Several residents of the Lafayette neighborhood where the Cobb-Vantress chicken hatchery operates appeared before the Lafayette City Council on Tuesday to complain—about a bad smell. So begins another chapter in the Macon County Cobb-Vantress controversy, which began over five years ago when the chicken company first began plans to come into the area.
Bonnie Davis, who lives directly across from the hatchery on Coolidge Road, stood and read a prepared statement. In it she said, “Myself and others have lost the enjoyment of our homes and gardens, because of odors and flies. This odor is present 24/7. Out of each week, there are three to four bad days of odor. On those bad days, you don’t get outside for more than thirty minutes… you will get sick.
“I’m not a weak-stomached person, okay? Psychologically, it has taken away the calmness and composure to enjoy our homes. This odor is so overwhelming. If we’re in the yard, and this odor comes upon us, our house is not a safe haven. It gets in our house. It gets in our cars. It gets in your hair, in your clothes.
“This is a very serious matter. We were not taken into consideration… We are not living on a farm, but we seem to have a farm product in our yard. We are over 200 people that are affected by this.
I’m here, and some of my neighbors are here, to ask you for your help.”
Davis said that she attended many of the meetings held to discuss Cobb’s move into the County, and remembers asking repeatedly whether there would be a smell. She was assured by company representatives that there would be none.
Other property owners present at the meeting spoke about the loss of property value sustained by those in the neighborhood. Davis stated that she would move out of the area if she thought she could sell her home for its value. Later she told the Times, “This is not about money. I’ve been here 25 years, and I don’t want to move. I just want the smell to go away.”
A former renter on Coolidge Road, Josh Mann, stood and said that “on the bad days, that smell would still come in through the walls. It got into your clothes… my daughter couldn’t play in the yard… it’s horrible. I’ve worked on chicken farms, I’ve worked with pigs; I’ve worked with cattle. Nothing smells like Cobb.”
The smells were described by residents as having a natural gas or rotten egg smell, and varying in extremity and quality.
“I have contacted the mayors, the mayor before the sitting mayor now, the Cobb’s person, and the commissioner for my district,” said Davis. “And I will repeat to you the comments that I got while these people were sitting in my driveway smelling the odor. ‘I can’t do anything about it.’ ‘You called the wrong person.’ ‘Yes, I agree that it smells, I’ll go back to the office right now and give them a call.’ ‘I’ll call and let you know.’ I’ve not received any calls.
“And others have been told that they would be called, when they’ve come forward with it, and they have not received any calls… Would you want this to happen in your home? Would you let this happen in your neighborhood?”
Davis further stated that in addition to trying to get records of agreements or contracts between the city and Cobb-Vantress, she had called the city Mayor’s office multiple times trying to get on the agenda for the city meetings.
“She called me,” said City Councilman Marcus Smith, “and said she’d asked to be on the agenda and they wouldn’t put her on. Don’t know if that actually happened or not. But I told her, ‘You come up there and I’ll make sure I call on you to speak.’”
Smith, who owns a few properties on Coolidge Road and nearby Baker Drive, said that he hasn’t had trouble keeping his rental properties occupied, but that a family of his tenants had moved out because of the smell.
“I go by there every day, and I don’t catch a real harsh smell when I go through there in my truck, but if I go over to their house, you usually have a faint smell of it,” said Smith. “I have gone down through there twice, to where when I went down through there I was like ‘wow’ so I stopped one day and backed up and rolled my windows down, and it’s just a funk that is kind of unexplainable. It got in my truck, and it took me to lunch to get that smell out of my truck.”
After the concerns had been raised to the city council, Mayor Richard Driver said that the only contract between the city and Cobb was a land purchase agreement. He suggested that perhaps the County had other documents on record.
City attorney Jon Wells stated that the city did not have any legal options to threaten Cobb-Vantress with. He suggested that the complainants could sue.
A motion was then made and passed that the city write a letter, drafted by Wells, asking Cobb-Vantress to address the complaints.
“It’s definitely something I’m interested in,” said Smith later, “not just because I have a financial interest, but because I don’t think we should have any horrible smells that affect somebody enjoying their property right here in the community. We’ve apparently gotten promises that have been broken, and I’m interested in doing something about it.
“I was frustrated by the mayor’s attitude of, ‘you know, we’ll send them a letter, but there’s nothing we can do about it; you’ll have to sue them personally.’ Well, surely from the city’s perspective, we can do something to these people to make them want to abide by the rules we set.”
County Mayor Shelvy Linville, who was in office when Cobb-Vantress moved into the area in 2008, said that the company did not have to get permission from the County Commission.
Of the Cobb-Vantress protesters who organized at the time, Linville said, “they need to go down there and talk to the sixty or seventy people who work there, and tell them that Cobb doesn’t need to be here anymore. The people who have been given their jobs this way, see what kind of reaction they get from them.”
Mayor Driver later stated that he had received a call from Davis and gone out to her property, but that by the time he arrived, the smell seemed to be dissipating.
“To be honest with you, after I went out there, I had called [Cobb],” said Driver, “and the hatchery manager was out of the office, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to them.” He did not say whether he had attempted contact with Cobb again.
In the letter Wells sent to Cobb, he summarizes the complaints from city residents and concludes, “If this is true then someone is not doing their job correctly here. That odor violates the city ordinances. Please respond to this letter within 7 days because apparently someone is not doing their job or someone has lied to this town and to me…”
Cobb-Vantress could not be reached for comment at press time.