A massive agri-business commercial food park that will eventually employ an estimated 3,000 people is planned for Cascade County near Great Falls.
Friesen Foods LLC has submitted an application for a special use permit, which essentially kick starts the development process in the county, said Brian Clifton, public works director for Cascade County.
Appliction documents indicate that the project, which would be about eight miles southeast of Great Falls, could spur growth of other local businesses and potentially create 85 additional positions in those areas.
The proposed project, dubbed Madison Food Park, would be built on 3,018 acres of undeveloped farm land and is an acceptable use under county zoning, Clifton said, but going through the process allows the Zoning Board of Adjustment to place conditions on the property.
In this case, those restrictions include requiring water, sewer and storm water approvals from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; approach plan approval from the Montana Department of Transportation to handle the anticipated truck volume; and appropriate approvals from the health department.
Clifton said that the county planning department acts as a clearinghouse to ensure those requirements are met and once they are, will sign off on the permit needed to begin construction.
The process also includes a public hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for early November, Clifton said.
When complete, the project will include, according to the permit application, “a state of the art, robotically controlled, environmentally friendly, multi-species food processing plant for cattle, pigs and chickens and the related further processing facilities for beef, pork and poultry. In addition to the meat-packing elements, the project will also incorporate facilities for the processing of both fresh milk supplied by local and regional dairy producers into a variety of cheese products, as well as a distillery which will source the grain necessary for the production of Montana branded spirits from cereal crops grown by area farmers within the Golden Triangle.”
The facility will also include a large-scale packaging, transportation and distribution network located on site to ensure quality control, biosecurity and management of the product supply chain from “farm input to the consumer’s table.”
The plant will cause a significant increase in truck traffic in the area. In a given week, between Monday and Friday, scheduled inbound deliveries would include 60 trucks of hogs, 60 of beef, 40 of poultry and 15 of bulk milk. During the same period, outgoing shipments would include 15 trucks of processed hogs, five of processed beef, 10 of processed chicken and two trucks of processed dairy.
Direct access to the Madison Food Park site is anticipated to include the development of both ingress and egress roadways from Highway 89, according to the permit application. Final placement and design of those roadways won’t happen until a comprehensive traffic impact study has been completed.
Clifton said the company has hired an engineering company to develop water and waste water plans. According to the application, Friesen plans to recycle most liquid and solid waste by anaerobic digestion technology to convert the waste into useable energy to power electric turbines; repurposed into agricultural commodities; or rendered into a final form that can be used such as fertilizer, pet food, lard, tallow and protein meal.
For water, the company plans to drill wells and use an estimated 3.5 million gallons of water a day for operations.
The site is within the Malmstrom Military Overlay District, but falls in an outer area that limits building heights to a maximum of 500 feet above the runway. The project includes potential development of wind turbines for renewable energy generation and that will be coordinated with the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and the county in the future.
The project would be likely to have a major economic impact on county tax revenues as the property improvements would be taxable. The potential of 3,000 new jobs would also significantly impact economic development in the Great Falls area.
The company plans to develop training and apprenticeship programs with Montana State University and local colleges to help train local residents for job opportunities at the Madison Food Park.
Jenn Rowell is the founding editor of The Electric, an online newspaper in Great Falls, where this article was first published.