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story.lead_photo.caption Submitted Photo Simmons Prepared Foods unveiled this rendering of its new $300 million poultry processing plant, to be located between Decatur and Gentry, at a Sept. 27 press conference in Simmons Great Hall at John Brown University in Siloam Springs. The plant is expected to be operational sometime in 2019.

BENTONVILLE -- After a two-hour meeting, Benton County planners on Wednesday delayed plans presented by Simmons Food Products for a new poultry production plant near Gentry.

More than 50 people attended the meeting, with people sitting in the aisles and standing in the doorway throughout the public hearing. Several residents spoke in opposition to the plan. The residents raised concerns about increased traffic, adverse effect on property values, possible contamination of groundwater and the potential leaks of hazardous chemicals used in the facility.

Plant expansion

Benton County planners will continue their consideration of a Simmons Foods poultry processing plant near Gentry when the board meets again Dec. 20. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. in the Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave in Bentonville.

Source: Staff report

Teresa Lowry of Gentry said she isn't against growth but opposes this project, calling it "an irresponsible, willy-nilly decision to let growth spiral out of control."

Lowry said the company has met with the local chamber of commerce but not with area residents. She asked for a delay so residents can study the plans and make an informed decision.

"This decision will cross the line of no return," she said. "This will impact Gentry and the surrounding community for years and generations to come."

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The mayors of both Gentry and Decatur, along with other city officials and a Gentry School District representative spoke in support of the plant.

Mayor Bob Tharp of Decatur said his City Council approved a resolution supporting the plant Monday. Tharp said the city has plans to expand its wastewater treatment plant, but will only do so if the Simmons plant is approved. He said the company has benefited Decatur and the new plant will continue to do so.

"Simmons' presence is a constant economic benefit to the city of Decatur, to Northwest Arkansas and the state of Arkansas," Tharp said.

After two hours, the board voted to continue the hearing to its Dec. 20 meeting. Ashley Tucker, board member, said he wants more information on some details of the site plan, which he pointed out were marked as being approved in Texas and not Arkansas. Tucker said he also has questions about the landscaping plan, fire protection, the detention facilities planned for the plant.

"I'd like for somebody to actually look at it," Tucker said of the plans.

The Planning Board previously quizzed developers about the project during a Technical Advisory Committee meeting in November and set Wednesday's public hearing.

According to information submitted to the Planning Department, the company plans a 400,000-square-foot poultry processing facility on 563 acres at 9802 S. Arkansas 59. The building site would take up about 100 acres.

David Jackson, Simmons president and chief operating officer for prepared foods, told the board the company needed to move from its location in downtown Decatur because the location is limited and the company plans to expand the operation. Jackson said the company has about 700 employees at the Decatur location and will have about 950 at the new location when it opens.

Over a period of three to four years, the company plans to grow the operation to have up to 2,300 employees, Jackson said,

The plant will operate 24 hours a day from Sunday through Friday with three shifts each day -- two production shifts and one cleanup shift, Jackson said.

Jackson estimated the plant will have trucks driving on and off the site at a rate of about one truck every six minutes. Consultants for the company said they are working on a traffic study. Randy Tolbert, one of the consultants, said the Arkansas Department of Transportation will make the decision on whether a traffic light is to be installed at the plant entrance on Arkansas 59. Turns lanes will be added, he said.

Jackson said the company hopes to break ground on the plant in December and open in the fourth quarter of 2019. He said the operation will shift from the Decatur location to the new plant immediately.

NW News on 12/07/2017

Print Headline: Planners delay Simmons plant decision

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