President and owner JJ Smith of Valley Proteins came to express that they are working on the growing number of spills.

Emily M. Williams | Sampson Independent

CLINTON — A hauler of waste and animal by-products has found himself in the crosshairs of the City of Clinton, which aims to reduce the number of spills within city limits.

The city council meeting on the first Tuesday of the month sparked much discussion on the issue, with the city manager, mayor, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, local law enforcement confronting the landlord and to the operators of the facility, identified as Valley Proteins Inc. officials discussed the preventative measures already taken, but also expressed apprehension about taking full responsibility.

Mayor Lew Starling sent them a letter informing them of the problem to discuss this “growing problem”, he said at the Council meeting last week,

City manager Tom Hart said he raised the issue informally in November last year.

“We have these trucks that go through the community and basically transport animal parts, feces and other agricultural by-products,” Hart said. “They are spreading along the roads. They do not spill as a result of a collision or accident, but because trucks have to come to a sudden stop due to traffic lights or other common road events.

Hart said spills vary, from small spills of grease to “massive volumes of horrible byproducts.”

“They are horrible to answer,” he said.

Staff have met several times in response to the continued concern, along with other agencies, the city manager noted. Hart said they had two spills within two weeks of sending their letter. It’s about cleaning up the mess and being held accountable, Hart said.

Around Thanksgiving, there was a massive spill on Faircloth Freeway that halted traffic for nearly six hours, he said.

“It’s an inconvenience for motorists and a burden on my employees who have to respond to it,” he said.

Not to mention, all of this puts a strain on local law enforcement who must police closed roads for safety reasons, officials said. They’ve had more than 20 spills in the past three years alone, more than half of which happened in 2021, according to numbers provided by law enforcement.

“There were 11 in 2021,” Clinton Police Chief Anthony Davis said. “Obviously, the frequency is not decreasing, but increasing. Several of these 11 incidents, the trucks did not stay put.

One of those spills caused more than $3,000 in property damage after an accident, he said.

Starling asked Davis what kind of cooperation they were getting when it came to helping clean up these spills, and it was noted that there had been issues with unanswered and unreturned calls.

Part of the problem of assigning fault stems from the fact that not all spills come directly from Valley Proteins trucks because there are contractors who work for Valley Proteins.

Starling asked if these contractors had Valley Proteins trailers, and Davis replied in the affirmative. Davis also confirmed that the drivers were charged, as permitted by the General Statue.

“We obviously take things like this very seriously,” said Sandy Huggins, Corporate Truckload Manager.

Huggins said president and owner JJ Smith attended along with a few other representatives. Valley Proteins is based in Winchester, Virginia.

Huggins said they operate more than 600 utility vehicles and take care of things like this all over the United States and their owner has incurred substantial expense getting the equipment needed to contain the spills.

Huggins also said they re-routed trucks into the county at Smith’s request, with trucks using Five Bridge Road to access the Sampson County landfill on the highway. 24. He said they also installed cameras to address driving behaviors like sudden stops.

“We take issue with the fact that all of these spills are obviously from Valley Proteins,” he said. “We don’t know who these spills are, but we’re the big dog in the park, aren’t we?”

He said they send in their own cleanup crews, or contracted crews, when “nobody knows who spilled the material” and they did so because they wanted to be good neighbours.

“Why would you have spills if you have the proper equipment?” asked Starling, who then asked if they were transporting with just canvas on top and hoping it didn’t spill out.

Huggins responded that some of their trailers are just canvas on top.

Starling mentioned the 11 spills and Huggins countered that they were not spills from Valley Proteins.

Starling then retaliated by describing the situation as deplorable.

“I’m saying you would agree that 11 spills within the city limits of Clinton, or any contractor, or anybody of that type, that’s deplorable, isn’t it?” asked the mayor.

“I don’t think there should be a spill, on any road, public way, proving a nuisance to others,” Huggins said.

“So you think one is too many,” Starling said.

“Absolutely,” Huggins said.

“So what are you doing to stop it?” Starling asked.

Councilman Neal Strickland asked Huggins if there was any reason someone saw a Valley Proteins truck on the freeway. 24 in front of Walmart.

Huggins clarified, saying they use trucks that aren’t loaded.

Strickland said he saw a Valley Proteins truck outside Walmart around Thanksgiving with city crews cleaning up the mess.

“I witnessed this,” Strickland said. “So I know either your protocol of not going through town with loaded trucks is not being followed by your drivers, which could happen, due to delays, trying to get to the dump in time.”

Huggins said it was happening because “they didn’t follow the instructions given to them” and it “had nothing to do with the other stuff”. He also said that if they failed to do so, they would be held accountable.

Strickland said that since they have this tracking capability, they should be able to cross-reference a list provided by law enforcement with their routes and see who’s where and what’s going on.

Huggins said this has happened before with all known spills.

The owner, Smith, said he always knew where the trucks were, but he didn’t always know where the contractors were. He explained that he usually gives the benefit of the doubt and that sometimes a driver may not realize something has spilled until he gets out and sees the stains on his gear.

“You can choose to believe they know they spilled and left without caring, or you can choose to believe they spilled and were unaware of it.”

He said they come back to the contractors when there is a spill and the contractors are responsible for it. Smith said it was part of their contract.

Smith said he invested $3 million in covered trailers.

“Most of these things are difficult to transport without toppling over,” Smith said.

He said that when they do have sex, it’s very often drivers who have been with them for less than a year.

“We’re here to do what we can to help,” said Smith, who also added that items were staged to help with the cleanup. “We want to keep communications open and do what we can.”

“We all have to co-exist, but what’s happening now isn’t working,” Starling said.

Contact Emily M. Williams at 910-590-9488. Follow her on Twitter at @NCNewsWriter. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.