Ben Margiott

Thursday, April 28, 2016

New Hickman’s chicken farm causing controversy in Tonopah

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TONOPAH — Sonia Lopez has lived in the quiet town of Tonopah for over 20 years. She bought a humble home on Indian School Road in 2004 so she could have a stable, safe place to raise her six children.

But in 2014, Hickman’s Family Farms began construction on its newest chicken farm just across the street. Now two years later, Lopez said the egg factory is changing her way of life and ruining a peaceful town.

“The beautiful place that we used to have and the beautiful town we used to have, it’s not there anymore,” Lopez said. “That was my kids’ future.”

The new farm, located just 15 miles from their existing facility in the town of Arlington, made perfect sense to Hickman’s Family Farms CEO Glenn Hickman.

“It had great infrastructure that existed when we bought it,” Hickman said. “It was already leveled … it had freeway access to I-10 right around the corner.”

Yet Tonopah is less than a quarter of a mile downwind. Living that close to 3 million chickens and the waste they produce has not been pleasant for the few people that do live in Tonopah.

“(It) smells like vomit that also has feces in it,” said Dianne Ott, a resident of nearby Saddle Mountain RV Park.

More concerning than the smell and the innumerable flies though is the potential health problems that some claim are aggravated by living so close to the egg farm. Lopez said her teenage son has experienced noticeably more asthma attacks in the few years that Hickman’s has been operating.

“He didn’t go to school at the end of the year for a month,” Lopez said. “They thought my son was faking it. You could not fake (high) temperature and asthma attacks.”

Residents at Saddle Mountain, a community of mostly “snowbirds” just downwind of the farm, have organized in opposition to Hickman’s. Their group, Save Tonopah Oppose Poultry Plant (STOPP), cleaned up thousands of feathers that lined the highway across the street from the Arlington facility Friday.

Michael Wirth, owner of the RV park, said he’s struggling to fill the 300 spaces on his property because residents are so turned off by the smell.

“Most of them have found other places to go,” Wirth said. “That’s what I anticipate, that most of them will leave me over the next year or two years.”

But year-round residents such as Lopez don’t have that same choice. She now drives 20 minutes away to a different town for three days of the week, where she said her son’s health problems are less noticeable.

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