Proposed $320M Tyson facility causing uproar in Tonganoxie

The colorful chicken-festooned sign hoisted by Corbin Reischman resonated with city slickers and cow punchers Friday night at a massive rally in opposition to construction by Tyson Foods of a $320 million chicken production and slaughtering hub in Leavenworth County.

Corbin, 4, stood in front of the crowd, estimated at 2,500 people, to declare: “No Tyson! No friggin’ chickens! No kidding!”

“We’re cattle producers,” said Tonganoxie resident Josh Reischman, the boy’s father. “This plant is going to be within 2 miles of our home. The feed mill is going to be at the end of our driveway. We’re for agriculture, but we’re not for industrial agriculture.”

Tyson executives, Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County officials and Gov. Sam Brownback joined hands less than two weeks ago to reveal the secret blueprint for development of a chicken hatchery, feed mill, meatpacking plant and 300 to 400 poultry grow houses. Before the announcement, folks were aware a “Project Sunset” was under consideration. Only insiders were aware a Tyson plant was on the horizon.

The main complex would be on 300 acres south of Tonganoxie near Interstate 70, while the poultry houses spread over a 50-mile radius of a facility capable of processing 1.2 million chickens each week. If approved, Tyson officials plan to break ground this fall and initiate production in mid-2019. It will generate about 1,600 jobs, the company said.

Substantial local and state government tax breaks and incentives — much of which are still confidential — helped draw Tyson to this part of northeast Kansas in a competition against other locales.

During the outdoor rally of rebellion hosted by one Democratic and two Republican state legislators, speaker after speaker shared personal visions of environmental, economic, traffic and public infrastructure problems that could result if Tyson moved ahead with the project.

Kent Porter leaned into a microphone and fired the first salvo by denouncing a recently retired CEO of Tyson, who collected a $24 million severance package. He blasted a Tyson executive for pulling down a juicy $5 million annual salary. He said those businessmen didn’t earn sky-high compensation through good deeds, such as finding a cure for pediatric cancer.

“They put chemicals in the water that causes pediatric cancer,” he said.

(Read more: News – The Garden City Telegram)