County ZBOA approves Big Sky Cheese permit, with conditions

The Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to approve the special use permit for Big Sky Cheese to build a value-added agricultural commodity processing facility for a cheese processing plant.

The board included 17 conditions in their approval of the permit, meaning that the applicant will have to meet those requirements before the permit is actually issued.

Big Sky Cheese’s principal is Edward Friesen, who is also the principal in Madison Food Park, the proposed agricultural processing complex on U.S. Highway 89, a few miles outside the Great Falls city limits.

The Big Sky Cheese permit application and related documents are on file in the Planning Department’s office or on the county website.

ZBOA member Michelle Levine suggested that the board postpone their decision to allow more time to review public comment and develop their conditions to ensure they mitigate concerns with the project.

Other board members said they didn’t see a legal reason to deny the project and that many of the concerns were related to issues outside the ZBOA’s jurisdiction since other local, state and federal agencies regulate the specifics.

Big Sky Cheese map

The permit approved during the Aug. 28 meeting includes 17 conditions, which require the applicant to receive approvals from the Montana Department of Transportation for a driveway approach and conduct a traffic impact study if necessary and consider relocating the access point to the property if needed; obtain necessary water rights and install meters in their two exempt wells to monitor impacts to neighboring wells and provide quarterly reports to the county; get approvals from the county health department and Montana Department of Environmental Quality for a public water supply and wastewater system; adhere to building codes and regulations; limit operating hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; keep processing activities inside the facility and treat or filter air to address odor concerns as well as implement design standards to include odor controls; follow setbacks for the agricultural zoning district in the county; screen any materials stored outside; observe the building height restrictions of the overlay district; obtain a road easement from U.S. 89 to the parcel; design outdoor lighting to limit light pollution; ensure roads are wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles, have a secondary emergency access and pave roads to limit dust; prohibit livestock or dairy cows onsite; and require the volunteer fire department to sign off on the fire suppression/protection cisterns.

The Electric will get the full list of conditions with the exact language in the morning.

Charles Kuether, ZBOA member, initially proposed 13 conditions, but Levine suggested adding more to mitigate concerns raised in public comments and meet the board’s obligation to consider certain issues as outlined in the county’s regulations.

Levine said they should consider adding a monitoring requirement on the ground water, but Kevin May, an engineer contracted by the applicant, said the Montana Department of Environmental Quality already requires that monitoring and monthly reports. The ZBOA did include in the conditions that the applicant should also send that information to the county.

Carolyn Craven, a regular speaker at public meetings and opponent of the project, said, “We were hoping for it to be tabled so it could be a more thorough discussion and review.”

But since it wasn’t delayed, she said that she and others in their group were pleased with the conditions and thanked Levine for attempting to address their concerns.

Brett Doney, director of the Great Falls Development Authority, said he was “very pleased” that the board approved the permit but felt that “some of the conditions are much too stringent for this type of use in Cascade County. It’s as if they’re trying to turn Cascade County into a California subdivision.”

For a 20,000 square foot facility, Doney said it was concerning that the board would include conditions on the operating hours, requiring a paved road and secondary access, and prohibiting livestock.

He said if he was a rancher, farmer or 4-H family, “I would be very concerned,” about the livestock prohibition.

For background on the proposed Big Sky Cheese and previous public meetings on the permit application, read our previous coverage:

Big Sky Cheese on Aug. 28 county zoning board agenda

Big Sky Cheese decision again postponed

Additional information submitted on Big Sky Cheese project; second public hearing set for July 22

No decision on Big Sky Cheese permit until at least July

Big Sky Cheese hearing set for June 27

Big Sky Cheese gets $2.27 million bridge loan through GFDA

Cheese processing plant proposed as first part of Madison Food Park; application submitted to Cascade County planning

County spinning planning out of public works department; creating new special projects manager position