By Chris Edwards
WOODVILLE – “You are not welcome here!” yelled Sal Baldovinos, from the stage at Eagle Summit in Woodville on Saturday evening.
The comment, which drew applause from the crowd, was directed toward East Texas Packing Company, LLC.
Baldovinos, the spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Tyler County, served as host for the group’s educational forum. Baldovinos spoke about the meat processing facility ETPC plans to open north of Woodville and the potential environmental risks opponents believe the facility poses.
The keynote speaker at the event, James Simpson, an author who frequently writes on immigration and refugee resettlement, gave a presentation focusing on the use and exploitation of refugee and undocumented immigrant labor in the meat processing industry.
Simpson, who travels across the country to speak at events, acknowledged the amount of resistance and “pure, unadulterated hate” he has encountered for “just trying to tell the truth as I see it.”
Simpson’s presentation used a series of statistics to illustrate the socioeconomic impact slaughterhouses have had on cities such as Greeley, Colo.; Sioux Falls, S.D. and Amarillo. Many of the statistics Simpson used also broke down crime rates among immigrant and refugee populations in these areas.
Simpson explained the workings of the government’s Refugee Resettlement Program, which is jointly run by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and Health and Human Services. Along with statistics showing economic impact of refugee resettlement on rural areas, Simpson also presented statistics with federal budget allowances for grants and aid put toward the resettlement effort.
Baldovinos’ opening remarks primarily focused on the environmental impact that slaughterhouses and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have had on rural areas, and the possible impact ETPC could have on Tyler County’s “pristine East Texas environment.”
“One of the largest environmental concerns associated with slaughterhouses is wastewater and water contamination,” Baldovinos said. He mentioned several effects of wastewater contamination, including birth defects. He also said that a slaughterhouse could invite other types of large industry to Tyler County that could potentially negatively impact the environment of the region.
The event also featured a video presentation by Dr. John Ikerd, who writes and speaks on issues related to sustainability with emphasis on economics and agriculture. Ikerd’s speech dealt with industrial agriculture operations and the economic and cultural effects they had on rural areas.
In his closing remarks, Baldovinos cited a lack of transparent information from ETPC to Tyler County citizens. He said Concerned Citizens have requested an environmental impact study be conducted immediately as a method to “ease the minds of those concerned due to the environmental reasons” as well as “rebuilding trust with the citizens,” if the results are positive.
Baldovinos read an email from Greg Gray, owner and operator of ETPC, written to State Representative James White (R-Hillister) and Concerned Citizens group member Neil Alderman. Gray’s email stated that he, a Tyler County resident, “would not bring anything harmful to our community” and confirmed that multiple legal and environmental protections are in place for ETPC’s eventual operation.
Neither Gray nor any of the investors were present at the event, but the Booster reached out to him and he provided the following statement on behalf of East Texas Packing:
“It was implied again and again during the summit meeting Saturday night that ETPC will be a catalyst for a surge in immigration and refugee populations in Tyler County. As previously stated, the facility will hire local citizens and already has several locals working for the company currently,” Gray said.
Gray also stated that ETPC will not operate a feed lot on or offsite.
“We have discussed possibly contracting with several local ranchers and auction barns to hold roughly 200 livestock each for a couple of days at a time before processing. None of these would fulfill the traditional definition or potential concerns associated with an industrial CAFO,” Gray said.
He also responded to the comparisons of ETPC to larger operations made by Baldovinos and Ikert.
“The companies they are unfairly comparing ours to are exponentially larger … one they mentioned has 3,000 employees versus our estimate of around 200 employees after new shifts are added.”
The statement also said: “No immigrant employment or refugee employment options will be extended by East Texas Packing LLC., because ETPC’s goal is to benefit the current populace and economy.”
Baldovinos urged attendees to contact White and demand he take a stand on the issue.
“The role of government is to protect the people,” he said.
White was only available to attend a portion of Saturday’s meeting due to other scheduled appearances in the distict. Baldovinos read an open letter to him from his group addressing several of their concerns related to ETPC at the conclusion of the event.
“We are vocal, we are organized and you, sir, are on notice. We demand you take the demands of your constituents seriously today or face the consequences on election day,” he said. “It’s time to take a side.”
White viewed a video of the event on the Concerned Citizens’ Facebook page and replied to the Booster with the following statement: “A public servant, though also enjoying the constitutional rights of free speech, must make sure that s/he is not using the public office which the people have loaned to him or her for a period of time as an instrument of oppression or a tool to seek inappropriate advantage.”
White also said that ETPC has not violated any Texas statutes and that it “seems on legal thin ice” for an elected public servant to persuade or coerce a company not to conduct business.
Gene Hall, Director of Communications for the Texas Farm Bureau, issued a statement on ETPC. Hall said several people have visited with him about the matter.
On behalf of Texas Farm Bureau, Hall said that the Farm Bureau “expects all laws, rules and regulations that apply to the operations of the facility be observed if this project moves forward.”
“All citizens have the right to expect environmental regulations are followed to the letter and that all appropriate steps are taken to protect water, air quality and the land,” Hall said. “This is true for Tyler County and all of Texas.”