A bipartisan move designed to draw consideration from both chambers of the Statehouse reflected the stench left behind by the proposal of a large-scale poultry operation last year in Tonganoxie.

Bills introduced by Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, were submitted and announced as a joint effort to influence both chambers to remember the public backlash created by an announcement coordinated by the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback and Tyson Foods essentially launched a campaign to build a $320 million chicken production and processing operation outside Tonganoxie without first gauging interest from residents impacted. While it was estimated that the operation would create 1,600 jobs, an uproar regarding economic, social, environmental and infrastructure concerns prompted strong objections among those living in Leavenworth County and beyond.

… The bills they introduced are intended to protect all Kansans from the unexpected grief residents of that community felt after learning Tyson Foods was eager to build an industrial poultry operation on land in southern Leavenworth County. About 2,500 attended a rally at a Tonganoxie park to object to plans for processing 1.2 million chickens per week at the proposed factory.

The legislation introduced last week would expand state law to allow for countywide public votes on such large-scale poultry operations. …

The legislation proposed by Karleskint and Holland provides a structured blueprint for such protests, calling for petitions that will result in special county elections if enough signatures are obtained.

Some large-scale agricultural firms could view this as an obstructive barrier for looking at Kansas for future operations. However, those businesses should also examine their own practices and design factories that adequately address factors other than job growth.

Other communities in Kansas, if faced with the same prospect for an industrial agricultural operation, could respond differently than those in Tonganoxie. The legislation at least affords an avenue for the public to petition for a county-wide vote.

This is particularly encouraging considering the pattern of secrecy that was uncovered with the proposed Tyson plant in Tonganoxie. Citizens deserve to know about the details behind such expansion of industrial agriculture and they deserve to be able to coordinate their dissent that petition for a public vote.

— GateHouse Kansas