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PE Discusses Cannery Options

PRINCE EDWARD – County Supervisors, interested in expanding the opportunities at the cannery, will look to an $825,000 Tobacco Commission grant.

The funds would upgrade the existing processing space-including airtight doors and windows with make-up air ventilation system, exhaust hoods above the steam kettles and an improved ceiling.

But there would also be an addition to the facility (60 by 60 feet), offering a functional loading dock, refrigeration and freezing equipment space, commercial kitchen to allow for value added processing of products (including aquaculture processing and packaging for retail markets), bathroom improvements, shower stall, washer and dryer, and a segregate meat processing area. The funds would also factor the relocation of the septic drain field to allow for expansion, improvements to the site for loading dock access, and a sign.

“…It would be built so that it could be outfitted to meet FDA and Virginia Department of Agriculture inspection requirements,” detailed County Planner Alecia Daves-Johnson at the October board of supervisors meeting.

While matching funds are needed, she cited $452,000 in matching funds either from federal grants or from in-kind contributions. She was also seeking to clarify what portion of an additional $55,000 may be used.

“…It doesn't require any funding from the County to request these grant funds, but these grant funds could certainly provide us with a model of a facility for this area and a much needed food processing, food enterprise center that does not exist anywhere else in Virginia,” Daves-Johnson said. “And we've had several parties identified that they want to have that facility here in Prince Edward County-that we are centrally located, we're connected with the right roads.”

The Virginia Aqua Culture Network, she also cited, has all of their producers within two hours of the facility. With the expansion, they are looking at processing about 52,500 pounds of catfish, hybrid striped bass, rainbow trout, freshwater prawns and black sea bass over the next year. It's a three-year project, she detailed, and demand will grow.

They're almost at the point where they're ready to be trading across state lines, she said, and once their market takes them across state lines they have to be processing in a facility that can meet FDA standards.

“If the growth potential is not too far down the road, then knowing the piece of land that the cannery's on is going to present a real problem for future expansion,” commented Board Chairman William “Buckie” Fore. “So we dump all of this money in an old building to make it usable now and we kill our future.”

He suggested that it may be to their benefit to look at the long range plan and what they're doing so they can plan for the future as well as now.

“We can always sell the building that is there and the land,” Fore said.

One possible option is the industrial park.

“…Certainly a new facility has been a topic of conversation a number of times among all the partners that have been involved,” Daves-Johnson said.

It is a dream come true. Still, she noted a meeting of the partners, that ultimately it came down to that they are in progress where they are now and could continue with some modifications.

Davies-Johnson detailed that a firm is working on a comparison study (between a new facility and the renovated project), which she expected to have later in the week. The deadline for the Tobacco Commission, County Administrator Wade Bartlett cited, was October 15, but he added that it's not unusual for the tobacco commission to allow changes in scope.

Still, Bartlett noted, changes in operating costs.

“Where are we…I mean are we committing ourselves to a sum of money…?” asked Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck.

“No, ours is just all match,” Bartlett responded.

If they're going to build a new building, he cited, their match would be the value of one of the lots.

It was also explained that if they opted for a new building they could seek to have the funds for the renovated facility used for the new project.

Still, a nicer facility would make for some increased costs. Daves-Johnson noted that in the initial three years, they would have very low user fees, but indicated that as the project had to stand on its own and more developed their businesses, the fees would increase.

County officials have pursued an expanded use of the cannery as a Food Enterprise Center, a memo in the October packet to the board highlighted, and supervisors agreed to contract with Virginia Food Works to operate and manage the commercial aspects of the cannery and to provide technical education to prospective food businesses.

It was also cited in the memo that through the past three years, several partnering organizations “have expressed interest in the cannery project and have begun processing food products there, leading to the conclusion an expansion is needed…to house all of the needed equipment for expansion of commercial food business development facility.”

Dr. Lynn Blackwood, chairman of the Virginia Aqua-farmers Network assessed that “our partnering with Prince Edward County and with the Edamame group and Virginia Tech and Virginia State and so forth, I think that it offers us a great opportunity here. And, where we land in terms of the building, what's gonna be most appropriate-I understand the concerns with the cannery and so forth…”

There are other groups, he also highlighted, that are interested in leasing the facility down the road-leasing their workers.

“We're looking at bringing in possibly 15 jobs pretty quickly as a harvest and a processing group here and… some kitchen personnel as well, but you could lease this facility very easily at $250 a day, I would think down the road,” Dr. Blackwood said. “Not immediately, but once it gets established and gets working, I think that may be too cheap. But if you look at that even 15 days in a month, you're gonna be looking at $40,000 coming in.”

It was also highlighted that home users would continue to use the facility, though the commercial kitchen facility would likely be available by appointment.