County grants 2-year extension for Madison Food Park projects
The Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment approved extensions for three Madison Food Park projects.
The county approved permit extensions for
- Big Sky Cheese to December 2025
- Silver Falls Distillery to November 2025
- Friesen Nutrition’s vitamin trace minerals blending facility to December 2025
The board voted unanimously to approve all three extensions and there was no public comment on any of the projects.
In an October letter, Ed Friesen, Madison Food Park managing partner, wrote to the county planning office requesting the extensions.
“We continue to work with the regulatory agencies, contractors and financiers to begin construction as soon as every component is approved to meet the conditions,” Friesen wrote.
The ZBOA approved the vitamin blending facility in June 2022 to build a blending facility in Madison Food Park, off U.S. Highway 89 that would manufacture vitamin, trace mineral and other mixes to supplement on-farm feeds for livestock, according to county documents.
There’s been little movement on the special use permits issued to Big Sky Cheese or Silver Falls Distillery. The county granted initial 24-month extension to the permit for both of those projects in September 2021. Those projects are components of the overall proposed Madison Food Park.
Joe Murphy of Big Sky Civil Engineering has been working on the project for Friesen for years and said that the developer is working with the Montana Department of Transportation and Montana Department of Environmental Quality to address those requirements, as well as financing options.
Big Sky Cheese defaulted on their loan with the Great Falls Development Authority last summer.
Brett Doney, GFDA’s president, told The Electric in December 2022 that the company hadn’t paid interest over the entire fiscal year on their bridge loan.
In February, GFDA filed a civil lawsuit in district court over more than $2 million in unpaid loans and placed liens on the Madison Food Park properties east of Great Falls.
Doney said in December GFDA was in first position on the land, so they’re concerned but have enough collateral to recover the loan funds if necessary.
In February, he said because the loans were made with federal funds, GFDA had to file the lawsuit but are still hopeful Madison Food Park projects will move forward.
He said that bridge loans are higher risk but designed to move projects forward. Doney said that if Big Sky Cheese isn’t moving forward, GFDA could use the loan capital for other projects.
Doney told The Electric on Nov. 16 that Friesen hadn’t made any payments yet on the loans.
Charity Yonker, county planning director, told The Electric in November 2022 that there had been no movement on Big Sky Cheese or Silver Falls Distillery. She said no documentation had been provided for the special use permit conditions and no location/conformance permits had been issued for either project. Yonker said that there had been no movement on the slaughterhouse application.
On Nov. 16, she told The Electric that there had been no movement on the projects in their office other than the extension requests.
Ed Friesen, Madison Food Park’s principal, told The Electric in December 2022 that the project “has had its share of delays and complications, especially with the pandemic aftermath. Madison Food Park intends to move forward with its plans. Certainly the GFDA loan will soon be brought current.”
Madison Food Park is current on its county property taxes for 2022.
The county Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the special use permit for Silver Falls Distillery in May 2020 and the approved the SUP for Big Sky Cheese in August 2019, with 17 conditions.
The developer, Madison Food Park, appealed some of those conditions and the County Commission adjusted them. But locals took the issue to court and the district court ruled against the county in November so the conditions reverted to those of the ZBOA from 2019.
The county reissued the notice of conditional approval on Dec. 10, 2020 for the Big Sky Cheese SUP, which was set to expire Dec. 10, 2021.
In a letter to the county planning department, Ed Friesen, the managing member of Big Sky Cheese and Silver Falls Distillery, wrote in 2021 that “we are presently working to address and resolve the SUP’s conditions of approval. Some of these conditions require permitting from Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality, and the review and approval processes associated with the permits are anticipated to take many months to complete. Further complicating the schedule during the past ~18 months has been the owner’s ability to conduct normal business affairs related to the project as a result of travel restrictions.”
With the ZBOA approval, the Big Sky Cheese permit was extended to Dec. 10, 2023.
The permit for Silver was set to expire in June 2021 and the owner requested a six month extension, which was set to expire November 2021. With the ZBOA approval, that permit has been extended to Nov. 29, 2023.
Here’s background on these two projects:
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