Tonopah residents cry foul over poultry plant

Posted at 9:34 PM, Apr 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-20 14:15:38-04

Dozens of residents showed up to sound off over a stinky situation in Tonopah.

The Maricopa County Air Quality Department hosted a public hearing on Tuesday on new permits for Hickman's Egg Farm.

The hearing was about new generators and boilers for the expanding plant, which now houses more than 3 million egg-laying chickens. The goal is to almost triple the size of the plant and have more than 8 million chickens in the future.

Residents said they're overwhelmed with the size of this project and that it's destroying the small town of 5,000 people, mostly retirees.

Tonopah residents said while this sounded like a "not in my backyard" situation, what was happening at the egg farm was literally ending up in their backyards.

An ABC15 crew spotted chicken feathers littering the grounds at several businesses and at an elementary school.

Michael Wirth, the owner of Saddle Mountain RV Park in Tonopah, said his pool is coated with bits of feathers every morning.

"The whole town is just beside themselves," Wirth said.

He has lost a lot of business since the egg farm opened up. In an RV resort where dozens of snowbirds came to enjoy relief from the harsh winters back home, his regulars were telling him they were not coming back.

With street names like Paradise Lane within the resort, Wirth said life had been more like hell and that people couldn’t sit outside or barbecue without breathing in a foul smell.

"The odor is increasing everyday with more intensity. There [are] times during the day it'll burn your throat," Wirth said.

He described the smell as "musty stinky socks."

Linda Butler was a member of the group Save Tonopah, Oppose Poultry Plants (STOPP), which formed after the Hickman's Egg Farms decided to set up shop in their community. 

She described the smell as "stinky wet manure" or "stinky feet." 

Butler said it has driven property values down, caused homes not to sell, and prompted investors to try to get rid of land they had purchased in the area.

In February, Girard said residents observed a truck leaving the facility spilling a big load of what appeared to be chicken guts onto the road right in front of a local restaurant. The group had photographs of the incident and planned on contacting county and state officials.

Some residents said they felt betrayed by local lawmakers. Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman was a co-owner of the facility and, due to conflict of interest, had backed off any issues relating to Hickman's Egg Farms.

Dan Mack, a member of STOPP, said they had showed up at public meetings and asked for another supervisor to represent District 4, but that had not happened yet. Residents said they felt betrayed by the local government, which they say is acting in favor of big business while destroying a small town.

"The town of Tonopah will never grow, we have no ability to expand, no one wants to be in this area," Butler said.

No decisions were made in the hearing on Tuesday night, and no one from Hickman Farm's attended the meeting.

ABC15 left messages via email and voicemail to managers at Hickman's Egg Farms to get a statement or reaction to concerns raised by residents in Tonopah. No one has responded to our calls.