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story.lead_photo.caption SUBMITTED 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 -- Benton County planners on Wednesday approved plans for a Simmons Foods poultry processing plant near Gentry.

The Planning Board voted 6-0 in favor of the plans, with one member, Ron Homeyer, abstaining.

Traffic signal

Randy Tolbert, a consultant for Simmons Foods, said the Arkansas Department of Transportation will decide whether a traffic light will be installed at the entrance to the company’s proposed plant on Arkansas 59. Turns lanes will be added as part of the project, he said, but the Department typically waits until there is a traffic count before approving a signal.

Source: Staff report

The plans were presented to the board in November and a public hearing Dec. 6. That hearing was continued to Wednesday's meeting after some board members said they needed more information from the company on traffic control, landscaping and water and wastewater infrastructure.

More than 50 people attended the Dec. 6 meeting, with people sitting in the aisles and standing in the doorway throughout the public hearing. A similar number attended Wednesday's meeting and about a dozen residents spoke in opposition to the plan. The residents raised concerns about increased traffic, adverse effect on property value, possible groundwater contamination and the potential leaks of hazardous chemicals used in the facility.

Jon Faulkenberry, who lives near Gentry, said the board needed to consider the current use of the area and how the plant is incompatible with residential and agricultural uses.

"This is a chicken processing plant where they kill chickens, gut chickens and process chickens," Faulkenberry said. "This type of process does not belong 2 miles from Gentry or 2 miles from Decatur."

Other residents made similar comments.

"I am adamantly and passionately opposed to this proposal," Jim Gittlein, a nearby resident, said during the public comment portion of the hearing "I just don't think it's good for our area. It's incompatible."

Gittlein said he doubts the plant can be compatible with nearby residential property.

"It still smells," he said. "It is what it is. It's a slaughterhouse."

The mayors of both Gentry and Decatur attended the meeting in support of the plant. Decatur Mayor Bob Tharp said the decision to approve the plan was critical for his city. Tharp said Decatur, which has served Simmons Foods and Peterson Farms before it was bought by Simmons, had expanded its wastewater treatment facility about 10 years ago to serve the Simmons facility in Decatur and couldn't afford to lose the company as a customer.

"For the city of Decatur, this is perfect," Tharp said. "Had this not gone as it did, if they had denied the request, our other customers, the residents, businesses and industries and the city of Centerton were looking at a rate increase of up to 100 percent. It's a big deal."

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 at the earlier meetings 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 900 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 2,500 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. 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.

According to Jackson, the company planned to break ground on the plant later this month or early next month and open in the fourth quarter of 2019. He said the operation will shift from the Decatur location to the new plant immediately.

Jackson said Simmons Foods has a 70-year history in Benton County and wants to continue making a positive contribution.

"We have been and will continue to try to be a good citizen of the community," he said.

NW News on 12/21/2017

Print Headline: County planners OK Simmons plant

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