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time as an engineer in Fort Worth. When his firm was bought out, Ratliff followed the job to Houston. In 1981, he and Sally, whom he had married in 1959, moved to Mount Pleasant to be closer to her family. Her father, Bob Sandlin, was a car dealer and community leader who helped convince state and federal officials of the need for a new reservoir in the region. His efforts led to the damming of Big Cypress Creek and the creation of the reservoir that now bears his name. For many years, the Sandlin family has owned the thickly wooded tract that sits just north of Pilgrim’s land. Ratliff wants to make sure that the family can continue to use it as a vacation spot. “My personal concern is the degradation of the environment” near the Sandlins’ property, Ratliff said. “My public concern is the degradation of the lifestyle here in Mount Pleasant.” Mount Pleasant mayor Jerry Boatner also worries about Pilgrim’s environmental record. “Given the lack of stewardship that Pilgrim has shown, we’d be derelict if we didn’t object to what Pilgrim is proposing,” he said. Boatner acknowledges that he’s probably costing himself money. The owner of a large furniture store located on the courthouse square in Mount Pleasant, he says the Walker Creek project would attract many more people to the area, and those people would need furniture. But if Pilgrim is allowed to double its production in the region, “we’d become a one-industry town. It would make us a company town.” There is already one company town in the region. In Pittsburg gry, you go to Pilgrim’s Place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When you need some cash, you go to one of the branches of Pilgrim Bank. When you want to pray, you go to the Prayer Tower. When you want to fertilize your lawn or plant a garden, you go to Pilgrim’s Feed and Farm Supply. For snacks, you can stop at a local gas station, which sells ready-made Pilgrim’s Pride chicken nuggets. That Pittsburg is Bo Pilgrim’s town is even evident in the public pronouncements of its pro-Bo mayor. “Our prosperity in Pittsburg and Camp County wouldn’t be what it is but for Pilgrim’s Pride,” said Mayor David Abernathy, as he sits in his cramped office in Pittsburg City Hall. Abernathy, a spry 88 years old and the second-longest-serving mayor in Texas, has held office for 51 years and followed Pilgrim’s progress from a humble feed-store operator to chicken zillionaire. Pilgrim, the mayor says, doesn’t get the credit he deserves. “He tries to help people that are in dire need. He does a lot of things for people that other people never hear about,” said Abernathy. He added that the Walker Creek project will be good for Pittsburg. “It will mean a lot of income for the town and the county,” he says. Mount Pleasant, the Titus County seat, is larger, more prosperous, and has a broader economic base than Pittsburg. Pilgrim employs 4,000 people in Titus County, but Mount Pleasant alone has about 14,000 residents, so it has an identity separate from Bo Pilgrim. But the company’s dominance is still readily apparent. According to Ratliff, Pilgrim’s workforce is primarily Hispanic, and those workers are placing a burden on the city’s school system. He says about 40 percent of the elementary school students in the city speak English as a second language. And that fact “poses a serious problem” for the city’s schools, he said. Pilgrim’s influence is not confined to the small towns of Titus and Camp Counties. Signs of his dominance are seen on every rural road in the region, where chicken houses are omnipresent. One tract of land a few miles east of Pittsburg has 24 chicken houses, all owned by Pilgrim’s Pride and each containing 100,000 or more chickens. If the Walker Creek facility is permitted, the environment will have to accommodate even more chicken housesand the arsenic-laden chicken Nugent, a schoolteacher and activist who has been fighting Pilgrim for years. “Pilgrim doesn’t know what the environment is. And because of that he doesn’t care about it.” Nugent sued Pilgrim a few years ago to recover the loss of some of her cattle, which were poisoned by excessive levels of arsenic after a flood washed chicken litter from Pilgrim’s chicken houses onto her land. She says that Bo Pilgrim believes he is “a law into himself.” Sometimes lobbyists really have to work for their paychecks. On August 23, Pam Giblin, a hotshot lawyer/lobbyist with Baker & Botts, who represents some of the biggest oil and petrochemical firms in the state, was working hard. Along with Pilgrim and his entourage, Giblin crammed into an elevator at the TNRCC headquarters in far North Austin. Already in the elevator were Ratliff and his wife, Sally, who immediately began to squirm as she struggled to conceal her contempt for Pilgrim. She stood between her husband and Giblin, making sure not to look anywhere near the chicken king. Giblin did all the talking, providing what little levity there was in a tense and crowded ride from the hearing chambers down to the lobby. All eyes were on the lighted numbers above the door as Giblin prattled on, assuring both Pilgrim and Ratliff that no damage had been done during the permit hearing and that perhaps the two men could still settle their differences. Giblin had plenty of reasons to keep both men happy: Pilgrim is her client and was paying her hundreds of dollars per hour. A Pilgrim at the gates of “Cluckingham Palace” Wyatt MeSpadden 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 8, 2000