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Plans for a Concord poultry processing facility have flown the coop

Last modified: 1/10/2015 1:13:10 AM
Fournier Foods has abandoned its plans for a poultry processing plant in East Concord.

Despite opposition from neighbors, the Concord Planning Board approved the application for a nearly 5,500-square-foot plant in December. But in a letter to the community dated Jan. 7, the owners of Fournier Foods wrote they have “discontinued” their efforts to build near Exit 16 on Interstate 93.

The company’s attorney, Amy Manzelli, provided the Monitor with a copy of that letter. Attempts to reach the owners – Craig Fournier and Omar Khudari – were unsuccessful yesterday, but Manzelli said they were “deeply, deeply saddened by this decision.”

“The final firm costs for the project are significantly more than what those costs were estimated in the beginning,” Manzelli said.

The company had received nearly all the necessary approvals for the plant, but then Manzelli said Fournier and Khudari received the final estimates for construction over the holidays.

While she would not disclose the exact numbers, she said “it was obvious what the decision needed to be.”

“The conditions of approval added to the costs,” Manzelli said. “The length of the approval added to the costs. But those additions are much less than the cost of the building. It’s the final quotes for the cost of the building that are much more than what was known at the beginning of the project.”

Fournier Foods currently operates a mobile unit that travels to process poultry at farms across the state. But because that mobile unit is not under USDA jurisdiction, the farmers are only allowed to sell up to 1,000 birds processed there to commercial buyers.

So last fall, the company applied to build a plant at 52 Locke Road for slaughtering and processing chickens. Because the plant would have been certified organic and under the eyes of a USDA inspector at all times, the company could have processed 2,000 birds per eight-hour shift. The company was planning for three shifts per day, which would amount to 6,000 processed birds. And if they used the processing plant, farmers would not have been subject to the 1,000-bird limit for their commercial sales.

Fournier Foods had seven part-time and seasonal employees for its mobile unit, but the plant would staff 23 people per shift.

The 20-acre lot is zoned for industrial use and surrounded by commercial properties, but would-be neighbors on the opposite side of the interstate voiced concern about odor and pollution from the plant. But area farmers argued in favor of the plant, saying they could increase their poultry flocks with the option of a local organic processor.

“We the owners of Fournier Foods are extremely disappointed,” the letter stated. “More importantly, we are very concerned about the New Hampshire farmers who have given us immense support, and who now will not have the opportunities that our plant would have provided for them.”

Steve Normanton, a Litchfield farmer, already hires Fournier Foods’s mobile unit to process the chickens he raises on his farm. Khudari is also one of his partners at the farm, and Normanton has spoken highly of Fournier’s business. To grow his flock and make the processing more efficient, Normanton planned to send his chicken to their plant.

“For me, it’s pretty unfortunate that (the plant) is not going to happen,” Normanton said. “It does have an impact on our business moving forward.”

The planning board heard hours of public testimony, and delayed a vote on the application three times. But in December, Fournier Foods finally got the city’s okay. The board did add several conditions to its approval to mitigate the effects of odor and pollution, which were primary concerns for nearby residents. Among those conditions, waste from the slaughtering process was not to be deposited in on-site dumpsters, and a plant employee would have been present during waste pickups to clean up any spills immediately.

“There was a significant amount of citizen involvement, resident involvement, which is what the planning board process is all about,” said Carlos Baia, the deputy city manager for development.

Baia said some projects never materialize, despite earning the necessary approvals from the city. Concord Mayor Jim Bouley, an East Concord resident, declined comment.

“We don’t want to have good quality jobs not come to Concord, if there’s a possibility to be here,” Baia said. “However, we have a strong economic base in the community. Concord is very attractive to business.”

Two years ago, Fournier Foods did try to build a similar plant in Leominster, Mass. – and the scenario was similar to the company’s experience in Concord. While the project earned its necessary approvals, Fournier Foods nixed its plans because the plant would be too close to a residential neighborhood. When the company tried again in Concord, Manzelli had said this Locke Road parcel was a larger and more isolated location.

The attorney said Fournier and Khudari do not currently have plans to look elsewhere for their plant, and she was unsure whether the mobile processing unit would continue.

“At this point, the business does not have any future (plans),” Manzelli said.

The Fournier Foods website is currently offline.

“We are open to any ideas on how best to address the need of New Hampshire’s farmers for USDA-inspected poultry processing,” the letter stated.



(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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