Tonganoxie highlights the importance of doing economic development the right way

By Newton Now Editorial Board

We’ve been watching a story develop out of Tonganoxie, Kan., as the town divides over a nearby $320 million chicken facility proposed by Tyson Meats.

The facility promises 1,600 jobs to the area and eventual tax revenue.

That plant includes a hatchery and a feed mill. Local farmers will be contracted to raise birds, and the plant will be able to process 1.25 million birds a week.

But residents have been squawking about the possible impacts on their town of 5,300 people. For one, the plant will be located just outside of Tonganoxie, meaning the city won’t recoup any property taxes on the plant.

The plant’s developers cut a deal, allowing 80 percent property tax abatements with the county, according to the Lawrence-Journal World.

The Kansas City Star pointed out that Tyson Chicken paid $3.9 million in fines for violating the Clean Air Act and that in 2003 the company committed 20 felony violations of the Clean Water Act by pouring wastewater into Missouri streams.

Then there are all the new confined chicken farms with their droppings to be concerned about polluting rivers, streams and groundwater.

With a strong public safety and regulatory system in place, these issues might be negligible, but as we wrote recently, the state doesn’t exactly dedicate a lot of resources to protecting water.

So, understandably, some residents of Tonganoxie have been voicing their concerns about unfunded infrastructure strains, strains on their schools and the pollution that would come from the plant.

On top of that, residents complain of a lack of any knowledge of the development until Governor Sam Brownback made a stop in the town to tout how great the plant would be.

There are still zoning loopholes for the company to go through, but following a visit from Tyson execs and the state governor, you can guess that the plant is a done deal.

We don’t know what we’d say if something like this came to Newton, but the secrecy surrounding how such a deal got completed raises concerns. That the Kansas Department of Commerce wouldn’t even go on record to list the kind of incentives it gave the chicken plant to come to Tonganoxie is also concerning, as those incentives come from public dollars.

All of this highlights more local issues or transparency and proper planning. You have to include the public in the process. Or the public gets upset.

Recently, the Garner Report said that Harvey County, with its location, could be suited for food processing plants. Hog and chicken plants might not be the way we want to go. We need development but the right kind of development, the kind that doesn’t make a negative impact on our community.

And we need an open and transparent process that allows individuals a chance to stand up and have a say on developments that impact their life.

The Tonganoxie happenings just provide insight and something for us all to look at and study should Newton or Harvey County ever find itself in a similar position.