Great Falls City Commissioner Mary Sheehy Moe speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 11. Credit: Video screenshot courtesy of Protect the Falls

Protect the Falls, a citizen’s group that opposes the construction of a slaughterhouse southeast of Great Falls, delivered a petition to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office Tuesday asking the governor to study the environmental impacts of Madison Food Park’s proposal to build the largest multi-species slaughterhouse in the United States.

Great Falls City Commissioner Mary Sheehy Moe said that in a rare show of solidarity, all nine of the city’s neighborhood councils have asked the city to study the proposal’s impacts. Moe said the city has neither the resources nor standing to conduct the kind of study that’s needed, so it asked the state to step in to conduct a multi-agency environmental impact statement.

Moe said the original proposal that’s “still on file and being advanced in bite-sized portions” calls for processing 1,800 head of cattle, 9,200 hogs and 135,000 chickens every day. A processing facility of that scale will impact air quality, water quality and human health, she said. 

“Oh yes, we’ve been told the technology in these areas is light years better than what it was when the most recent horror story came out, but if Montana had a pristine Superfund site for every time we’ve heard that line, parts of this state would be in a whole lot better shape than they are,” Moe said. “We are asking the state of Montana to live up to the promise that [the Montana Environmental Policy Act] makes to every Montanan.”

The letter Protect the Falls delivered to the governor’s office includes 905 signatures gathered through ipetitions.com and outlines a resolution the Great Falls City Commission passed last May requesting then-Gov. Steve Bullock to study impacts to area water quantity and quality, traffic and transportation infrastructure, school districts, emergency services, law enforcement, housing, tourism and agriculture.

“Documented scientific studies have shown comparable U.S. slaughterhouse towns often experience increased health problems, environmental pollution, decreased property values, and other adverse social impacts,” the letter accompanying the petition says.

If developed to full scale, Madison Food Park would employ 3,000 people. Billed as an “expansive value-added agri-business commercial food park,” the 3,018-acre development would include animal and cheese processing, meat packing and a distillery. 

“Oh yes, we’ve been told the technology in these areas is light years better than what it was when the most recent horror story came out, but if Montana had a pristine Superfund site for every time we’ve heard that line, parts of this state would be in a whole lot better shape than they are.”

Great Falls City Commissioner Mary Sheehy Moe

Its daily operations would require 3.5 million gallons of water and generate more than 100,000 pounds of waste on a daily basis.

Madison Food Park, LLC, didn’t respond to Montana Free Press’ interview request, but its website says the company “will be dedicated to the production of Certified Organic, Non-GMO, Hormone Free, Antibiotic Free and Animal By-Product Free foods raised in the State of Montana.” It also says the company’s intention is to be “considered the ‘greenest processor’ in America.” The website outlines a handful of efforts that could shrink the plant’s energy needs and reduce its freshwater and wastewater footprint. Those include using effluent, byproducts and rendering to produce methane gas to heat its facilities.

In her comments during a press conference at the Capitol, Great Falls resident and Protect the Falls member Carolyn Craven said she’s concerned about some of the social and economic impacts associated with a development of the scale Madison Food Park proposes. She said those could include property value decreases, an increase in noise and traffic, and concerns related to “the general quality of life for the residents in our adjacent communities.”

“Why do we want to risk Cascade County’s prime farmland, clean water and quality of life? So a foreign-owned company can develop the largest industrialized multi-species slaughterhouse in the country? Given the severe adverse impacts the slaughterhouse would have on our communities, it is our collective responsibility — that means you, and me [and] government officials — to be well informed before we make decisions of this magnitude.”

The Montana Environmental Policy Act was passed by the Legislature in 1971 to ensure that the public can keep informed of impacts associated with actions taken by state agencies. Among other things, it directs the state to “ensure for all Montanans safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings” and “attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences.”

A representative from Gianforte’s office said Madison Food Park has not submitted any formal plans to the state.

“The state is not aware of any submitted proposal or plans for the project in question,” Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke wrote in an email to MTFP. “Agencies are required to evaluate the impacts of certain proposals pursuant to the Montana Environmental Policy Act, and Gov. Gianforte would ensure that agencies follow all applicable laws and regulations if a proposal is submitted.“

Protect the Falls spokesperson Jayson O’Neill said Madison Food Park has submitted a special use permit to Cascade County that’s currently on hold. He said the city of Great Falls wants a commitment from the governor that the executive branch of the state government will examine the cumulative impacts presented by the project, including its impact to water and air quality, before the project progresses further.

The city of Great Falls sent a letter to Gianforte on March 5 inquiring about the status of its request to the Bullock administration seeking an EIS. Great Falls City Manager Greg Doyon said the state has been mum on the letter the city sent to Bullock last May seeking an EIS on Madison Food Park. Doyon also wrote that the city has not received confirmation that its concerns have been communicated to relevant state agencies. 

John Youngberg, the executive vice president of the Montana Farm Bureau, said in an email to MTFP that his organization hasn’t taken a position on Madison Food Park, but that it generally supports an increase in food processing facilities.

“Local facilities give agricultural producers another option for marketing commodities as well as lessening freight of both raw commodities as well as processed product,” Youngberg said.

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Billings native Amanda Eggert covers environmental issues for MTFP. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism who has written for Outside magazine and Outlaw Partners. At Outlaw Partners she led coverage for the biweekly newspaper Explore Big Sky. Contact Amanda at aeggert@montanafreepress.org.