NWA editorial: Ruffled feathers
Rural residents fight to stop plant’s impact
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.