Hundreds gathered in Tonganoxie last Friday evening to protest the construction of a Tyson chicken plant scheduled for next year.
Willie Dove and his other representatives Tom Holland, Jim Karleskint and Steve Fitzgerald hosted the event in response to Gov. Brownback’s Sept. 5 announcement, when he informed residents about the construction plans for the $320 million processing plant.
Tyson chicken plans to hire up to 1,600 employees to run the plant and produce over 1.25 million chickens every week. Farmers located within a 50-mile radius from Tonganoxie will transport the chickens.
The citizens of Tonganoxie did not know about the secret proposal, known as Project Sunset, because it Tyson executives and the Kansas government negotiated under a non-disclosure agreement. Residents report feeling cheated because of the progress made while they remained in the dark.
During the protest, several people waited their turn to speak their minds about Tyson’s plant. Many citizens were outraged, while some expressed concern for their property values and family’s well-being.
One man, Jarret Pruitt, is a 36-year resident of the area. Pruitt’s main concerns are about air and water pollution and the plant’s impact on resources such as schools, traffic and sewers.
Pruitt strongly believes “the government doesn’t have the money or resources to support the plant,” and feels uneasy about the situation.
“I’m concerned about the lack of representation of people, it was announced a done deal before residents were aware,” said Pruitt.
Pruitt was also hesitant about the impact of water pollution in Tonganoxie on other areas in Kansas. According to Pruitt, Johnson County sources its water from streams and lakes in Tonganoxie.
He also spoke about property values in the surrounding area. According to Pruitt, values on commercial areas and farms decreased by 30 to 50 percent. Pruitt and hundreds of others will continue to fight for the tight-knit community.
Michelle, a Lawrence resident, also shared similar concerns about the Tyson chicken plant. Since Tyson plans to source chickens from surrounding counties, Michelle was worried on how the plant would affect Douglas County.
She stated that Tyson had a bad reputation of animal neglect and providing employees with low wages.
Michelle also voiced her concerns about the University of Kansas and potential affects facing the school. She fears Tyson will make the university less appealing and reduce enrollment as a repercussion.
Another resident, Jen Peak, voiced her concerns.
Peak lives in Tonganoxie with her two children. She knew it was the perfect place for her children to call home, and hoped that it was a community that “they could return to.”
Peak pointed out the community spirit.
“People have come together to set aside their differences to fight and preserve our community and way of life,” Peak said.
As a mother, Peak is concerned about the plant’s location. According to Peak’s findings, the playground her kids use is less than a mile away from the Tyson plant’s proposed location.
She is uneasy about having her kids spend most of the day near a slaughterhouse. Peak notes that most people will continue to fight, especially Tonganoxie residents.
“Lots of people are third and fourth generations and their farms are passed down from 75-100 years,” said Peak.
According to Peak, several other residents did not plan on moving. These properties have a “value that is non-monetary,” she added.
Peak said she plans to continue raising awareness and attending government meetings.
The people of Tonganoxie say they will continue to fight against Tyson and encouraging others to join.
“This isn’t a Tonganoxie problem, this is a Northeast Kansas problem,” said Pruitt.
For more information, follow @NoTysonInTongie or join their Facebook group Citizens Against Project Sunset.