A quick update and reflection on the Madison Food Park from Protect the Falls
As 2020 slowly recedes into memory and 2021 kicks off - with big changes at the national, state,
and local levels - the Protect the Falls Coalition wants to share a quick status update on the
Madison Food Park Slaughterhouse and reflect on where this issue has been, and what remains
in the future.
Let’s first recall the issue at-hand. The Madison Food Park slaughterhouse (MFP), first
proposed in 2017 as a new “local” business that would allegedly bring new jobs and wealth to
Cascade County and Great Falls, has remained a simmering pot of toxic social, environmental,
public health, and economic threats to the health and well-being of north-central Montana.
The MFP would be over 3,000 acres in size and industrial-scale in its impacts, less than a dozen
miles and upstream from Great Falls, generating hundreds of thousands of gallons and
thousands of pounds of hazardous liquid and solid waste per day, and consuming
approximately 3.5 million gallons of groundwater per day.
To be clear, based on facts presented in its 2017 Special Use Permit application to Cascade
County, the MFP would constitute the single largest multi-species slaughterhouse in the
American West. So too does the MFP slaughterhouse present the high likelihood for increased
development of industrial-scale animal feedlot operations in Montana. AKA “Concentrated
Animal Feeding Operations,” these huge feedlots have been documented across the nation as
creating serious human health and environmental pollution problems, issues that Great Falls
and Montana certainly don’t need. The likely rise of CAFOs together with the MFP
slaughterhouse paint a tragic picture of industrial-scale agriculture competing with, and
probably displacing, Montana’s traditional small-scale grower and family-farmer model and a
slow but sure decline in environmental, social, and economic well-being across north-central
It’s important to note now, in January 2021, that the MFP slaughterhouse is not a done-deal,
and in fact does not have legal permission to begin construction or operate. The first step in
the process for the MFP to actually be built and operate is obtaining a special-use permit (SUP)
from Cascade County: you might recall the turbulent and widespread public opposition to the
MFP’s initial SUP application in 2017 and 2018. Notably, the MFP’s proponent – Mr. Friesen, a
Canadian businessman – voluntarily withdrew the SUP application over two years ago and,
since then the application has lapsed, meaning there is no local legal basis or authorization for
the MFP slaughterhouse at this time and a new SUP is needed if the MFP is to try to move
forward. Citizens should also be aware that any SUP application would require a robust public
participation process and thorough vetting at the County level, and so too require several
different pollution and water use permits at the state level, all of which also require public
participation and high legal standards of care.
Sadly, as many know, the lack of a SUP for the slaughterhouse didn’t stop Mr. Friesen and the
MFP from switching gears and pushing forward other, allegedly unrelated business ventures on
the same property. A cheese-plant and a distillery have both been proposed and, in the case of
the cheese-plant, legal battles have been fought over meaningful public and environmental
health conditions imposed. After undergoing public hearings with on each of those two entities,
the County has reissued a Special Use Permit with conditions for the cheese-plant and has also
issued a conditional Special Use Permit for the distillery. Meanwhile, there remains no “new”
news on whether Mr. Friesen will again try and push the MFP’s primary slaughterhouse
Because the MFP project threatens so many problems for our community and region the
Protect the Falls Coalition continues to work with and support local neighborhood councils in
Great Falls in voicing legitimate concerns to local elected officials. Specifically, we supported
Great Falls’ neighborhood councils and the Council of Councils in their request to City leaders to
study the MFP slaughterhouse before any decision-making. That effort was heard loud and
clear by City Commissioners, who agreed the MFP presented more questions than answers, and
in response the City of Great Falls passed a unanimous resolution calling on the Governor’s
Office to perform an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the MFP under our the Montana
Environmental Policy Act, all towards providing our decisionmakers with strong science and
nonpartisan data on what the MFP slaughterhouse would mean for Great Falls, Cascade
County, and north-central Montana.
Unfortunately, Gov. Bullock never got the chance to respond to the City of Great Falls’ request
with the advent of the CV-19 pandemic. In 2021 the Coalition will work with local leadership to
again request new Governor Gianforte task his executive agencies with studying the prospect of
a MFP slaughterhouse and what it means for our community, our landscapes, our waterways,
and our quality of life, all towards “taking a look before we leap.”
