NO TYSON EFFORT — This billboard stands on 11th Street in Coffeyville as a reminder that not everyone in Montgomery County wants to see Tyson Foods come to the area. Courtesy Photo
NO TYSON EFFORT — This billboard stands on 11th Street in Coffeyville as a reminder that not everyone in Montgomery County wants to see Tyson Foods come to the area. Courtesy Photo

Not everyone in Montgomery County is excited about the possibility of the poultry industry coming to the area due to the worry of the negative effects it could have on the county and its citizens. This article is the first of a two-part series, the second of which is the response from Montgomery County Action Council will publish in the Sunday Reporter. 

Justin Martin, of Coffeyville, created the No Tyson in Montgomery County Facebook page around October 2017 and has been working closely with Susan Correll and others with the same interests. “When you first hear it — like everybody else in town — it sounds like a great thing,” Martin said. “It only takes you about five minutes to figure out it’s not that sweet.” 

Martin said people are a little scared. “We’ve got some tactics going on by Montgomery County Action Council (MCAC), they are calling people at work,” he said. “And what do you think that does if you are a known opposition to this and the driving force behind it calls your place of business.”

Martin said MCAC is reaching out, but the No Tyson group issue is they would like MCAC to talk to the public. “Lay it all out for us and tell us how great it is going to be and let our side present our platform,” he said. 

“There is another side,” Correll added. “Like Justin said, at first when they talk about it, it’s going to be more jobs and help the economy and that sounds great for Coffeyville but there is really a whole lot more that goes with this industry than what they are even telling people about. People don’t know the whole story. Yes, you are going to have more jobs but you are going to have a whole bunch of other things to worry about.”

Martin mentioned four or five talking points hard to get around are: since 2002 there has been $75 million in EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) fines. “Just two weeks ago, MSN had a story, which I already knew about it, that 2014 or 2016, [Tyson] dumped stuff into the river in the middle of Monett, Mo. at one of their plants,” he explained. “It 100 percent killed every fish in the river in the middle of Monett, Mo. and that was another $2 million in fines they just got. This is recent — people say they have changed their ways — no they haven’t. It’s $4.68 billion a year in estimated fines to do business with Tyson, it’s just part of their business.” 

“There are so many, so many,” Correll said. 

Martin suggested doing a Google search on Noel, Mo. and Tyson Foods. “The mayor [of Noel, Mo.] did an interview and it has drastically affected their community,” he noted. 

Employment estimation for Tyson Foods has been around 1,600 jobs available but Martin said employers in Coffeyville will say getting employees has been a problem. He referred to a local company that just hired 75 people. “It was hard to do,” he said. “So where are the 1,600 people going to come from? You don’t need to look real hard, they are going to bring these folks in. And where are these folks going to live? We don’t have an abundance of housing so what we do have, most likely, is supply and demand. Your rent prices are going to go way up so how will that adversely affect those already here?” 

Martin said the $13 an hour Tyson Foods is said to start pay at is just barely above the poverty level.

“I have actually posed the question to MCAC about where all the people are going to come from,” Correll said. “I used to work for Amazon and we had a tough time finding people to work there. When I was still there they were bussing people in from Joplin, Mo. and Tulsa, Okla., especially during the seasonal work. I worked for the general manager so I was in administration and I knew what was going on.”

Martin said as a Coffeyville city commissioner, a position he held for three years, he was privy to many things the public didn’t know about such as drive by businesses that were looking at the area. “You know what one of the main problems was? We don’t have an employee base here,” he stated. “People need people to work. If we can’t get all these other businesses to come here because we don’t have employees, why is it Tyson is okay with coming here? That question to me doesn’t add up.”

Correll said there has been a lack of transparency with discussions going on between MCAC and Tyson Foods and nobody seems to be able to discuss it due to the signing of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). “So it’s all being done behind the scene, they are not telling us what is going on,” she said. “When we thought we were out of the picture because Tyson decided to put their plant in Tennessee instead, we thought it’s a dead deal. Well, it wasn’t a dead deal and they are not telling us anything.”

“Just two or three weeks ago there was an item on the agenda for the city of Coffeyville to fix a filter, in Kendal Francis’ words ‘in anticipation of water increase in the industrial park in the next year.’ What is going on? It can be anything but it could be Tyson,” Martin noted. 

“It’s just suspicious they are really preparing for this to happen and we are not being told about it,” added Correll. “We are not being given a public forum to discuss and that is one thing when they first rolled this out that they were considering it they told everybody — and I was at that meeting — they said there would be a public forum where we could all discuss it, the pros and cons, well that has never happened. When I’ve asked when we are going to do this they just put me off.”

Martin said MCAC may counter that by saying they have had grower meetings but he feels they are actually recruiting growers. “Tyson is not going to come here without a for sure grower base,” he said. “And then 400 buildings within a 50 square mile area — have you looked at a map of 50 square miles and put 400 dots on it?”

Correll and Martin brought up the Senate Bill 405 which includes a decrease in the setback for poultry houses. “If a farmer has 100,000 chickens, he can back it up to someone’s residence within 100 feet,” Correll stated. “If he has 330,000 chickens the setback is only 1,320 feet which is only 1/4 of a mile. It’s going to decrease property values, no doubt.”

Martin added, “You better hope you live uphill from it because where does rain water go?” He also mentioned the feathers and dander that comes with chickens as well. 

“Think about air pollution and people who have allergies, asthma especially,” Correll said. 

Martin said, “In the coming days, the pro-Tyson crowd will attempt to paint those of us that have made our opposition public as anti-job, anti-Coffeyville, and anti-prosperity — that is far from the truth — in fact we are very pro-Coffeyville, pro-Montgomery County. It's our home, and where we raise our families, and for those reasons we oppose a company like Tyson, or any other that comes with Tyson-like issues.”

“The business we do support is primary local business first,” he concluded. “We have been blessed with several well-established companies that currently provide a living for many families, including myself. City leaders are willing to jump through hoops to recruit a dirty business like Tyson. I would like to see them put that effort into what we already have. We are not the Appalachians of the Midwest, which the MCAC Executive Director has referred to us as.  We are a proud community with a long history of hard workers, and we deserve good, clean, well-paying jobs.  Not piles of chicken waste, worker violations, and $80 million in EPA fines."