Tyson plant opponents pack Leavenworth County Commission meeting
Leavenworth 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 on land near an acreage 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 the commissioners, less than 48 hours after the Arkansas-based company and Gov. Sam Brownback announced a planned $320 million project during an event Tuesday in downtown Tonganoxie.
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 official news breaking earlier that day of Tyson’s plans for a plant that would employ an estimated 1,600.
Many residents spoke Thursday of their concerns about the proposed project, whether it was the sudden news, governing bodies’ previous knowledge, air and water quality or previous lawsuits filed against the company.
Audience members peppered commissioners with questions about a non-disclosure 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, who represents Tonganoxie’s district, reiterated Thursday, elected officials at both levels approved non-disclosure agreements, 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,” Smith said.
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, Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Commerce Secretary, 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.
Gov. 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 Brunswick Ballroom. They also stressed that the company would be holding a series of town hall meetings to hear residents’ concerns.
Smith mentioned the same opportunities Thursday would be announced as they are scheduled.
County commissioners approved a resolution 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.
Tailgate Ranch neighbors much of the proposed Tyson property. Kirk Sours, who work 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 2003 in Sedalia, Mo.
According to U.S. Department of Justice website, justice.gov, Tyson pled guilty to 20 felony counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act at it Sedalia, Mo. Tyson agreed to pay $7.5 million total to the federal government and 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.