So, while there is no “new news” on the MFP slaughterhouse, there is an abundance of facts
and data showing the diverse, significant, negative impacts that this project would incite in the
larger Great Falls region. Whether enormous environmental degradation to water resources,
serious new strain on social services, housing, and road infrastructure, public health concerns
related to the dirty trade of industrial slaughterhouse practices, or the likely rise of industrial-
scale, polluting feedlot operations to supply the MFP, there remains ample reason for the
Protect the Falls Coalition to remain vigilant and committed to ensuring the public knows the
truth about the MFP Slaughterhouse.
Equally important, the Protect the Falls Coalition remains committed to being a voice for the
public interest, bird-dogging the MFP while reminding citizens that the many things Great Falls,
much less Cascade County and north-central Montana, honor and value - our outdoors
heritage, existing tax base, work force, local businesses, and our traditional agricultural roots –
are unnecessarily put at risk should we invite the specter of industrial agriculture into our
community and homes.
District Court Rejects County’s Revision of Big Sky Cheese Special Permit Conditions
On November 06, 2020 Judge Manley ruled in favor of Montanan's for Responsible Land Use in their action against the Commissioners modifying, reversing, and remanding of the ZBOA conditions on the Big Sky Cheese Special Use Permit.
The court determined the Commissioners abused their discretion in modifying, reversing, and remanding the ZBOA's conditions.
In granting the Plaintiff's motion the court AFFIRMS the ZBOA's conditions. Read the initial lawsuit.
This is a huge win for the citizens and landowners of Cascade County. Our Commissioners are held to the same standards as the District Court and the ZBOA has legislative and zoning regulation authority to impose SUP conditions based on fact!
Visit The Electric to read more.
Upcoming Cascade County Public Hearing Regarding Zoning Regulations
There is a Public Hearing event scheduled for November 12, 2020 via Zoom.
This hearing will review revisions to the Cascade County Zoning Regulations, revisions that could very well effect the Madison Food Park Slaughterhouse and the future of our region. We suggest citizens of Cascade County consider attending the hearing or submit a public comment voicing your concerns.
The following is a statement from our partners Montanans For Responsible Land Use:
Hello Friends and Neighbors,
There is a public hearing for the Revised Zoning Regulations on Thursday, November 12 at
5:30 pm via zoom. As you recall we began writing comments about the Revised Zoning
Regulations in February 2019. On a vote of 4-3, the Planning Board recommended the
following in September 2019.
We agree with the Planning Board recommendation.
The current Planning Staff are recommending retention of the MU-40 District.
We disagree with the land use changes made in this MU-40 District.
2) Retain our current Agricultural zoning
3) We object to removing any Special Use Permits for large-scale intensive uses because
there are areas in the county that are not appropriate for large-scale uses and that may
not be in alignment with our growth policy.
Below are a few useful links to help you stay informed and get involved:
The public hearing on the Revised Zoning Regulations is on November 12 at 5:30 pm via Zoom
Register to attend the hearing via Zoom
Public comments may be sent through November 11. However, to have them placed in the Commissioners’ packets for early review they should be submitted by this Friday, November 6th
If you would like to submit a Public Comment in anticipation of the hearing, please use the provided form. All public comments, including to the Commissioners, use and submit this form to the Planning Department. The Planning Department then forwards public comments to the Commissioners. You may complete this form online and then email it to email@example.com.
View November 12th Meeting Agenda
View the list of materials provided by Planning Department staff as well as a collection of public comments received regarding the revisions and the revision process of 2019-2020 zoning regulations.
Check out this helpful table. This table shows use cases where Special Use Permits (SUPs) are required, providing an opportunity for public comment!
Read the recent article in The Electric for a brief rundown of what to expect in the meeting.
Cascade County responded last week to the City Commission’s March resolution requesting that the county study the Madison Food Park proposal.
Read the full article at The Electric
“Right to Harm,” a new documentary exposing the environmental horrors of factory farms, tells the stories of activists who are standing up to corporate agribusiness.
Now, for a limited time (until June 4), you can watch a free streaming of the full “Right to Harm” by clicking on this link.
Organic Consumer Association will be hosting a panel discussion June 4th at 7pm.
“Right to Harm” exposes the crippling impact factory farming has on public health, and how mostly rural and low-income communities suffer the most.
The film features five families exposed to millions of gallons of untreated waste from neighboring Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and how they banded together to demand justice.
During our panel discussion, experts will explore the impacts of Big Ag and Big Meat on a range of social justice issues, and how by working together, we can achieve a just transition to Regenerative Agriculture.
