Opposition against proposed Tyson plant in Tonganoxie continues to grow

Residents voice displeasure at Leavenworth County Commission meeting

Residents spoke out Thursday at the Leavenworth County Commission meeting in opposition to a proposed Tyson plant being developed in Tonganoxie, just northeast of Lawrence.

? Bill Jones took to the podium, his voice cracking.

The longtime Leavenworth County resident told the Leavenworth County Commission on Thursday that he has placed a “For Sale” sign on his property.

He lives near land south of Tonganoxie where Tyson Foods, Inc. plans to build a chicken production plant.

Jones and others opposing the plant took their fight Thursday to county commissioners, less than 48 hours after the Arkansas-based company and Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday announced a planned $320 million Tyson project that would employ 1,600 people in this town of about 5,500 people just northeast of Lawrence. The plant would be about 10 miles from Lawrence.

An overflow crowd attended Thursday morning’s county commission meeting.

Residents voiced displeasure, as they did at Tuesday night’s Tonganoxie City Council meeting, about the proposed plans. Concerns raised included the secrecy that surrounded the project announcement, air and water quality worries, and previous lawsuits that have been filed against Tyson in other communities.

Audience members peppered commissioners with questions about a nondisclosure agreement, voicing frustration that local governing bodies knew about Tyson’s intentions and didn’t inform the public.

But as Tonganoxie City Council members said Tuesday night and County Commissioner Doug Smith reiterated Thursday, elected officials at both levels approved nondisclosure agreements, which is an industry standard in economic development. Smith said county commissioners made the agreement in June, but as was the case with the agreement, learned of the company recently.

Accused during the meeting of selling out to the meat production company, Smith responded.

“We did not sell our souls to Tyson,” said Smith, who represents Tonganoxie’s district.

On several occasions, Smith told residents the best way to let their opinions be known was to sign protest petitions from the Leavenworth County Clerk’s office and return them to the county commissioners, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Commerce Secretary, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and even the Environmental Protection Agency.

Smith also said he did not support sewage lagoons as part of the project.

Brownback and Tyson executive Doug Ramsey touted a state-of-the-art facility with an estimated annual $150 million economic impact for the state during the announcement Tuesday at Tonganoxie’s Brunswick Ballroom. They also stressed the company would be holding a series of town hall meetings to hear residents’ concerns.

Smith mentioned Thursday the same opportunities would be announced as they are scheduled.

County commissioners previously approved a resolution of intent to issue $500 million in industrial bonds for an 80 percent tax abatement for the project. Tonganoxie also has pledged $1.3 million for sewer infrastructure that would be recouped through sewer fees from Tyson and other anticipated future companies in the area. Both proposals have not been given final approval.

The Tailgate Ranch is a neighbor to much of the proposed Tyson property. Kirk Sours, who works at the ranch and spoke on the owners’ behalf, told the commissioners he and the ranch owners were advocates for agriculture.

“We are not part of this,” Sours said. “My personal opinion is Tyson is not agriculture.”

Jarret Pruitt, who also opposes the plant, voiced concerns about previous lawsuits against Tyson, specifically a 2003 lawsuit in Sedalia, Mo.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice website, justice.gov, Tyson pled guilty to 20 felony counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act at its Sedalia, Mo., plant. Tyson agreed to pay $7.5 million total to the federal government and the state of Missouri.

Commissioner Clyde Graeber directed county staff to research any other violations against Tyson.

“The chickenization of northeast Kansas will not be tolerated,” Pruitt said.