Fresno residents cheered and applauded inside City Hall on Thursday following a unanimous City Council vote that approved the move of the Darling Ingredients meat-rendering plant from its location near southwest neighborhoods to a rural area.
The effort to move the foul-smelling plant has been a long road that’s seen multiple lawsuits. A resident of Fresno for more than 60 years, Mary Curry, has been part of the effort to relocate the plant that’s been “an unpleasant neighbor.”
“The smell and the unpleasant odors, and the scenes,” she said. “We need to build our community so it looks good like a lot of other areas in Fresno.”
Curry said she never considered moving away herself. Southwest Fresno has long been an underprivileged part of town that’s largely home to low-income families and people of color.
“A superintendent told me years ago that I could move if I wanted better schools,” she said. “I said, ‘No. I’m not going to move because all my neighbors can’t move.’ “
The Darling plant was the target of a lawsuit filed in 2012 by Concerned Citizens of West Fresno, a group of nearby residents. According to city staff, the old plant site has been rezoned for office use and cannot be reopened as a plant.
Darling takes animal byproducts, like leftover fat, bones and other parts from slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants before processing it into ingredients for animal food, fertilizer and fuel. The 795 W. Belgravia Ave. plant sits on 5.22 acres, employs about 40 people and can process 850,000 pounds of material daily.
District 5 Councilmember Luis Chavez said anyone can get an idea what it’s like to live near the plant by driving by it on a hot day with the windows down, which he’s done.
“The stench coming from the place was crazy,” he said.
The new site at 5449 W. Jensen Ave., city land near the wastewater treatment plant and far west of Fresno’s core, is about 40 acres and allows for expansion to up to 70 workers. The development agreement with the city includes expanding the plant’s processing capacity to 10 million pounds per week, running 24 hours a day.
City staff said Thursday that Texas-based Darling had nearly reached its goal of $9 million in tax credits for the move. The project needs a number of environmental-related and other approvals before the new plant is built and operating in more than two years, city staff said.
The owners of Quist Dairy brought a lawsuit against the new location last year but they have since settled the case.
The old plant is in Councilmember Miguel Arias’ District 3. He said the district’s former representative Oliver Baines championed the move while on the council.
“It is a significant historic investment for the city of Fresno (but) we’re still not done yet,” Arias said.