Panelists will include:
• Matt Wechsler, director of “Right to Harm”
• John Ikerd, an agricultural economist who is featured in film
• Francis Thicke, a regenerative dairy farmer
• Ronnie Cummins, co-founder of Organic Consumers Association
• Sherri Duggar, Executive Director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project
• Monica Brooks, Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.
Watch the film here (before June 4)
Sign up here to join the online panel discussion
The Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to approve the special use permit for the Silver Falls Distillery component of the larger Madison Food Park. The board met May 28 and approved the permit with 14 conditions.
Those conditions are:
Read the full article at The Electric
Original opinion article by a local Great Falls resident. Published in the Great Falls Tribune, here.
Gregg Smith’s recent opinion (Online and in March 15 Tribune) contains untruths and misinformation regarding public participation and the Special Use Permitting process for the Madison Food Park.
His “simple premise” that landowners have freedom in deciding uses of their land is incorrect.
Like it or not, we have laws, regulations and zoning that were established to protect all landowners. Citizens have a right, by law, to challenge a change in use application.
He falsely refers to a year of “wrangling” with the county’s regulations. Growth policy and zoning hearings occurred but the developer was free to file his applications at any time.
The writer’s claim that these projects will support local agriculture is doubtful if not untrue. Milk production in Montana is regulated and it appears that the amount of class III milk produced in state will not be enough to support this factory. Additionally, the “distillery “ will actually be a bottling plant for tequila from Mexico and vodka from Canada.
Mr. Smith also, rants about multiple hearings. The process is outlined in the law so I advise him to review the MCA and Cascade County zoning regulations for explanation. The Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBOA) is more than an advisory board. They have a legal duty to review applications, consider public comment and list conditions that mitigate legitimate concerns. It is reasonable and expected for the ZBOA to ask for clarification. Also, if the developer was upset about the ZBOA “dictating “ the hours of business, then they should not have listed those same hours of operation in their application!
Zoning Board of Adjustments has a legal duty to review applications, writer says.
Disparaging comments were made about the ZBOA. These volunteer board members take on some important and difficult duties for our county, spending hours of uncompensated time reading materials and listening to testimony. I don’t always agree with their decisions but I applaud their commitment.
Suggesting that they “willingly go along “ or impose “silly” or “draconian” conditions is disrespectful of their time and work. To set the record straight, Montanans for Responsible Land Use was formed in November of 2017. The decision to register as a nonprofit corporation with the state of Montana was made in September 2019. The corporation status does not expire on Dec. 1 and the directors do not all live on the same street east of town.
Misleading and dismissive comments about public comment imply that if 1,000 people voice opposition, then everyone else must be in favor of these developments.
Attendance at any of the hearings or a reading of written comments would show that opponents have consistently outnumbered proponents by a wide margin. It would also show that there are more than “provincial concerns” at play here.
Implications that “the system” is set against landowners with “a million dollars” to spend only further the distrust between citizens, county staff and elected officials. Zoning regulations should not support one landowner over another based on a bank account or borrowing capacity.
It is time to stop misrepresentation and false claims.
Jaybe Floyd is a resident of Cascade County.
Legislators seek to give state agency the power to decide where new livestock facilities are located. By Greg Seitz
A bill quickly making its way through the Wisconsin legislature would take away the authority of local officials to approve or reject proposals for large new livestock operations in their towns, cities, and counties.
Such confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) do not resemble traditional farms, and are actually believed to be responsible for low prices and excess supply of milk and other products that are driving many Wisconsin farmers out of business.
There are only a few operating CAFOs in the parts of Wisconsin that drain to the St. Croix River, so far. More are proposed in the region, worrying neighbors and environmental advocates.
At a dairy cow CAFO near Baldwin last November, thousands of gallons of manure flowed off a field and into a designated trout stream, killing fish in the tributary of the Willow River.
Two counties and some municipalities in the region have enacted moratoriums while they study zoning laws and other regulations they can use to protect themselves.
AB894/SB808 would essentially take away any remaining power by such local boards to decide on CAFO applications. It would also limit public input on where and how such large-scale livestock production facilities could operate. The new legislation was first introduced by a group of Republicans on Monday, with a hearing already yesterday.
“The expedited process associated with this bill is preventing meaningful review, discussion and comments from the public and interested parties,” said Adam Voskuil of the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA). “Since this hearing was announced, MEA has been inundated with citizen comments and concerns regarding the process and substance of this legislation.”
At the hearing yesterday, another MEA staffer, a former Wisconsin farmer, told the committee that the bill would actually hurt small farmers at the expense of big industrial agriculture companies.
