On Thursday, the Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBOA) held a public hearing regarding a Special Use Permit (SUP) application for Big Sky Cheese, LLC.
After the four-hour meeting, the board decided to move the decision on the permit to July.
In 2017, the Cascade County Planning Division received a SUP application to allow Madison Food Park, LLC to operate a food processing plant to include the following:
- Commercial propagation, boarding, grazing, or butchering of animals and fowl, the operation can be used as a wholesale feedlot, meat packing plant, slaughterhouse, rendering plant or the like
- Value added agricultural Commodity Processing Facility including processing, manufacturing, storage and the like
Madison Food Park owns over 3,000 acres between Great Falls and Belt along Highway 89.
In May 2018, the Cascade County Planning Division received an update from Madison Food Park on the status of that application. Representatives with Madison Food Park said they’re still assembling information and asked for an extension on the SUP.
In April 2019, the Cascade County Planning Division received a second SUP application from Big Sky Cheese, LLC on property owned by Madison Food Park, LLC for a Value-added Agricultural Commodity Processing Facility: Cheese Processing Plant.
A public hearing regarding Big Sky Cheese’s application was held Thursday at Montana ExpoPark and allowed Madison Food Park and Big Sky Cheese managing member Edward Friesen, members of his team, and the public to comment.
People in favor of the cheese facility believe it will bring growth and jobs to Cascade County.
Cleve Loney said Great Falls has not grown like other cities in Montana, such as Billings.
Loney said, “We have to have things come into Great Falls, in our county, to get things growing and to have jobs.”
Many opposers pointed out the cheese facility permit states it will only employ 5-10 people.
But proposer Johnny Davis said that didn’t matter. “Even if it’s one job, even if it’s one person having a better opportunity for their family, it’s going to make Cascade County a better place.”
Tiffany Naude’ said she was speaking for the younger generation. She said, “You’re closed minded. Change is something not a lot of people are accustomed to here and what I’ve seen proposed here today, I think it’s really great. I hope to see this through and I think this shall be beneficial to everybody, if we would only open our minds to see that.”
Although several people did speak up and explain why they were for the cheese facility, many people also spoke about why they are against it.
The opposers said they were concerned about the odor, their property taxes going down, and worried about environmental impacts.
Beth Thomas, who introduced herself as a science teacher in Great Falls, said she would rather see something with less impact on the environment.
Beth pointed out the proposal mentions the word ‘value-added’ quite often, and she believes there are other value-added things that could be built.
Richard Hopkins, who is a former park manager at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, went through the proposal page for page and listed off what he thought were discrepancies.
Richard said, “There are a lot of things that are not adequate in the plan.”
Many would-be neighbors of the facility listed their concerns of living close to the cheese plant.
Bill Rodgers said, “Will this affect the neighboring land values? I believe it already has affected mine, and negatively.”
Many people also voiced their concerns about the original proposal from Madison Food Park. They argued the cheese facility is just a ‘foot in the door’ for the original food processing plant.
Other people said they did not understand why the facility had to even be built and argued there are better options across the state.
At the end of the public comment period, ZBOA members asked Friesen and his team questions.
After the question period ended, the board asked Madison Food Park, LLC and Big Sky Cheese, LLC for more information regarding water quantity, water quality, and air quality before they decide.
Friesen and his team said they would give the board the information within the next two weeks.
The ZBOA will not make a decision until at least July, which is when their next regularly scheduled meeting will be held.