By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"This is clearly an issue of considerable discussion in that county," Pederson says. "We certainly want to work with the local community."
The county water board has one month to accept the state's offer, and would have to ante up the $3.3 million by August 1996. That's a heap of money for a water district with an annual budget of just $450,000, but district officials say they are going to try to raise it.
"In order to control our own destiny, we want to control the reservoir," says Ed Withers, manager of the water district. The district, he adds, will almost certainly have to call a bond election and see if local residents are willing to pony up the money to eliminate Pilgrim's chances of getting any water.
"Water has become like gold, because there's so precious little of it left that's not already committed in one direction or another," says a member of the Mount Vernon school board who asked not to be identified because opposing Pilgrim's Pride is a tricky proposition for East Texas elected officials. "I think we would try to stop any sale to [Pilgrim's Pride]. We're just talking about a simple citizen rebellion at this point."
From her family farm south of Pittsburg, Susan Nugent has watched the travails of her East Texas neighbors with great interest. Nugent has been fighting Pilgrim's Pride for years. She is the one suing the company for allegedly poisoning her cattle with arsenic-laced runoff from its operations.
Nugent was once married, back in the 1970s, to one of Bo Pilgrim's nephews. For a long time, she has been a lonely voice, one of the few people who would openly criticize the largest employer in Camp and Titus counties. Folks in her home town don't dare challenge Pilgrim the way other counties have, she says. "Folks in Pittsburg are not going to speak out like people in Mount Pleasant or Mount Vernon."
She has tracked the happenings in Sulphur Springs and Mount Vernon. Often, residents of those communities have called to tap her extensive knowledge of Pilgrim's operations.
In a sad way, she says, she is heartened that Pilgrim's efforts to build a new plant have now mobilized other communities in East Texas. "Each county has different problems," Nugent says. "I'm glad that people are becoming aware of the problem. It saddens me that these little towns are having to go through all that."
If Pilgrim's Pride does pursue legal action, Nugent is afraid the state Water Development Board might be forced to give Pilgrim what he wants, thwarting Franklin County's right to decide for itself who can buy its water.
Even if Franklin County is successful in blocking the sale to Pilgrim's Pride, the company will undoubtedly cast about for another water supply, she says.
Once the company finds a water source, only the TNRCC will stand in the way of the plant. The state agency must grant the company permits to discharge its plant effluent into a north Camp County creek.
The will of East Texans, she says, has been enunciated quite clearly. The last chance that it will be ignored rests in Austin.
"I want to have faith that folks in Austin will listen to all those people," she says, "but we shall see.