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.
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,” Democratic Sen. Tom Holland said, “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.
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.
In Leavenworth County that would be about 1,000 eligible voters.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.