Madison Food Park developers take questions at Great Falls neighborhood council meeting

Todd Hanson, spokesman for the proposed Madison Food Park, spoke to Neighborhood Council 5 on Monday. Edward Friesen, the principal developer, also attended the meeting, but did not speak.

The project is outside the city limits and outside the council’s district, but if approved, it would impact the area and the council often invites speakers from major developments to provide information.

Hanson said the project is phased and would likely ramp up over a five-year period. Hanson told The Electric last month that the cheese processing plant is planned as the first building for construction.

It’s “not a project that springs to life overnight,” he told the room of about 100 at the Great Falls Clinic Specialty Center. Council 5 typically meets in that space and usually has about 20 attendees to discuss neighborhood concerns. Dozens of others were outside and not allowed in by the clinic’s security since the room was at capacity.

The slaughterhouse’s Special Use Permit will be considered by the Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment, which will include a public hearing. That has not been scheduled yet since the applicant is revising their application. The County Commission does not vote on SUP applications.

No city officials or governing boards have jurisdiction on the project and the city could not assess any taxes or fees on the project since it’s not in the city limits.

County planning still processing Madison Food Park proposal; water rights process not yet begun

Hanson is also scheduled to speak on Dec. 9 during the Montana Cattleman’s Association meeting in Great Falls.

Community concerns have included water, odor, traffic, immigrants, crime and more.

In a prepared statement, members of the Great Falls Area Concerned Citizens said, “tonight’s ‘sales pitch’ was no different than those made to other communities who suffer the consequences of these abominations: exaggerated promises of ‘good paying jobs’ and technologies that will finally work this time. But in the end the results are always the same. The reputation of our town will be damaged forever chasing out young families, retirees, college graduates, professionals, and the chance for real long-term growth. Tumors grow. We say, growth at what cost? This slaughterhouse is a bad deal for our community.”

Hanson said the estimated water usage at peak capacity in year five is about 3.5 million gallons daily, or 3,072 acre feet per year for the MFP complex.

Major agri-business complex planned for Cascade County, with potential for 3,000 new jobs

He said that is equivalent to 1,452 acres of irrigated alfalfa hay using a center pivot.

Hanson said the city has about 1,200 acres of community green space that is irrigated or watered.

According to Great Falls Park and Recreation, the city has 1,215 acres of park land, plus about 300 acres of golf courses. Of that, roughly 1,000 of those acres are irrigated, according to Park and Rec.

Hanson said they’re working with a hydrologist to develop their plans for wells and will do testing to determine if the aquifer can withstand their usage. That testing would also be required and reviewed by the Montana Department of Natural Resources when considering a new water right since the MFP property currently doesn’t own enough water rights for the proposed project. DNRC has not yet received an application for new water rights from MFP.

The MFP developers are currently amending their SUP application for the ZBOA. Last month, The Electric asked what it was amending for and Hanson said it was a common procedural practice.

On Monday, Hanson said that the reason the MFP developers are amending their SUP application is to adjust for a technology system they say will eliminate waste and the need for treatment lagoons.

That technology is from Missoula-based CLEARAS Water Recovery. Their Advanced Biological Nutrient Recovery system “maximizes the recovery of excess nutrients, increases dissolved oxygen, and produces no chemical by-products, eliminating costly disposal fees,” according to CLEARAS. “Modeled after traditional activated sludge processes, our patented system harnesses microbiology in a photobioreactor environment that accelerates photosynthesis, the consumption of carbon dioxide and excess nutrients. Advanced microfiltration is then used to filter out high quality water from return activated algae, which returns to the beginning of the ABNR process.”

According to the CLEARAS website, the ABNR system is used at the Missoula Wastewater Treatment Plant and has been tested at wastewater treatment plants in Massachusetts and Ohio. The system is in the early stages of implementation in wastewater systems in Utah and Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and has been piloted in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and Hoover, Alabama.

The system does not appear to have been used or proven in projects of the proposed Madison Food Park’s scale.

One meeting attendee said he knows the developers will have to jump through “a zillion hoops” to get the project approved, but asked how they’d get up to 3,000 employees since in his meat-packing background, plants had fewer employees.

Last month, Hanson told The Electric they weren’t ready to finalize numbers of jobs in each area or the pay scales. Last week, he told Montana Public Radio that they estimate the base wage would be $15-$22 per hour and the skilled and management positions would likely range from $45,000 to $85,000.

Hanson said there would be the processing staff, but also a substantial cleaning staff, facility security, biosecurity, cold storage facility, logistics, management and more.

He said they’re planning 260 processing days and at peak operating capacity, developers estimate 1,800 head of cattle; 9,200 hogs and 135,000 chickens daily.

Another attendee asked where those animals would come from and Hanson said they plan to prioritize Montana producers and animals, but did not specify where they would come from. He said they are not anticipating bringing in cattle from Canada.

Some in the room suggested that there aren’t enough cattle in Montana to meet that processing rate.

Jim Peterson, a Central Montana cattle producer, said they ship 90 percent of their cattle out-of-state for finishing and processing. He said that his son can deliver about 20,000 head of cattle.

“You give us this opportunity, we’ll provide you with the cattle,” he said.

Other speakers expressed concern over the potential impact of 3,000 new workers and their families to schools, roads, housing and crime in Great Falls and the surrounding area.

Hanson told The Electric last month that the company intends to hire Montanans and people from the region. He said the developers met with officials at Great Falls Public Schools on Monday to start discussions on the potential impact if the project is approved.