Horse meat-processing plant deemed a nuisance

Kaufman: Facility may be forced to close or meet water, air regulations

08:11 AM CST on Thursday, December 1, 2005

By IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News

Neighbors and some city officials have said it for years, and now it's official: The Dallas Crown horse meat-processing plant in Kaufman is a nuisance.

The Kaufman Board of Adjustment made that declaration on a 4-0 vote Tuesday night, stripping the plant of its status as a legal nonconforming use a business that can continue to exist because it predates zoning ordinances that would otherwise outlaw it.

But what will happen to the plant remains to be seen. The board could force it to close, or it could order the company to fix what the city says is creating the nuisance smell and discharge into the city's sewer system.

Either way, a company representative said, an appeal to a state district court is possible.

"We had thought the hearing would go against us all along," said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman and lobbyist for Dallas Crown and for Beltex Corp., a separate company that has a horse meat plant in Fort Worth. "It's just another problem. Any business faces its problems, and we've certainly had our share of them."

Terry Capehart, Kaufman's director of development services, said the city was thorough in documenting problems with the plant.

"It's the impact they're having on the immediate area," he said. "The neighbors who live around there have a problem with flies and other vermin and the smell."

But before the city can close the plant, the board must determine whether Dallas Crown has recouped its financial investment. The plant would be allowed to operate until that investment is made back, said David Dodd, an attorney for the city. He said attorneys and accountants for Kaufman would meet to review Dallas Crown financial information soon to prepare for another public hearing before the Board of Adjustment, probably on Jan. 24.

Robert Eldridge, a neighbor of the Kaufman plant, said he was pleased with the board's decision. He said he was tired of the smell wafting into his neighborhood.

"We've waited for years for this," he said. "We'll wait some more. We just want to live like normal people. They did the right thing."

Dallas Crown attorney Mark Calabria said Tuesday's vote was less significant than the one expected in January.

"The bigger issue is what abatement or corrective action they want them [the company] to take," he said.

The hearing wasn't the first time the city has tried to close the plant. Last year, it shut off sewer service, saying the company was violating the terms of its permit. But a state district judge allowed the plant to continue operating and ordered the two sides to mediate.

Mr. Bradshaw denied the claims of violations of air and water regulations.

"They've reported us for violations of clean air and water regulations, and every time we have things tested and we're in compliance," he said. "We're totally in compliance with the law."

Horse meat from the three U.S. plants the two in North Texas and one in Illinois is sold mainly for use in Europe, Asia and zoos.

Congress has tried to ban horse slaughter in the U.S., and in November an amendment to the agriculture spending bill cut off funding for federal inspectors, effective in March. The U.S. plants would not be able to operate without an inspector.

Mr. Bradshaw said the companies were awaiting word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on whether they could pay for inspectors, which would allow the plants to continue operating.

Mr. Calabria said he and his clients know the plant won't be around forever.

"The plant recognizes that neighborhoods change and conditions change, but we're not an impairment to the community at the moment," he said. "I don't see people avoiding Kaufman because of us."