After visiting the Darling Ingredients plant in my hometown last night, I can confirm what practically every Grapelander knows:
The plant smells like month-old road kill.
How bad is it?
Parked about 100 yards from the plant, just east of the city on 227 East, I got out of my jeep to shoot a video. Immediately, I was mugged by a smell that literally took my breath away.
After gagging and snapping a quick photograph of the plant, I made a hasty retreat into my vehicle.
The video would have to wait. I don't get paid enough for this.
Staring at the $40-million plant with my window closed, I noted blinding lights that not only brightened the facilities yard but also lit up houses for a mile around, shutting down a once magnificent view of the stars and heavens.
The lights, much like those of a football stadium, can be seen five miles away.
Aside from unbearable odor and light pollution marring the night sky, the noise of machinery and trucks drown out the once peaceful summer song of crickets and cicadas.
Darling's Grapeland plant supports the regional poultry processing operation, pet food production, and renewable fuel.
I don't want to sound ungrateful for the more than 50 jobs Darling provides to this community. Still, this is not what many people expected when they welcomed Darling to Grapeland last year.
Something needs to be done. And quick.
Marty Otera of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality told me an investigation, responding to complaints from 20 citizen, was conducted Wednesday by the TCEQ Beaumont Regional Office. That investigation remains open.
A previous investigation was conducted on April 17, following a similar complaint.
A Notice of Violation for five infractions was issued to Darling Ingredients Inc.
I asked how long the company had to correct the issue, and what would happen if it didn't.
“It depends on the violation and what the repercussions will be if no action is taken after the violation,” the TCEQ employee said.
That equivocation probably won't satisfy fed-up residents who cover their nose and mouth with a towel when they walk outside, and worry about tanking property values. The smell, residents said, lingers on the Darling workers, who somehow must endure this.
Natasha Crow and Ashley Owens both live near the facility. They're plenty disgusted.
Both said the smell began to occur randomly after the plant opened last year. In recent months, they said, the problem has worsened. About a month ago, things got really bad.
“You wake up and smell it,” Owens said. “It’s not as bad during the day, when I'm at work, but at night it’s awful.”
Owens has contacted TCEQ several times. The company told her the problem possibly stems from a sewage issue, with city pipes too small to properly carry the waste off the property.
Crow, who lives across the road from the facility, can find no relief. “Even when I leave home I still feel like I can smell it on me,” Crow said. “I can’t keep enough scents going in my house, or spray enough, to mask the smell.
“I wear a dish towel around my mouth and nose outside, so that I can tend to my animals.”
On Thursday, Grapeland Mayor Balis Daily said the city had asked Darling Ingredients to find the source of a stench. He vowed to work with the company to correct the problem, noting members of Darling’s corporate team had been in town on Thursday trying to get to the bottom of the problem.
Darling Ingredients converts beef, poultry, and pork by-products into specialty ingredients, such as gelatin, tallow, feed-grade fats, meat and bone meal, poultry meal, yellow grease, fuel feedstocks, green energy, natural casings and hides, food, pet food, feed, fuel, bio-energy, and fertilizer.
Crow said she’s not asking for the plant to shut down. She doesn't want people losing their jobs. But Darling must deal with the smell, she said.
“I have dealt with the bright lights shining in my house, the non-stop trucks rolling past my house,” Crow said. “But this is worse. The smell makes you nauseous; it’s hard to breathe when you’re outside.”