NWA edi­to­rial: Ruf­fled feath­ers

Ru­ral res­i­dents fight to stop plant’s im­pact

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION -

The odds are stacked against the neigh­bors of a western Ben­ton County piece of land where Sim­mons Foods plans to build a $300 mil­lion poul­try plant com­pany of­fi­cials say will, even­tu­ally, em­ploy more than 2,000 peo­ple.

Last Septem­ber, the com­pany an­nounced plans for the 400,000-square-foot plant on the east side of Arkansas 59, south of Y City Road. It’s ru­ral acreage be­tween Gen­try and De­catur. Neigh­bor­ing prop­erty own­ers, who live the kind of tra­di­tional ru­ral ex­is­tence many yearn for in Arkansas, will see their lives changed by the 24-hour-a-day op­er­a­tion of a poul­try plant ex­pected to em­ploy 450 peo­ple per shift and a truck ar­riv­ing or leav­ing about ev­ery six min­utes.

What’s the point?

Res­i­dents near a pro­posed Sim­mons Foods poul­try pro­cess­ing plant in Ben­ton County face long odds in their bat­tle to pre­serve their ru­ral liv­ing con­di­tions.

The truth is any­one who lived in that area would ob­ject to such a mas­sive dis­rup­tion to their way of life. We can hardly blame them.

So about those odds: When Sim­mons Foods an­nounced the plant back in Septem­ber, ob­vi­ously they had been work­ing on the project for a while. It al­ready had the sup­port — in­cen­tives, even — of the Arkansas Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion, the Arkansas De­vel­op­ment Fi­nance Author­ity and the Arkansas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. Ben­ton County Judge Barry Moehring said the county, which stands to gain nearly $1 mil­lion in new tax rev­enue, was “happy to fa­cil­i­tate” the plant’s de­vel­op­ment. Gov. Asa Hutchin­son called Sim­mons Foods “a great suc­cess story” as he praised the an­nounce­ment of a plant that would in­crease the state’s em­ploy­ment. The may­ors of Gen­try and De­catur have sup­ported the plant.

Ap­par­ently many of their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives knew about the pro­posed plant, but res­i­dents whose lives will be af­fected have said the plant has been “steam­rollered over the top of us.”

Their con­cerns are not un­re­al­is­tic. Be­yond the dis­qui­et­ing im­pact of liv­ing next door to a huge in­dus­trial plant, res­i­dents worry about an in­crease in flood­ing, traf­fic, odors and pol­lu­tion. They’re wor­ried their prop­erty val­ues will plummet, and while that’s of­ten an ob­jec­tion to de­vel­op­ments from sub­di­vi­sions to com­mer­cial prop­er­ties ev­ery­where, it’s hard to sug­gest they don’t have any­thing to worry about.

They face an up­hill bat­tle. Con­vinc­ing au­thor­i­ties a poul­try pro­cess­ing plant is an un­de­sir­able in­dus­try in ru­ral Ben­ton County is about as likely as a chicken sur­viv­ing a visit to the plant. The Quo­rum Court will con­sider a fi­nal read­ing of an or­di­nance sup­port­ing in­dus­trial rev­enue bonds for the plant at its April meet­ing. It’s un­likely de­ci­sion-mak­ers are pre­pared to ac­knowl­edge the very ex­is­tence of the plant is un­de­sir­able. We sus­pect they’ll be ask­ing them­selves, “If not here, then where?”

It’s not that res­i­dents’ con­cerns about the im­pact aren’t valid. It’s that they’ll be just as valid any­where else in Ben­ton County, or in Arkansas.

The res­i­dents know all that, and they’ll fight on be­cause they see their peace­ful ru­ral ex­is­tence slip­ping away. We don’t blame them one bit.

But we also sus­pect po­lit­i­cal lead­ers may al­ready have a ground­break­ing event on their cal­en­dars.

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