Morton rezones property for new Koch plantBy DUSTIN WHITLOCK,
By a 4-1 vote, the Morton City Council passed a measure to rezone residential property as industrial property on Morris Tullos Dr. to permit Koch Foods to build a new processing plant. The plant is said to be state of the art and will utilize new air filtration technology to prevent odors from polluting the air of the residential properties which will be within a mile of the plant.
A headcount of the city council meeting was taken and nearly 175 citizens of Morton were in attendance. So many were present that all seating room was filled and dozens had to stand. The majority of citizens were in favor of the rezoning, but those against the rezoning were permitted to voice their concerns without interruption.
Ward 1 Alderwoman, Marie Washington, who voted to pass the measure, said that the citizens, both for and against conducted themselves civilly.
Koch Foods employs over 2,600 people in Scott County in facilities in Morton and Forest. These facilities and the human traffic produce revenue for the cities and businesses therein indirectly via utilities services supplied to the sites by the cities and via consumption of gas and meals by commuting workers.
Koch Foods looked at five locations as potential candidates for the new facility. The other sites were rejected due to soil quality (for foundations), strength of access to utilities (sewage), and varying costs associated with differing electrical suppliers.
The site chosen had the most optimal soil quality of all of the sites tested; the site was most suitable for water/sewage service, and the site would permit the company to utilize Entergy electrical services, saving the company millions on the years as opposed to purchasing power from Mississippi Power as they would have at alternate sites.
An architect with Koch, Dan Tyler described the chosen site as the Goldilocks location, having the balance of soil quality and utility access that the company needed.
The south region of the property will not be developed in order to position the building as far away from houses as possible. The whole property is about 136 acres and the company is only building on about 1/3 of the land (42 acres).
Koch is leaving a hundred ft. deep greenbelt of trees behind the houses undeveloped to screen the facility. The distance from the residential properties and the approved site is about 1,200 ft. There is also a 40 ft. high hill which will mask the plant and prevent the factory from being visible from homes in the neighborhood on Morris Tullos.
Live chickens will be introduced at the facility on the north end to keep the chicken trucks as far away as possible from residencies.
Koch Foods is investigating state of the art waste water and odor mitigation technology to reduce air pollution.
Koch representatives at the city council meeting said that leaving Morton was never an absolute certainty if the city elected to not rezone the site. Representatives said that Alabama was an option but said that they did not come to the meeting to hold the city hostage with threats that they would pull out of Morton or the county in total.
Attendees that objected to the chosen site argued that the soil is bad virtually everywhere in central and South Mississippi.
The soil in central and South Mississippi is known for its Yazoo clay deposits which swell and shrink with the rain. The infamous clay was deposited over 30 million years ago when the southern portion of the state was covered by an ancient sea.
Those in opposition said that everyone building homes in the area must deal with the soil quality and must pay for soil preparation of constructing their homes.
Koch reps claimed that if they could have utilized an existing site that Koch owns as well as acquired adjacent property to it, it would have been less costly for Koch. Again, the poor soil quality of said location made those savings impossible.
The former mayor of Morton, Greg Butler, spoke at the meeting, saying that he trusts Koch enough that he is considering purchasing a home in the neighborhood adjacent to the new facility.
Morton’s new mayor, Gerald Keeton said in a comment to the paper, “This site is so suitable because it was an old gravel pit.”
The location has a vein of rock which will allow for a strong foundation. The composition of the soil at the chosen site and type of rock in the ground was not available at the time of this writing.
When the new facility is completed, the existing kill plant in Morton is expected to be demolished.
Mayor Keeton said, “I think this will be a great thing for the city. It’s a shot in the arm for the city and surrounding area.”
Alderwoman Oneida Hollis Laster of Ward 4 voted to pass the motion and told the paper, “We’ve got to think about the future and additional revenue which will benefit the city.”
Alderowman Washington said, “They (Koch Foods) gave us enough information to move forward.”
Alderman Al Reeves of Ward 2 said, “Morton is a small town and our tax revenue is about 1/3 of Forest, and when you have a corporate partner that represents close to 45 percent of your tax revenue and they reach out to you on an expansion effort, you try to work with them.”
Reeves said of the dispute between citizens (particularly on social media), “The negativity — the conflict between citizens was creating damage to the community and relationships.”
“It is in the best interest of the city to move forward. Fear of the unknown is normal. At the end of the day, you have to look at Koch’s record as partners in Morton,” Reeves said.
Ward 5 Alderman, Ryan Moore said he was displeased that residents opposing the chosen site were framed by some of their neighbors as not supporting Morton.
Alderman Scott Herrod of Ward 3 and Alderman Moore voted to table the issue to permit Koch Foods time to supply the council with more in-depth data on their studies of the five locations, options for the other sites, and estimates of costs in soil preparation at each site; and to give Morton time to potentially seek assistance from the county and/or state to assuage the needs of Koch Foods in relation to utility and soil issues.
Losing this Koch Foods plant would have truly been a wound to Morton, Forest, Scott County, and even the state of Mississippi. Koch stands to create hundreds of new jobs in the coming years with the construction of this near-$150 million facility; create growth for the county’s businesses serving workers, and likely generate jobs for infrastructure improvements.
Moore said that he never opposed Koch Foods being in Morton or Scott County, but just wanted all parties to have time to digest the data.
The motion to table the issue failed 3-2, and the council moved to pass the rezoning measure 4-1, with Moore being the only dissenting vote.