By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
A recent vote by the Washington County Commission cleared the way for $2 million worth of federal American Rescue Plan funds to be transferred to the Appalachian Producers Cooperative (APC) for the construction of a meat processing facility in the county.
County Mayor Joe Grandy said the vote, which approved a memorandum of understanding with the APC, was the last step in an extensive process by the co-op to secure funding from Washington County. The money will go toward covering the estimated $10 million cost of purchasing land, building the facility and purchasing the equipment necessary to process the animals.
“One of the the things the county commission set as an objective with these American Rescue funds was to engage in projects that were going to be generational, projects that would have a lasting impact on our community for decades,” Grandy told the News & Neighbor. “They’ve been diligent in pulling the funding together. It’s a $10 million project. To pull $10 million together is a huge task.”
Grandy said the legwork done by the co-op to make the project a reality goes back at least five years. He praised the group for doing its due diligence every step of the way and for putting a board together with bylaws to ensure the project is done the right way. He added that once Washington County’s ARPA funds were earmarked for an agriculture project, the local agriculture community labeled the processing plant as its top priority.
“Agriculture is our county’s No. 1 industry. It’s our state’s No. 1 industry,” Grandy said. “It’s really important for a lot of people across the community – not just our farmers, but our consumers.
“We brought in the agriculture community and this was their No. 1 priority, so the commission rallied around that.”
A feasibility study on the proposed project carried out by the University of Tennessee identified wastewater disposal as one of the major highest hurdles for any processing plant being located in the state. Grandy said he observed the project and is satisfied the group has located a site along Andrew Johnson Highway that will allow the facility to meet federal and state environmental regulations.
“In considering sites, water and sewer was always a top priority for that group of people,” Grandy said. “One fo the very first things they did when sites were identified in this Jonesborough Water/Sewer market, was to go to the utility managers in Jonesborough.
“They did their due diligence and came back with a yes.”
The APC is hoping to have the facility completed by the spring of 2024 and expect to have 22 people employed at the plant when it opens. The plant will be accessible to farmers across the region and will eventually be capable of processing 125 head of cattle, pigs or sheep per week.