Cascade County approves Permit Extensions for Big Sky Cheese and Silver Falls Distillery
The Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment approved 24-month extensions of the special use permits for Big Sky Cheese and Silver Falls Distillery, both components of the proposed Madison Food Park project between Great Falls and Belt.
Read the article from The Electric
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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