Area residents will have an opportunity to voice some of their concerns about a proposal to build a Tyson Foods chicken manufacturing complex in Leavenworth County tonight. State Reps. Willie Dove and Jim Karleskint and State Sens. Tom Holland and Steve Fitzgerald will host a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at Chieftain Park in Tonganoxie.
Tyson Foods announced plans to build and operate a $320 million poultry plant in Leavenworth County on Sept. 5.
“I am opposed to the plant unless the local community wants it, which I don’t think is going to happen,” Fitzgerald says. He anticipates 1,000 to 2,000 people will attend the town hall meeting.
Many residents say they were blindsided by the Tyson Foods announcement. Even state officials, during Tyson’s location search, didn’t know the name of the organization. They called it “Project Sunset.
“One of the big issues with the Tyson thing is that they kept everyone in the dark while the state completed all the permit process plus the EPA approval,” Barbara Paulus, a resident of rural Leavenworth County, said.
Tyson announced it will purchase about 300 acres near Tonganoxie where it will build a hatchery, a feed mill and processing plant. The poultry complex will employ about 1,600 people. Currently, Tonganoxie is home to about 5,300 people.
“We believe this new operation, which will incorporate the latest production technology, will enable us to meet the sustained growth in consumer demand for fresh chicken,” Tyson President and CEO Tom Hayes said in a statement.
Company officials say they plan to contract with local farmers to supply chickens, which may mean several new chicken farms in the area to meet the demand for the 1.25 million chickens the plant will process each week.
“That is a lot of chicken guts, which spread as fertilizer, which produces runoff and smells,” Paulus says.
Fitzgerald, who is a candidate to replace Lynn Jenkins in the U.S. Congress, doesn’t believe the chicken plant is a done deal. Tyson Foods will have to have the property rezoned, and the local zoning board could deny that request. Then, the board of county commissioners could deny an appeal, but he says the community will have to be very careful in how it handles the growing controversy.
“We just asked to the prom by the captain of the football team and we don’t like him. If we don’t get out of this properly, we’ll never get asked to another dance again,” Fitzgerald said.
Gov. Brownback, in a statement, said Kansas’s agricultural history is one reason the state is an outstanding home for the poultry project.
“Growing Kansas means we must grow the food and agriculture sector which accounts for nearly 45 percent of the state’s economy. The far-reaching impact of this development will be felt by farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and communities throughout eastern Kansas,” the Governor said in a statement.
Many of the folks who live in the area aren’t so sure it will be good for their communities. Paulus lives about 12 miles from the plant site and fears it could negatively affect property values in the area.
“I am thinking of moving if this goes forward,” she said. “There will be chicken farms around me. It is disgusting.”
Tyson has said it will host a town hall of its own, but to date, officials say they haven’t found a venue large enough to hold anticipated crowds. Last weekend, nearly 1,000 people gathered in a Tonganoxie park, holding “No Tyson in Tongie” signs and signing petitions opposed to the plant. That event was impromptu. Tonight’s event was advertised.