Port Arthur EDC moves to nix ‘slaughterhouse’

Photo from Riceland presentation

The potential odor that a proposed halal meat-processing facility could have produced gave community members pause and led the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to vote to restrict use of the land where the facility would have been built to prohibit building the “slaughterhouse” there.

Approximately 80 residents from neighborhoods surrounding the Jade Avenue business park where land requested for the meat-processing facility was located attended a special meeting at the EDC Monday evening, March 28, mainly to express their concerns about the smell the facility would produce and to let the board know they do not want it near their neighborhoods.

Muhammad Tahir Javed, a Pakistani-born American businessman, is the registered agent for Riceland Farms, which is reportedly owned by multiple parties, including Javed. A company representative, engineer Hani Tohme, approached the EDC first in January and later at a March 7 meeting to propose the purchase of land from the EDC to build a halal meat-processing facility at a location along Jade Avenue within an existing business park. Riceland Farms additionally expressed its desire to apply for incentives from the EDC, such as tax abatement.

“The facility is being built for halal meat processing, which is the way Muslims process meat religiously,” Tohme explained. “However, our market is not just for Muslims in the United States. We are going to target all markets.”

Tohme told the EDC board the technology that would be used at the meat-processing facility is “state-of-the-art” and would prevent odor from being a concern for Port Arthur neighbors, but board member Langston Adams and members of the community were not convinced.

“Your facility is going to create two worries: one worry is… air polluting – the smell that’s going to be in the air – that is a worry,” Adams told Tohme on March 7.

He also cited a potential strain on the city sewage treatment operations that could result from the massive amounts of waste the company would admittedly produce.

“Then, for the citizens of Port Arthur, there could be another worry, their sewage,” said Adams.

While Adams was adamantly against the proposed meat-processing facility, which he calls a “slaughterhouse,” EDC CEO Floyd Batiste was enthusiastic about the project, which Riceland Farms said could produce more than 200 local jobs.

“The EDC’s job is to find quality businesses that produce quality jobs in the community. This is a quality business,” Batiste told The Examiner last week.

Batiste called the special meeting March 28 to rezone land at the business park so it could be used by Riceland Farms, and to make other preparations, presumably in order to move forward with the project. However, citizens stepped up to the podium one by one to tell the board they don’t want the business in Port Arthur, so instead of passing the agenda item as it read, Adams proposed adding new language to the existing Covenants & Restrictions to prohibit the building of a meat-processing facility or slaughterhouse of any kind on the Jade Avenue extension of the business park where the Riceland Farms plant would have been built.

The new restrictive covenant is to read, “Specifically prohibited uses include slaughterhouses or meat processing plants and facilities ancillary to such business operations.”

The measure passed 5-1-1, with five in favor of changing the language, one against and one abstaining. The board voted unanimously to rezone the business park extension, and voted 6-1 to approve re-platting the property. Adams voted against re-platting because he feels it was drawn with bias toward Riceland Farms.

Adams said he is pleased with the board’s vote regarding restricting use of the business park extension to prohibit the meat-processing facility, but added that the battle is ongoing.

“It’s not over,” said Adams. “The City Council still has to ratify what we did.”

The next Port Arthur City Council meeting is scheduled for April 5.