Did you know the largest industrial-scale slaughterhouse in the Pacific Northwest is proposed for just south of Great Falls?
In late summer 2017 the Cascade County Planning Division received a Special Use Permit application to allow Madison Food Park, LLC to operate a food processing plant that includes 1) commercial propagation, boarding, grazing, or butchering of animals and fowl, including use as a wholesale feedlot, meat packing plant, slaughterhouse, rendering plant or the like; 2) Value added agricultural Commodity Processing Facility including processing, manufacturing, storage and the like; 3) Distillery.
In plain english, this means the county planning office received an application to construct an industrial scale slaughterhouse and processing facility. A November 9th, 2017 hearing was initially set by the Cascade County zoning board, however, the hearing has been postponed indefinitely while the company amends their SUP application.
The Madison Food Park application (click here to view the original filed with Cascade County Planning Dept.) explains that the Project would be enormous – over 3,000 acres in size – and include machinery and operations capable of slaughtering and processing thousands of animals per week. Here are a few of the more startling statistics:
- At peak operating capacity, the Madison Farms Slaughterhouse Complex can operate 260/days year, processing ~135,000 chickens, ~1,800 head of cattle per week.
- > 160 tractor trailer truck loads of animals delivered per week
- Enormous solid & liquid waste created daily:
- Over 3,500,000 gallons of water withdrawal from the Madison Aquifer per day (yes, that’s a 3.5 million gal/day withdrawal)
- Several hundred acres of wastewater lagoons
The Madison Farms Slaughterhouse Complex would be located approximately 8 miles SE of the City of Great Falls, and approximately 6 miles due W of the Missouri River.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
From a strictly water quality perspective, the Madison Farms Slaughterhouse would be located directly adjacent to Antelope Creek, a headwater tributary to the Missouri River. These local streams empty into the Missouri a few miles upstream from drinking water intakes for Great Falls. In fact, the Madison Farms SUP application explains that animal waste lagoons are to be sited literally adjacent to local streams and creeks; these wastewater lagoons are troubling because of the likelihood of spills, breaks, and stormwater overflow pollution events.
Indeed, the sheer size of the slaughterhouse facility and expected millions of gallons of byproduct waste – on a daily basis – is mind-boggling. It goes without saying that if approved, only the best proven technology would be appropriate for this facility and, in troubling fashion, the Madison Farms application relies on unproven, novel wastewater treatment technology that has never been used on the proposed scale, nor in the cold climate common to Montana and the Great Falls region.
From a water quantity perspective, the potential for >3.5 million gallon daily withdrawal from the Madison Groundwater Aquifer is deeply concerning. This aquifer is not well understood by the state of Montana or the USGS. What little is known indicates that the Aquifer is hydrologically connected to the nearby Missouri River, contributing flow of unknown type of and volume. This means that big withdrawals in the Aquifer could affect nearby waterways and similarly affect, but on a much more significant scale, local private groundwater wells.
Also concerning are the potential impacts of massive groundwater withdrawals to headwater creeks near the proposed facility. These creeks feed the Missouri and are hydrologically connected to local groundwater; the loss of flows int these creeks could be devastating to local stream health, invertebrate and fish communities, let alone diminish if not destroy local recreational use of local waterways.
Statistically, the creation of industrial-scale slaughterhouses also incite the development of new industrial scale animal feedlots. Commonly known as Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs or CAFOs), these are industrial concentrated animal factories that, you guessed it, commonly contain > 1000 animals, and are specifically used as part of factory-farm style agriculture to supply national and international food brands. The most common environmental impacts of these AFOs is much the same as slaughterhouses, which is to say intense, localized land, air, and water degradation.
In north-central Montana, a land with finite water supply and a local economy heavily dependent on clean, reliable water supplies, there are far more questions than answers when it comes to the impact(s) of new industrial-scale agriculture. Factory-farming is not the same as traditional Montana ranching and threatens many of the values and resources North-Central Montana communities hold dear.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THIS PROPOSAL?
Step 1: Waterkeeper will continue to watch-dog and engage though the regulatory process. This means, first, advocating for sound decisionmaking at the county level as regards permission to use land for an industrial slaughterhouse. Likewise, there are several other regulatory steps that must take place before this proposal can be approved, including but not limited to: water discharge permits, water rights & groundwater withdrawal applications, and air pollution permits.
Step 2: Waterkeeper will continue its work advising local concerned citizens in terms of strategic, technical, and legal support. This means helping write comment letters to agencies, helping set up meetings with our elected officials, and talking to environmental and public health agencies about the legitimate harms that can flow from industrial scale slaughterhouses. Some of the big ticket questions that must be addressed include: (i) water pollution control, (ii) human health impacts to local citizens, and (iii) water rights/effects of withdrawals on local water resources & fisheries.
Step 3: Empowering you – the public – to speak up! As different public comment opportunities arise Waterkeeper will help local and concerned citizens draft testimony and public comment, using strong science and the law, to ensure our officials and agencies know their duty is to protect Montana’s landscapes, waterways, and communities.