Debate continues over proposed Madison Food Park

Posted at 6:37 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 12:36:28-04

GREAT FALLS — Like the land along Highway 89 between Great Falls and Belt where the proposed Madison Food Park might some day be, Cascade County Commissioner Jim Larson said there really wasn't much to the plan as of Tuesday.

"There hasn't really been any activity with the slaughter plant for almost two years,” said Larson. "That permit (to open a slaughter house) hasn't even brought forward to us."

That may make the petition for an environmental impact study seem like a moot point, but even so Larson said he's not opposed to a study or the signature petitioning the governor for a study.

On Tuesday, a group called Protect The Falls, and Great Falls City Commissioner Mary Sheehy-Moe, went to Helena and delivered to Governor Greg Gianforte a petition with around 1,000 signatures for an environmental impact study. Click here to read more about the group and the petition.

"It's their prerogative and, again, more information leads to better decisions,” said Larson.

The slaughter house is just one part of the Madison Food Park being considered for the land along Highway 89.

As of Tuesday, the focus is on opening a cheese plant and distillery. But that's also not without controversy, as seen during a public hearing on the cheese plant back in 2019.

"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,” Johnny Davis said at the hearing.

"Will this affect the neighboring land values? I believe it already has affected mine negatively,” Bill Rodgers said at the hearing.

Great Falls Development Authority CEO Brett Doney said Tuesday the food park could be a huge shot in the arm for the local economy.

"We've been focused quite a bit on what we call value-added agriculture simply because 85 percent of the grain grown in Montana gets shipped out of state without any value added and most of the meat gets sent out of state on the hoof. It just doesn't work economically,” Doney explained.

Larson said that as of Tuesday the permit for the cheese plant was in a holding pattern as the company behind it worked to meet all of the conditions necessary to move it forward. The distillery permit was active, with the company recently filing for a six month extension.