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Judge rules against Cascade County Commissioners on proposed cheese plant

Posted at 12:35 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 09:45:41-05

GREAT FALLS — A judge is siding with a group that is suing Cascade County Commissioners over a decision regarding a proposed cheese plant in the county.

In November 2019, the commissioners made changes to some of the county Zoning Board’s recommended stipulations for a special-use permit the plant had applied for.

Montanans For Responsible Land Use sued the county, claiming that the commissioners improperly made the changes.

Lake County District Judge James Manley, who is overseeing the case, has agreed, meaning that the Zoning Board’s original 17 stipulations go back into effect.

The county can appeal the judge’s ruling; click here to read the complete court document.

Jim Larson, the chair of the County Commission, told MTN News that "the Commission is disappointed in the findings of the court in this case," and that commissioners are reviewing the judge's order to determine how to proceed.


(AUGUST 28, 2019) During a Wednesday evening meeting, the Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBOA) approved a special use permit (SUP) application for Big Sky Cheese, LLC.

This decision was made at the board’s third public hearing regarding the permit. The SUP is a request to allow a value-added agricultural commodity processing facility located on Highway 89 between Great Falls and Belt.

After much discussion and deliberation from the board regarding the staff report, additional information provided by the applican,t and public comment, the board decided to approve the permit with 17 conditions.

Those 17 conditions are as follows:

  • 1. The applicant obtains a driveway approach permit from the Montana Department of Transportation and completes a driver impact study as required by MDT and allows MDT to consider relocating of the intersection deemed necessary.
  • 2. The applicant obtains the necessary water rights from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the applicant shall be required to place meters on wells and submit quarterly reports to planning and obtain water rights if it exceeds the exempt levels provided by DNRC.
  • 3. The applicant obtains approval from the City-County Health Department and Montana Department of Environmental Quality for new public water supply waste water system. The board requests that DEQ consider requirements for the waste water pond to be lined. The board requires the applicant to provide quarterly reports on the waste water monitoring wells to staff.
  • 4. The applicant obtains the Montana DEQ general permit for storm water discharges associated with the construction activity and after construction installs required on-site retention basins for storm water run-off as part of the storm water pollution prevention plan.
  • 5. The applicant obtains any other county, state or federal permits required by the respected agencies for the legal operations to the proposed use.
  • 6. The applicant adheres to all relevant building code requirements established by the Department of Labor and Industry.
  • 7. Operational hours be limited to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • 8. All cheese manufacturing process activities must occur inside a fully-enclosed building and not be visible to the general public with air from the internal cheese manufacturing process be treated or filtered to address odor concerns. The applicant is to design and adopt odor control measures.
  • 9. All setback requirements for the A district must be followed.
  • 10. Outside storage must be fully screened to conceal work equipment or materials not stored inside with landscaping to meet or exceed county standards.
  • 11. No structure is to extend into the height overlaid district.
  • 12. The applicant is to execute or obtain and record a road easement from U.S. Highway 89 to the parcel the cheese processing plant is located on.
  • 13. Outside lightning is to be designed to avoid light pollution with the goal of being dark-sky friendly or dark-sky compliant if possible.
  • 14. A prohibition on livestock and dairy cows on site.
  • 15. Design standards regarding with pavement and sub-surface for access roads to accommodate emergency vehicles and provide for dust control shall be implemented.
  • 16. Applicant provides emergency secondary access.
  • 17. Applicant obtains fire-suppression cistern approval from the rural volunteer fire department for the fire suppression system.