January 21, 2010

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if someone else’s what if’s spurred the editor into returning to pen one of his own What If columns? Say that three times fast…

Normally I try not to do this, but on rare occasions I feel the need to address a letter to the editor published in our newspaper. I can think of only one other occasion where I did so in the same edition.

But I felt the need to comment on some of the issues addressed in the letter to the editor by Gigi Wahba. She raises some questions regarding the Cargill feed mill that possibly could be constructed in Scotland County.

I understand that Gigi’s intentions are simply to get people talking about the issues, but often times people take what they read in the paper as fact without confirming it for themselves.

I want to say that the newspaper is filled with facts, but people’s opinion pieces, such as Letters to the Editor need to be read as just that, opinions. One more disclaimer before I begin, the opinion pieces printed in the newspaper do not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication, it’s publisher or it’s employees. Basically that means that just because I agree to print a letter to the editor, doesn’t mean that I agree with the opinion being expressed in it.

We want people to be free to share their thoughts. That is why I try to refrain from rebuttals, as I do not want to scare people away from offering their ideas.

Still I feel it is my duty to offer these thoughts for your consideration.

My biggest problem with the letter is, unless you have proof that Cargill has “ignored” laws in other areas where it does business, I believe that is a very bold statement to make.

I understand that tying this issue to the CAFO concerns of some of the public is a way to try and generate support for opposing the proposed plant. I also agree that a company would be best suited to locate a manufacturing plant as close to its resources and its market as possible. If this plant were to be built here, would it mean more CAFO’s in Scotland County? Only if it makes financial sense for local producers to enter into agreements with the company to pursue business ventures in the hog industry. And only if they could meet all of the requirements established by the state and county health ordinances governing CAFO’s.

We can make statistics say whatever we want them to, especially if we round up all the time. It wasn’t 2/3 of the county that voted in favor of a county health ordinance, it was less than 60%, and that came from a voter turnout of below 40%.

Call me crazy, but using more grain than this county can produce seems like a great problem to have? Same with having increased truck traffic. That means more demand for our local grain producers, more customers at the convenience store, more local sales tax being paid and should correlate with improved roads and highways to meet the higher demand.

The letter’s author raises the question regarding the one million gallons of water that the plant would use monthly and if it might be a problem for the rural water service. That is a good question, but I would suggest it be asked of the people in charge of those facilities and not tossed out as possible concern before anyone really knows if it is or isn’t.

As far as utilities are concerned, I can not speak for electric and gas (although I know both companies are very excited about the opportunity to add this customer), but as a Memphis City Alderman, I can tell you the city would love to provide water for this project. I’m not sure how Lake Rathbun works, but the city water plant’s budget is basically built around fixed costs, the biggest portion of which is employees and benefits. We have the capacity to provide 1 million gallons per month easily, at virtually no added cost to the city (a few extra dollars for chemicals) so anything we would sell to them would be gravy for all citizens of Memphis, since we in essence would be selling excess water to them. And since it would be such a large buy, it would do one of two things for the citizens of Memphis, lower their water bills or provide extra income to fund much needed repairs and improvements.

A tax abatement means that Cargill does not have to pay a portion or all of the taxes that their new multimillion dollar facility would generate. So basically an abatement, gives them a free pass for the first several years before ultimately adding that huge tax assessment to the county tax roll, meaning a big influx of tax dollars at a future date. Without the plant you have none of those taxes. You are not giving anything away since you do not already have it.

This just seems like such a no-brainer to me… Maybe I have blinders on, with the only thing I can see ahead being the possible economic development this proposed plant brings to this community? That’s why it is important to have folks like Gigi who are brave enough to ask tough questions, even if this author doesn’t necessarily agree with all of them.

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