- Public opposition to a proposed $320 million Tyson chicken processing facility near Tonganoxie, Kansas, drew an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people to a Sept. 15 town hall meeting, prompting pledges from lawmakers to stop the plant, according to the Lawrence Journal World.
- Residents are concerned about negative impacts on soil, air and water quality, along with downward pressure on land values and upward pressure on local schools. Community members also assert that the deal poses a conflict of interest, as the Tonganoxie mayor works for a Kansas City law firm that does business with the protein giant.
- Three days after the town hall meeting, the Leavenworth County Commission voted 2-1 to rescind a letter of intent to back $500 million in revenue bonds for the facility. A Tyson spokesman said the company was disappointed by the reversal, since prior approval had been one factor in considering where to locate the poultry complex, and that it is now evaluating its options.
Local legislators said they were frustrated that very little notice was given before Tyson announced plans for the facility, code named "Project Sunset." When Doug Ramsey, Tyson's president of poultry operations, officially broke the news before a standing-room only crowd of locals, many booed, and one person reportedly shouted "We don't want you here." Residents who oppose the plans are calling themselves "Citizens Against Project Sunset."
Local officials reportedly had to agree to nondisclosure agreements regarding the plant. One legislator said Tyson officials should have anticipated there would be concerns from residents living near the proposed site. “Tyson has left the local officials there in just a hell of a bind,” state Sen. Tom Holland said.
Those involved in this standoff-in-the-making might want to study what happened in Irwindale, California in 2014 when residents complained about fumes from the nearby Sriracha hot sauce factory. City officials eventually declared the plant a public nuisance.
After much discussion, a lawsuit from the city, and a partial shutdown by Huy Fong Foods — the family firm that operates the Sriracha plant — the declaration was dropped and life went on with a bit more understanding on both sides. It didn't hurt that the brief slowdown in Sriracha production sparked panic among its large fan base.
But even if tempers cool in Tonganoxie, the Tyson plant still faces regulatory obstacles in the form of planning and zoning regulations. More significant may be the fact that one of the two majority votes rescinding the letter of intent backing Tyson's revenue bonds belonged to a county commissioner who just announced he is stepping down for health reasons. His replacement may take a different view.
Tyson has been pushing to expand its processing operations as more consumers flock to poultry-based protein. The company is putting an additional $84 million into its chicken plant in Union City, Tennessee, in order to double the capacity there. The Arkansas-based company is also opening a 75,000 square foot Incubation Technology Center in Springdale, Arkansas, that will replace two other nearby hatcheries.
While the demand for chicken among U.S. consumers is going up, Tyson may decide the hassle isn't worth it and relocate the plant — and its estimated 1,600 jobs — someplace where the locals put out a welcome mat instead of protest signs.