By Ken Carlson | Modesto Bee

Stanislaus County’s planning commission approved the environmental work Thursday for a tallow plant expansion but postponed a hearing on land use considerations.

Darling Ingredients’ proposal to expand its animal rendering facility on South Carpenter Road by 200,000 pounds per day was reset for Oct. 6. The county rescheduled Tuesday’s land use hearing because of a public noticing error.

The Texas-based company has agreed to close a tallow plant in Fresno next year due to long-term complaints about noxious odors and wants to move some of that work to its rendering facility on South Carpenter Road in Stanislaus County.

Another tallow plant, Modesto Tallow, was closed in 2006, but the Darling Ingredients facility on South Carpenter is in a sparsely populated area, 13 miles south of Modesto.

County staff said the rendering facility has not drawn many complaints from surrounding property owners. No one spoke against the expansion at Thursday’s planning commission meeting.

“The old Modesto tallow works had such public scrutiny,” Planning Commissioner Wayne Zipser said. “It was not in the right place. This one is.”

Zipser, a retired county Farm Bureau executive director, said he supports moving the project forward.

The Darling Ingredients plant, situated on a 74-acre site, receives animal carcasses from dairies, livestock producers and slaughterhouses and turns the waste products into ingredients for animal feed, organic fertilizer and diesel production.

The company is seeking permits to add facilities and boost production from 1.65 million to 1.85 million pounds daily. The expansion could increase the 52-member workforce by 10 employees. The expanded facility would handle some work transferred from the Fresno plant that is closing, county staff said.

Lisa Smith, who lives next door to the Carpenter Road plant, is one of an undetermined number of nearby residents who are opposed to the expansion.

She said Thursday that the noxious odor near the plant smells like rotting dead flesh and bad foot odor. And it’s not healthy for anyone to live near the facility.

Smith said her mother died suddenly last year from a respiratory illness that wasn’t related to COVID-19. “Kids cannot live here,” she said. “It is too dangerous. There are not that many residents, but I find it hard to believe it’s not causing some serious environmental impact.”

Smith, who has lived in the house for a year, said the water, soil and air around the plant should be tested. She also suspects the rendering operation is contaminating the San Joaquin River to the west.

“The ramifications are real and they are not listening to us,” Smith said.

About 30 individuals signed a letter opposing the expansion and complaining about odors, air pollution, contaminated water, and skin infections purportedly caused by contaminated water from taps.

Letter in opposition

The letter says it expresses the collective opinion of neighbors and people who drive past the tallow plant regularly. But county staff members said none of the signers included an address and they don’t appear to be property owners in the area.

Smith explained that some people who signed the letter tried to live near the rendering plant and moved within one or two months.

She said it’s not easy for residents to move away from the rendering plant, owing to the steep increase in rents in the region and limited rental housing.

County staff said they were not able to substantiate the complaints with state regulatory agencies. From 2018 to 2021, the plant had a small number of air quality violations documented by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

In responses to the letter’s complaints, Darling said it operates in a highly regulated industry and the plant operations are monitored by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the air district and the county.

Darling said the plant uses systems to control odor, and wastewater is treated to remove pollutants before it’s reused in the facility.

Darling Ingredients, which calls itself a world leader in turning food wastes into sustainable products, has 250 plants in 17 countries, including an organic fertilizer plant in west Turlock. The 140-year-old company has grown over the decades by acquiring other animal rendering businesses.

This story was originally published September 16, 2022 11:52 AM.


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