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Residents concerned about odor, traffic as a poultry processing plant looks at East Concord land

Concerns about traffic and odor dominated an hourlong neighborhood forum last night about a poultry processing plant in East Concord.

The owners of Fournier Foods, Craig Fournier and Omar Khudari, met with about 50 residents at the East Concord Community Center in advance of a planning board hearing later this month.

Fournier and Khudari outlined their vision for a 5,500-square-foot plant on Locke Road, off Exit 16 of Interstate 93. Then, residents aired their reservations, mostly about potential odor, noise and traffic jams.

“Odor is a question of management,” Khudari said. “We have visited poultry plants that smell. We have visited poultry plants that don’t.”

The plant can’t easily be compared to industrial chicken processors in other parts of the country because it will be much smaller – processing at most 6,000 birds per day – and no chickens will live on the site, Fournier said.

“To compare a place like Perdue or Tyson to us, we’re a pinprick,” he said. “Those facilities take up miles of space, they produce tens of thousands of birds a day . . . and they raise the product. Odor will come from live birds.”

The plant will employ roughly 23 people per shift, and the company plans to request permission from the planning board to run three shifts and operate 24 hours a day.

Fournier Foods received approval for a processing plant in Leominster, Mass., last October, according to the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.

They abandoned those plans amid neighborhood resistance, Khudhari said.

“That site was 2 acres with no buffer and was abutting on two sides with houses,” he said. “They were very unhappy about having their neighborhood directly across the street from an industrial plant, even though the land was zoned industrial.”

The Locke Road site is 20 acres, about 16 of which are unusable wetlands, said Katie Weiss, who worked on the project for Bedford Design Consultants.

The company doesn’t own the land but has a purchase-and-sale agreement contingent on planning board approval, he said. According to city records, it’s owned by Jay Stewart Realty Holdings and was appraised at $304,000 in 2013.

The site meets the company’s needs for having access to city water and sewer for the disposal of wastewater after it has been treated, and is easily accessible from I-93 and all areas of New England, Khudari said.

Poultry processing is not considered an agricultural use of land, which is why the company is looking for a site in an industrial zone, he said.

Residents’ reactions ranged from curious to hostile.

“Even having this meeting tonight affects my property value,” said Sheila Booth. “If I were looking to buy a house similar to my own, and I heard that there was a meeting about a plant like this, I wouldn’t look at the house. I’d go someplace else.”

Tess Crick said after the meeting that she still had questions, but that if the company is all she’s heard them to be, she’s optimistic.

Her boss, Peter Chasse, raises chickens in Weare and had Fournier Foods process the birds on his property with a mobile unit they run. The process was humane and clean, he said by phone after the meeting.

Fournier examined each bird as it was processed to determine its health, and cleaned the entire area where the processing happened, and there wasn’t any odor, Chasse said.

“I’d tell people, if he cared that much about a chicken, how much will he care about a neighbor?” Chasse said.

“I still have some questions,” Crick said after the meeting. “But I think if they are doing what they say they will be doing, people just need to be convinced.”

The company will appear before the Concord Planning Board on Sept. 17. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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