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'No Tyson In Tongie' Inspires Bill Giving Voters Veto Over Poultry

Kansas Public Radio file photo
Protests last fall against a proposed poultry plant in Leavenworth County have inspired a bill that would give Kansas residents some power to stop the construction of such plants.

Last fall’s dramatic public backlash against plans for a massive poultry operation in northeast Kansas could lead to a change in law.

Two lawmakers whose districts include Tonganoxie — a small, rural commuter town between Lawrence and Kansas City — want to give local residents a say on whether they’ll be neighbors to a chicken plant.

Voters in the county of any proposed large-scale facility for caging or slaughtering poultry would be able to force a public vote on the matter by gathering enough signatures on a petition.

Such procedures are already in law for hog and dairy facilities.

Republican Rep. Jim Karleskint called the idea “critical to rebuilding trust” in government.

Former Gov. Sam Brownback and Tyson Foods sent Leavenworth County residents into revolt last September by announcing plans for a $300 million plant with the capacity to process 1 million birds a week.

“That agreement,” said Democratic Sen. Tom Holland, “was made behind closed doors and without any public input.”

The backlash was swift. Hundreds of people turned up for protest events and “No Tyson in Tongie” signs sprouted in front yards.

That deal fell through. So did incentives to woo the company to Sedgwick County instead.

Holland and Karleskint unveiled their proposal at the Capitol on Thursday, flanked by residents of Tonganoxie and Wichita.

Cecilia Pruitt, a retired nurse living in the Leavenworth County town, said last September’s announcement caught her town off guard. Worried that the plant would bring in pollution and truck traffic that would change the area forever, she became anxious and couldn’t sleep at night.

“I don't even have the words to begin to explain the trauma,” she said.

Under current law, to force a public vote on hog or dairy facilities, petitioners need to get signatures equivalent to five percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the last secretary of state election.



Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