BZA Gives Greenlight To Crothersvile Mulch Plant

A 45-year-old manufacturer of landscape products received final approval from Jackson County to operate a mulch manufacturing facility south of Crothersville.
Sims Bark Co. plans to invest up to $10 million and employ 20 people at the site off of U.S. 31 on County Road 1150E (Frontage Road) adjacent to Interstate 65 at the Crothersville exit south of town.
To begin the project, however, the Tuscumbia, Alabama-based company had to obtain a special exception to allow for industrial usage for the 59.68-acre site. During a special meeting Tuesday, March 26, the Jackson County Board of Zoning Appeals voted 5-0 to approve that special exception. The next step is for Sims Bark to obtain a building permit from the county for the project.
Andy Johnson, vice president of operations for Sims Bark Co., said construction of the first phase of the project on the site owned by James Puckett of Columbus is expected to begin June 1 and be completed by the end of the year. The company plans to buy the property from Puckett.
Johnson said the company plans to contract with local sawmills for raw material such as bark, slabs and other wood byproducts and local truck drivers to haul those materials to the processing plant and finished product to customers.
He said the company will be able to grind and bag about 5 million bags of bark mulch a year, but the second phase— to be completed in 2021— would add another 10 million bags to the capacity. Employment also could eventually grow to 40.
The company also has operations in Brent, Alabama; Olive Branch, Mississippi; Woodbury, Georgia; Bowman, South Carolina; and Corbin, Kentucky. The ones located in more rural areas sell directly to the public, and the Crothersville operation may do the same.
“I think this area might be a good fit for that,” Johnson said. That, however, won’t happen the first year or two, he said.
In response to questions by BZA board member Don Cummings about hours of operation, the potential for fires and the use of toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process, Johnson said during the busy season, the facility would operate on 12-hour shifts Monday through Friday. That would drop to about 50 hours a week during the off-season, he said.
The company does not store large amounts of raw materials and generally tries to complete the manufacturing, coloring and bagging process within six weeks, Johnson said. The company does not use any chemicals, and the dye used to color the mulch is just pigment, he said.
The company will use about 300 gallons of water an hour, but some of that water will be reused, said Jonathan Isaacs with Independent Land Surveying in Brownstown. There also will be a detention pond for runoff from the site, and water will be released slowly from the pond into a nearby ditch. Architect Dave Correll is designing the project.
Jim Plump, executive director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., said he and officials with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. have been working with Johnson and Sims, which looked at several sites before making the decision to make the investment happen in Crothersville.
Plump said the state is planning to provide some assistance for the project.
Several neighboring property owners expressed their support for the project, including Lanny Monroe, who said it would be a great improvement to the area, and David Lee with Lee Construction.
Lee said he only wanted to be sure the berm that Sims Bark plans to place along U.S. 31 is at least 3 feet above the surface of US 31 so it does a good job of enhancing the entrance to the town.
Crothersville Town Council President Danieta Foster and Councilman Chad Wilson also expressed their support for the project along with Jackson County Commissioner Drew Markel.
“It’s very rare to see this kind of investment out in the county,” Markel said.
Donald Hargett, who lives about a quarter mile from the site, said he had some concerns about the dust and noise created by the operation.
“We use electric powered stationary mulchers and hammer mills which are much quieter than the diesel powered chippers you probably are familiar with,” said Johnson.
Johnson said manufacturing activity would be limited to inside the processing and bagging buildings, and traffic and parking areas would be paved with asphalt. The company also has agreed to upgrade culverts at the two entrances to the property off of County Road 1150E.
Sims Bark Co. was founded in 1974 and has $85 million in sales a year and employs 300, said Seymour attorney Bill Branam, who was representing the company. The company plans to market its mulch throughout southern Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
BZA Board President Sherry Bridges, who lives in the Crothersville area, said the community has been waiting for years to see the property improved.