Announcement of new chicken plant in Tonganoxie has locals up in - KCTV5 News

Announcement of new chicken plant in Tonganoxie has locals up in arms

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People in Tonganoxie are still upset about the announcement of a new chicken-processing plant coming to town. (KCTV5) People in Tonganoxie are still upset about the announcement of a new chicken-processing plant coming to town. (KCTV5)

Leavenworth County Commissioners were met by a large group of frustrated Tonganoxie residents Thursday morning for their first meeting of the week.

“You sold our soul to Tyson Chicken,” Jarret Pruitt shouted at commission chair Doug Smith from the third row of folding chairs.

The arrival of the $320 million plant was announced on Tuesday in front of a crowd largely made up of industry supporters. Speakers at the event included Republican Governor Sam Brownback who praised the new plant.

“This is going to be a backbone industry of 1,600 jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. It will probably be a lot more jobs than that when it’s done,” the governor said on Tuesday.

Even then, only hours of learning the multi-national company would be staking a claim in the small town just west of KCK, Tonganoxie residents were voicing concerns.

About 15 people gathered outside the ballroom where the event was held to shout at Tyson executives and hold signs denouncing the corporation.

On Thursday, nearly 100 people filled every seat in the commission meeting room, lined the walls and packed the second-floor rotunda of the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

“My life, as well as the lives of the people in this room and the people in our community, has been in a tailspin since the announcement was made by Governor Brownback and Doug Ramsey of Tyson Chicken that they intend to build this chicken plant in our community,” Pruitt said once he was standing at the podium reading from a prepared statement.

The 300-acre land grab from Tyson was done mostly behind closed doors. Smith admitted during the meeting, the city administrator signed a non-disclosure agreement connected to the deal for the commissioners.

“The county administrator signed it for the County Commission,” Smith said.

According to Tonganoxie city leaders, they were also unable to disclose what was happening because of the agreement. As of Tuesday, the agreement ended, granting leaders the chance to explain.

However, it’s that action coupled with the lasting impact on the rural town that has people upset.

“You let somebody sign your name and agree to that and shove this right up our yin-yang,” an angry resident shouted on Thursday from the back row after learning Smith and the two other commissioners, Robert W. Holland and Clyde Graeber, did not sign the non-disclosure agreement themselves.

Holland, the commissioner from district one, and Graeber, the district two commissioner, stayed mostly silent during the 90-minute back and forth.

Throughout, Smith encouraged people who wanted to take action to sign a protest petition from the county clerk’s office.

“I know the folks here would like that to remain -- the small town feel,” said Kirk Sours during his time at the microphone. “The rural, Norman Rockwell type town.”

Sours, stoic and mustachioed wearing a beige cowboy hat, was at the meeting on behalf of Tailgate Ranch. The large ranch owns land less than five miles from the land purchased by Tyson. 

“I do not eat chicken,” he said at the beginning of his statement to a county commission that says they were not prepared for the influx of public comment.

Smith said this was not on the agenda and, therefore, the commission was not ready with details to discuss the situation. It was a comment that flummoxed meeting attendees.

“What you’re doing here today is not going to get anything done,” Smith said. “We’re not prepared to take all these comments today. We are going to schedule meetings.”

Smith, city leaders and Tyson representatives all promised town hall style meetings in the next few weeks so citizens can voice their concerns.

Some of those concerns include the future stability of infrastructure, improving water quality, supporting air quality, repairing the city’s sewer system, the impact new families would have on the school system, and housing to accommodate the influx of people on the town.

“This is going to result in parents shutting their windows, closing their house and sending their children downstairs to play video games,” said Cecilia Pruitt.

The last Census has the bedroom community’s population at just under 5,400 people.

Tyson’s Doug Ramsey said on Tuesday the company plans to employ 1,600 people at the plant. This would be the sixth city to house a Tyson plant in Kansas. Across the state line in Missouri, 12 cities have a Tyson footprint.

During the announcement earlier this week, Ramsey said they plan to break ground in the next 90 days. Smith tried to set a more realistic timeline for concerned residents, but one person in the crowd suggested, just to be safe, an attorney should file an injunction on the groundbreaking. 

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