She told the story of a farmer friend who now lived next to a 6,000-head dairy CAFO, and had to flee her home with her children when manure gasses made it dangerous to stay.
“I strongly disagree with attempts to frame this as a conversation that puts farmers on one side and everybody else on the other,” Peg Sheaffer of MEA testified. “The organizations that were given the opportunity to weigh in—the Dairy Business Association, the Dairy Alliance and others—represent only a small subset of farmers—those with enough money and power to have full time lobbyists at the capitol.”
The proposed legislation would:
It would also force the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protections to oversee the entire application process, without any funding to pay staff to do the work.
“We do not have the position and work power required to begin to administer this program,” Angela James, assistant deputy secretary at DATCP, told the committee yesterday, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
The Wisconsin Assembly is planning to adjourn for the year on Feb. 20, with the Senate working until sometime in March.
People with comments or concerns on the legislation are encouraged to contact their state elected officials. Find contact information on MyVote Wisconsin, provided by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Contact Governor Tony Evers through the official website.
Original opinion article by a local Montana resident. Published in the Great Falls Tribune, here.
Contrary to the recent guest opinion piece in this newspaper from Kurt Rockeman, the Madison Food Park Slaughterhouse proposal is a ticking time bomb for Great Falls, not an amazing economic windfall.
Let Upper Missouri Waterkeeper share a few compelling reasons, based on our expertise in water resources management, about why Great Falls should not become a slaughterhouse town.
From an ecological perspective, industrial-scale slaughterhouses create some of the worst water pollution problems in our nation.
EPA records show that three-quarters of industrial scale meat processing plants discharging waste into local waterways violated their pollution control permits over the last two years, with some dumping as much nitrogen pollution as small cities – and facing little or no enforcement.
For 98 of the largest meat-processing plants in the U.S. discharging more than 250,000 gallons of wastewater daily, records from January 2016 through June 2018 show that 74 of the plants violated permit limits for nitrogen, fecal bacteria, or other harmful pollutants at least once. Fifty of 98 had five violations, and 32 of 98 had at least 10 violations.
Of those 98 industrial slaughterhouses, 60 are releasing their wastes to rivers, streams, and other waterways that are polluted because of the main pollutants found in slaughterhouse wastes: bacteria, pathogens, nutrients, and other oxygen-depleting substances that destroy local water quality and harm aquatic life.
Industrial-scale slaughterhouses, and the concentrated animal factory farms that nearly always supply them, are among the nation’s leading contributors of nutrient pollution, which fuels excessive algae growth and creates fish-killing low-oxygen ‘dead zones’ in local streams, lakes and creeks.
Permit data from across the nation shows the vast majority of industrial scale slaughterhouses operating in the U.S. use remedial and inadequate treatment techniques that contribute significant pollution to local landscapes and waterways.
Whether polluted runoff from often-leaking waste storage lagoons, over-fertilized fields sprayed with antibiotic laced wastes as “beneficial reuse” to grow animal feed, the incentive an industrial scale slaughterhouse would create for the growth of nearby corporate style mega-meat farms, or the threat to local fisheries and the downstream Missouri River itself, factual examples across the nation indicate that the Madison Food Park’s mega slaughterhouse is likely to directly affect local water quality, threaten drinking water supplies and harm Montana’s outdoors.
Do we want to risk seeing our world-class fisheries or the drinking water source for the city of Great Falls – the Missouri River – degraded or contaminated, or risk the emerging outdoors-based economy and local businesses that are dependent on Montana’s clean and healthy outdoors for foreign corporate profits? Talk about closing the door to the growth of any future outdoors-based tourism economy for Great Falls.
The Madison Food Park slaughterhouse is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and these water pollution facts are just a few of the compelling reasons Great Falls should respectfully say “no” to an industrial scale slaughterhouse. If built, dozens of polluting, industrial scale facilities across the nation show clearly that we, the people of Montana, will pay.
The cost we’ll bear will be more water pollution, more air pollution, and far-reaching negative social, human health, and economic consequences.
Let’s all dig deep to develop meaningful opportunities to cultivate sustainable economic opportunities that won’t destroy the Montana quality of life we all hold dear.
Guy Alsentzer is executive director of the clean water advocacy nonprofit Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and has over a decade of experience in federal and state water pollution control law.
For the past few months, Big Sky Cheese's special use permit application has been under review by both the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Cascade County Board of Commissioners.
On Tuesday, Montanans For Responsible Land Use filed a lawsuit against the Cascade County Board of Commissioners for what it alleges is a violation of public process.