the town on what they think are the priorities.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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