Neighbors file lawsuit against Hickman’s Family Farms for nuisance in Tonopah

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More than three dozen residents who live near the Hickman’s Family Farms chicken facility in Tonopah allege that the operation amounts to a legal nuisance, which impacts their quality of life. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) More than three dozen residents who live near the Hickman’s Family Farms chicken facility in Tonopah allege that the operation amounts to a legal nuisance, which impacts their quality of life. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
A lawsuit filed Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court spells out the accusations against the Valley-based egg producer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A lawsuit filed Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court spells out the accusations against the Valley-based egg producer. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Hickman’s Tonopah farm houses four million chickens in about a dozen large hen houses. It is mostly automated, but also employs about 80 people. Hickman’s Tonopah farm houses four million chickens in about a dozen large hen houses. It is mostly automated, but also employs about 80 people.
TONOPAH, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

More than three dozen residents who live near the Hickman’s Family Farms chicken facility in Tonopah allege that the operation amounts to a legal nuisance, which impacts their quality of life.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court spells out the accusations against the Valley-based egg producer. But the residents themselves describe how the facility, which moved to the area in 2014, has affected them.

“When you open the door, you get 100 or 200 flies that come inside every time you walk out the door and walk back in,” said Jesse Meyer, who lives with her mother and daughters about 1 mile west of the chicken farm.

“They’re all over the food. They’re all over the floor and counter tops,” said Meyer.

Saddle Mountain RV Park is located just east of the farm. Its owner, Mike Wirth, says the smell from the facility has chased away his customers.

“Our business is down quite a bit this year, just because of word of mouth and the smell,” said Wirth, who describes the smell as being like a musty, dirty sock with ammonia.

Hickman’s Tonopah farm houses 4 million chickens in about a dozen large hen houses. It is mostly automated but also employs about 80 people.

[RELATED: Tonopah residents angry over Hickman's new egg facility (Jan. 10, 2014)]

Billy Hickman, who is the operations manager, says no chicken manure ever touches down on soil, and trucks move it off of the property every day.

“We use ventilation fans to help dry out the manure and then we try to ship it as soon as we possibly can to get it off the facility,” said Hickman.

He says animal waste is the most common cause of foul odor at animal production facilities and his operation does its best to keep that to a minimum.

The Hickmans say they understand that neighbors will complain, even with a well-run operation, but they contend that they are in compliance with every government regulation.

“Every single time we ever had a complaint go directly to us, we go and try to satisfy that need,” said Clint Hickman, who is also a Maricopa County Supervisor.

Critics of the facility say that role poses a conflict of interest for Hickman, who they contend should be advocating on their behalf.

[RELATED: Group wants Maricopa County board chairman recused from certain votes (Sept. 21, 2016)]

“If there is something that is going to pose a conflict in both of my worlds, I make sure I put in a letter and recuse myself from those votes,” said Hickman.

He insists that his family business gets no special treatment from county regulators.

“They take our complaints and say thank you and pass it along, but nothing is done and nothing has changed,” said Linda Butler, who has lived in the area for years.

But the lawsuit filed on Thursday may change things.

“What the lawsuit is about is about their ability to, or lack thereof, of them to enjoy their property,” said attorney Nick Verderame, who represents 40 Tonopah residents. He says a legal nuisance is something that is injurious to health or offensive to the senses.

The Hickmans argue that even though they moved their facility into the area, they have a right to farm because it is an agriculturally zoned community.

“We are complying with all those laws, rules and regulations and we are very proud. We’re proud to produce Hickman’s labeled products citizens can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Clint Hickman.

His neighbors argue that the farm would have been better placed farther west. Although this is a rural community, it is not uninhabited.

“I’d like them to tear that down and move it out farther where they should have been to begin with,” said Jesse Meyer.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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