Baking company chief meets with critics
About 80 people attended a public meeting Friday, April 1, organized by the owner of the company planning to build a massive snack manufacturing plant on Big Sink Road. For over two hours, Bill Quigg, president and chief executive officer of Richmond Baking, listened to dozens of questions and statements in the third floor courtroom of the county courthouse. Most came from nearby residents, and most were critical of the company's plans. Richmond Baking's "More Than A Bakery" subsidiary is scheduled to begin production of snack crackers and other items by November of 2017, by which time the company will employ 310 people. Quigg said the company was in Versailles for the long haul, noting that Richmond Baking was founded in 1902 and has been in its current facility in Richmond, Ind., since 1923. Quigg said company officials were already aware concerns raised at last month's Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission - like light coming from cars during shift changes at the 24-hour production facility. "So we got with our engineering firm and said, 'We need to fix this. We either need to move the driveway or need to point the cars in different directions, as an example, so we're not shining lights in people's living rooms, because that's not what we want to do. That's not being a good community member." Several audience members said they appreciated Quigg's commitment to community involvement and his open manner - but still wished he'd pick another site, or at least move the planned entrances and exits. "Why not go up the road on Crossfield and put another exit up there somewhere that you wouldn't have everybody coming out on Big Sink Pike?" asked Jim Smith, who said he's lived in the nearby Stonegate subdivision for 18 years. Smith said many parents of children who play soccer at the Kuhlman Boulevard fields park on the side of the road. "You can't control parents when it comes to soccer," Smith said. Quigg confirmed that the main entrance to the factory was scheduled to be directly across from the U.S. Postal Service building. Later, in response to a question from Randall Wheeler, Quigg said he believed putting the main entrance there would be good for traffic flow, and that guard gates would be deep enough to allow two or three vehicles inside the company's property. Farmer and longtime agriculture activist Hampton "Hoppy" Henton suggested the company could put its money where its mouth was by buying locally. "You all are making a product using a soft red winter wheat . which is what we raise around here. So we have the capacity in the county and the region to raise 5,000 or 6,000 tons of wheat," Henton said, admitting the wheat would need to be milled elsewhere. "But I'm interested if you're planning on using any of our agricultural products. That would go a long way towards facilitating helping agriculture and being a good neighbor ." Henton said. Henton asked for a commitment from Quigg to buy locally raised grain. Quigg didn't give Henton that assurance, saying, "Point well taken." Mindy Fiala said she and her husband bought the first house in Stonegate subdivision and asked, "Is this a go?" Quigg responded, "As far as I know - yes." Fiala said while she appreciated Quigg's morals, "I don't think there's anything you're going to be able to do that's going to help the way the people feel in the subdivision of Stonegate. I'm concerned about the devalue of our property, to have a factory right across the street. There's only one entrance into Stonegate, that's obviously going to add more confusion, more traffic. I'm also curious why you chose that particular area." Quigg said the company didn't want to put their plant in an industrial park. "We love the location. We love the look of it. And we don't want to ruin it," he said. "I'm not saying we're not industrial. My point is that we did not want a square box in a field. We did not want a square box in an industrial park that looked like everything else ." Fiala pointed out that the plant, which a company official later said would be 1,400 feet long and eventually take up 400,000 square feet, was still a box in a field. In response to another question, another company official's comment that the plant would be visited by 30 or so trucks a day was met with groans by some in the audience. Kirsten Johnson voiced concerns of many there about flooding in the area that could be worsened by a massive building and parking lots. "It's an amazing thing. It's why we have bourbon and it's why we have horses here, and it's the most important commodity we have. We have the largest karst system (topography which often features sinkholes and caves) in the state of Kentucky, next to Bowling Green, and you are building in a sinkhole area," Johnson said. Quigg said company research (including core drillings paid for by the Woodford County Economic Development Authority), showed the site was safe to build on. "Based on the borings we've taken so far, in addition to the boring plan that we have . as well as obviously, Dr. Ewers's (Dr. Ralph Ewers, a retired Eastern Kentucky University geology professor and consultant) comments as well . then there are certainly ways we can engineer to account for the possibility of sinkholes," Quigg said. Later, Quigg acknowledged flooding problems in the area, but said the plant, with retention and detention ponds on site, wouldn't make them worse. ". We can't fix it, either. That's not necessarily our job. We hope to make it incrementally better than it was before we got there," Quigg said. Quigg said the company's engineering firm assured him that the depth of the bedrock is "very favorable" to building there. Other concerns ranged from the factory's odor ("We smell great," Quigg said) to confusion over wages (Quigg said the $22-per-hour average pay quoted in the state's news release included benefits). One of the few attendees expressing support for the company's plans was Don Vizi, the executive director of the Woodford Chamber of Commerce. Vizi noted that with most of the property there zoned light industrial, nearby residents could have had a steel plant or hog farm as a neighbor. Vizi said landscaping around the front water retention pond and plant would ensure the company is a visual fit for the area. On a table outside the courtroom, samples of the company's flavored graham crackers were on a table. Flavors included cinnamon, strawberry and apple cinnamon and "lemon dinosaur." Judging by how many disappeared before the meeting began, at least a few of the company's critics sampled a product Quigg told them was helping feed the nation's school children.