Tyson Foods decided to freeze plans for a $320 million chicken production and processing operation near Tonganoxie on Tuesday in response to the Leavenworth County Commission’s withdrawal of financial support for a project fueling widespread tension in the community.
The Arkansas-based company issued a letter vowing to seek alternative locations for the poultry operation hailed two weeks ago by Gov. Sam Brownback, Tonganoxie Mayor Jason Ward and county administrator Mark Loughry as an opportunity to generate 1,600 jobs and diversify the agriculture economy in northeast Kansas.
In response to surging public discontent, county commissioners voted to rescind Monday a resolution calling for issuance of $500 million in industrial revenue bonds for the Tyson development.
“After Monday’s reversal of support by the Leavenworth County commissioners, we will put our plans in your community on hold,” said Doug Ramsey, Tyson’s poultry president. “We still have interest in Leavenworth County, but will prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.”
In addition to the county’s bonding offer, the Brownback administration pledged an undisclosed amount of tax breaks to lure Tyson to a 300-acre site south of Tonganoxie near Interstate 70. County officials had been prepared to spend $7 million to extend utilities to the site, while the city of Tonganoxie offered to allocate $1 million to link the plant to the sewer system.
On Friday, about 2,500 people met in a Tonganoxie park to express opposition to the Tyson hub. Their comments included objections to unbearable stench from waste, inequity of tax breaks, water and soil pollution, investment in low-skill jobs, flaws of confinement chicken practices, workplace safety issues and conflicts of interest among local government officials.
Opposition formed among urban and rural residents to the industrial scale of chicken operations sought by Tyson, which kept details secret from the public while city, county and state officials covertly structured a deal. T-shirts and yard signs emerged with the battle cry “No Tyson in Tongy,” while advocates of the project remained largely outside the maelstrom.
“It would be interesting to know how many states have rejected Tyson plants and why,” said Gail Hasler, who lives outside Basehor in Leavenworth County. “Tyson has been sued for pollution violations, inhumane treatment of animals, inhumane treatment of employees, unfair labor practices.”
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who was born in Lawrence, joined the fight against Tyson.
She made reference on social media to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records indicating Tyson was the second-biggest polluter of America’s waterways from 2010 to 2014.
Tyson operates facilities in Hutchinson, South Hutchinson, Garden City, Holcomb, Emporia and Olathe that employ 5,700 people. In terms of a Tonganoxie facility, the company estimated the economic benefit to Kansas of $150 million annually.