Protesters line the sidewalks in downtown Tonganoxie on Sept. 5 to protest a Tyson Foods processing plant. Tyson eventually withdrew plans to build a complex near the city. Now Sedgwick County is one of three finalists for the plant. Peter Hancock Associated Press
Protesters line the sidewalks in downtown Tonganoxie on Sept. 5 to protest a Tyson Foods processing plant. Tyson eventually withdrew plans to build a complex near the city. Now Sedgwick County is one of three finalists for the plant. Peter Hancock Associated Press

Editorials

Go slow, be thorough in studying Tyson Foods plans for county

Eagle Editorial Board

October 27, 2017 05:36 PM

UPDATED October 27, 2017 05:47 PM

No community issue is truly a community issue these days without a Twitter hashtag.

Welcome to town, #NoTysonSedgwickCounty.

In the week since the revelation that Sedgwick County is one of three candidates for the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant that Tonganoxie punted, we’ve seen the gamut of opinions on locating a plant here.

Jobs! Economic development!

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Smell! Polluted water!

And somewhere in the wide middle, where most of us live, there are many Sedgwick County residents who have feelings in both camps. New jobs would be great, but will there be a smell? We deserve a boost to the local economy, as long as my water is clean.

City and county leaders noticed the opposition. Any joy over becoming a candidate for a $320-million complex that will create 1,600 jobs quickly became tempered by aggressive public concern against the project.

The Greater Wichita Partnership was quick to emphasize it’s in the information-gathering stage, committing to public listening sessions. An opinion piece from Sedgwick County Commission chairman Dave Unruh echoes that baby-steps approach.

That won’t keep opposition from forming. A public meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Linwood Park Recreation Center, hosted by No Tyson Sedgwick County, will feature speakers talking about environmental and health concerns associated with a new poultry plant.

Opposition and outrage aren’t new to this project – see how quickly residents of Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County turned the tide against building the plant in their area. But a step back to look at all sides of a possible deal is warranted.

City and county leaders wouldn’t be good stewards if they summarily dismissed an opportunity to bring a large corporation and 1,600 new jobs to the area. Not every business looking to expand is as exciting as Amazon, and not all projects promise high-paying jobs.

Tyson’s proposal is enticing – hundreds of millions in new development and new jobs for the community or for workers bringing their families to the community. Those kinds of numbers for a widget factory would be a no-brainer.

But widgets aren’t fed, don’t poop and aren’t slaughtered.

Environmental concerns at a chicken processing plant are real. Tyson paid almost $4 million in fines over Clean Air Act violations four years ago. Jonathan Shorman’s on-the-ground story from a Tyson plant in Monett, Mo., reveals the company paid $2 million in a plea agreement after improper cleanup of a food supplement leak in 2014 led to 108,000 fish being killed in a creek.

Greater Wichita Partnership and others studying Tyson’s record should keep clean water at the top of the list. No large project and no promise of jobs are big enough to pollute the water we drink.

Then there’s the smell, though many in Monett say it’s not a big deal. The number of chicken-raising farms – maybe as many as 75 in the area – would create odors that rival today’s south Wichita’s sewage-treatment center and north Wichita’s meat-packing plants of the past.

But we learned to live with those. A possible odor over parts of the county shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

This is a delicate dance for city and county leaders. Of all the projects facing the community – Century II, Naftzger Park, a new baseball stadium – this is one that deals with the health of residents yet presumably has to be championed to be selected over the other two Kansas finalists.

Long, thoughtful contemplation of what a Tyson plant can mean to Sedgwick County – all the pros, all the cons – is the only reasonable next step.