New Crothersville company hears residents’ concerns



While Crothersville residents are happy to see a new company in town, some have expressed concerns about an odor that’s floating around the area.

During a town council meeting Tuesday night at the town hall, resident Kathy Thurston said she’s extremely concerned about the smell coming from Sims Bark Co., a bark mulch manufacturing facility off of U.S. 31 on County Road 1150E adjacent to Interstate 65 at the Crothersville exit.

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Andy Johnson, vice president of operations, and Joe Mills, procurement manager, were there to answer people’s questions.

Mills said bark has a sweet smell to it, and he doesn’t expect there to be much of an odor once they start processing product. The processing building is being constructed now.

“We won’t be stockpiling as much as we have now because we’re going to be processing that as it goes,” Mills said.

He told Thurston the smell can’t be completely eliminated, but Sims Bark will keep it at a minimum as much as possible.

“It will not be near what we’ve had in the last few months because we won’t have that much product on the ground,” he said. “We can’t bring it all in when we’re ready to flip the switch and process it. We had to bring it in early to have it here.”

Around 5,000 truckloads of material were brought in, and Mills expects processing to start within the next month or month and a half.

“Those piles will disappear quicker than you think,” he said of the large piles on the site.

“When (consumers) go buy mulch, that’s our season, so we have to have it ready,” Mills said. “We do 80% of our business in those four months. We have to be processing it all year-round to be able to supply demand during those four months, so in the next season, most of all of the product we’ve brought in will be processed as the year runs. It won’t be waiting until all of the construction is done.”

Town resident Candi Lewis asked if there’s any way to eliminate the smoke that rolls off of the piles.

“I notice on sunny days, it’s worse,” she said. “The next morning, it seems to be smoking more. I don’t know if it’s because it has heated up.”

Mills said a lot of that is steam, and as the piles sit there so long, they do heat up.

“The longer (the material) sits there, the stronger that smell gets,” Johnson said. “Once we get into full operation, those piles won’t sit as long. They’ll be turned over fairly quickly. Of course, you turn them over, the better I want to say that smell is.”

While there are large piles of material outside now, in reality, Johnson said they want thousands of pallets with bagged material out there.

“If we can take that material that’s in those big piles now and put it into pallets, that’s what we want to do,” he said. “We’re trying to maintain about a month’s supply of raw material out there, which is about probably a quarter of what’s there now.”

Council President Danieta Foster said in October, she and her husband visited his hometown, Corbin, Kentucky, and went by the Sims Bark operation there. The Tuscumbia, Alabama-based company also has operations in Brent, Alabama; Olive Branch, Mississippi; Woodbury, Georgia; and Bowman, South Carolina.

Foster said she didn’t see large piles in Corbin, but she saw thousands of pallets.

“The biggest pile we’ll have on our yard will be the fine material that we make soil out of,” Mills said. “We do want that to break down as much as possible. That’s the only piles we’ll have an abundance of. If you saw piles in Corbin, that’s probably what it was.”

Mills said “first in, first out” is the thought pattern that keeps material turning over.

“It keeps the fresh stuff that’s just coming off the mills or wherever we got it from. That stuff has already been processed, so it’s the new pile,” he said. “This is probably the longest any pile will sit there (in Crothersville). There won’t be a new pile. It will keep rotating out.”

In terms of the smell, Johnson said what Crothersville residents are experiencing now is the worst it’s going to get.

“Just because we’re starting with nothing,” he said. “All of these other plants got all of the pallets out there. We need that, but we don’t have it right now.”

Town resident Alisa Sweazy asked how long the large piles will be there. Mills estimated May because they will start processing in a month.

“Our processing, when it gets up and operational, it can process probably more than we can bring in, so we can fix it, and we will because of demand for the outbound shipping,” he said.

Town resident Ed Koerner asked if a study had been done on how the smell affects people with COPD and asthma. Johnson said while they hadn’t done a study, they deal with a natural product, so it shouldn’t have an effect.

Koerner also asked if Sims Bark had received a tax abatement from the county because he heard a rumor about the company hiring people from out of state.

In April 2019, the Jackson County Council granted 10-year abatements on $4,904,000 in equipment and $3,250,000 in property. At the time, Johnson said they planned to order equipment for four automated bag lines at $1 million each and construct a number of buildings for its operations. He also said the company planned to hire 20 full-time employees with combined annual wages of $1.2 million.

During Tuesday’s meeting, he said all of their employees live within a 60-mile radius. The only people who may not be from the area are among the 25 there now to build the processing plant, Johnson said. Mills said they also use as many local vendors as possible.

Lewis said she doesn’t want the odor coming from Sims Bark to deter people from coming to Crothersville.

“I like to be able to open my windows up in the spring and the fall and have fresh air and not wake up to that smell,” she said. “I’m all for businesses coming to Crothersville, but I don’t want them to deter Crothersville, either.”

Mills said he lives in the community, too, and he doesn’t want any smells to offend anyone.

“We’re here to support the community, support this town and support the county and the surrounding counties. That’s what Sims Bark is. I came in with this company in June, and they’ve backed me with that and told me that’s what they wanted, so they are a part of this community,” he said.

“It’s a long-term thing for us. It’s not something just jump in, jump out. It’s long term. There’s a lot of investment over here,” he said. “We’re a business, but at the same time, we want to be a part of this community, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Late last summer, Sims Bark donated $15,000 toward the town’s cost of supplying a sewer main to the east side of U.S. 31 to tie into Crothersville’s sewer collection system. The new sewer line will make it possible for more development in the area. The company also is working with the town on voluntary annexation.

Foster said she appreciates the company choosing Crothersville.

“We thank you for moving here, and we want to be good neighbors like I know you want to be a good neighbor,” she said. “We want to build a relationship because we’re right there.”

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