Nikolakakos: Growth At What Cost?

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The proposed slaughterhouse is the talk of the town, as well it should be. If constructed, the facility will clearly define Great Falls for generations to come. This industrial complex, with a footprint larger than Malmstrom, would be the largest in the North West and sit just four picturesque miles from city limits. The submitted application calls for over a billion gallons of water usage a year from the Madison aquifer, putting area wells and water quality at risk. For context, this is about as much water as the residents of Butte use each and every year. The application also calls for 300 million pounds of animal solids waste production annually as well as a rendering plant which Friesen Foods’ consultant refers to as a “value add further processing center.” Rendering plant, you see, is a bad word widely associated with horrendous travelling stench and countless municipal lawsuits. The health and environmental risks associated with these kinds of facilities are well documented and accessible via a quick internet search. The massive feedlots sure to spring up in this plants wake are their own monster entirely.

Friesen Foods is pitching 3,000 jobs as “opportunity.” It is definitely an opportunity for them to ship Canadian animals to the US and obtain USDA certification while avoiding more stringent labor and environmental rules.  Their sales pitch, however, is the same one other communities around the nation have heard before. They make big promises of jobs and new technology that will finally put an end to smells and health issues. Each time, however, the results prove the same for those duped. Towns like Tonganoxie, Kansas and Mason City, Iowa recently ran away similar plants for good reason. Midwesterners know the cost benefit analysis of these nightmares all too well. Will we learn in time?

Despite Friesen’s wage claims (that they can never be held to) the Bureau of Labor Statistics has median hourly wages for meat processors at $12.78. We have countless employers who can’t fill positions at those wages right now. The truth is the same non-straight shooting guy who speaks of “value add further processing centers” also knows that these jobs won’t be going to people in Great Falls, or even Montana. This industry has a proven foreign labor recruiting system nation-wide. They know these vulnerable people can be taken advantage of and are less likely to complain and unionize. The reality is Americans just don’t take these jobs.

“Growth” some say. Well, tumors grow. The right question is “growth at what cost?” A Michigan University study focused on the pain experienced by towns accepting slaughterhouses. Decimated property values, overcrowded schools, burdened medical services, surges in crime, exhausted welfare services/infrastructure, and a general collapse in quality of life are major themes.  This proposal represents toxic growth. In fact, it is a sure way to chase out young families, professionals, and military retirees who fuel real, sustainable, and long term positive growth.

Even those who support this plan should be troubled by the way it came about on the grounds of honest and transparent government. Prior to 2017, this plant could not have been approved under agricultural zoning regulations. This was until CEO Edward Friesen recently visited county offices. After the meeting the county, coincidentally, began amending our regulations to match virtually word for word what Friesen needed. That, however, is a long story for another day.

The bottom line is, this proposal is a bad deal for our community and our families. There is a clear answer: Bad deal, no way. If you agree, visit us at www.protectthefalls.com.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Where should Montana cattle be processed? Of all the water used, wouldn’t it only effect the flow/level between where it is tapped and where it dumps into the nearby Missouri? Were we a smelter town when Anaconda was still in operation, I don’t remember that claim in the 70’s.

    • It’s our water, dude, not yours! Do you really not read? I think therein lies a huge part of the problem. We have a whole lot of folks like yourself who just don’t get it. Hell, Canada allows NO water export at all. Do you even suspect why that might be? Until you educate yourself a bit on water issues, your opinion doesn’t count. The world is nearly out of good potable water in most places, especially this country. And they AIN’T makin’ any more last time I checked. This water is our most valuable resource. Hog slop ain’t! True story. Check it out. We could put a bottling plant in there and make WAY more money than recycling pig crap!

    • It’s our water, dude, not yours! Do you really not read? I think therein lies a huge part of the problem. We have a whole lot of folks like yourself who just don’t get it. Hell, Canada allows NO water export at all. Do you even suspect why that might be? Until you educate yourself a bit on water issues, your opinion doesn’t count. The world is nearly out of good potable water in most places, especially this country. And they AIN’T makin’ any more last time I checked. This water is our most valuable resource. Hog slop ain’t! True story. Check it out. We could a bottling plant in there and make WAY more money than recycling pig crap!

    • Who are you ?? If your so secure in your promotion of this slaughter house and the bi hazard waste dump it will be, then stand by your position. Or are you to much of a coward and prefer to hide behind simply RJ ???

  2. I don’t think spouting off like an 8 year old bully with name calling and threats is making the point you guys think it is.

    I haven’t looked at the plans but good sense tells me that the water that will be used is not destroyed but instead will be reclaimed and put into the river via surface water flows, similar to the city of Great Falls. I would expect some evaporation but that loss in the context of Missouri River flow is insignificant.

    I feel for those who currently live close to the sight and want to stop this development, but that’s not how America works. If you want to control your neighbors land, buy it and do as you please.

    Our state government will set the labor laws, OSHA regs, water rules, sanitation rules and emission standards. The plant will have to meet these standards or face the man like any other industry.

    Since when did someone have to put their business plans up for a popular vote? The laws are or should be the same for all.

    • What century are you living in? Just curious. Hell, even the freakin’ gold rush eventually had to implement some laws after miners started washing away every hillside in California. I think that your extreme oversimplification is not making the point you think it is, for the opposition is becoming very sophisticated and up to speed on the supposed science behind this monstrosity. They can now argue all the bs talking points that friesen spouts. And, with the internet, industry has no chance to hide their horrific record of destruction. Bottom line? The opponents have done an excellent job of describing in great detail how such a plant would negatively affect our community. I have heard NOTHING at all from local government as to how all the negative economic impacts would be overcome. There’s is really only one way. Higher taxes on us all for schools, roads, housing, medical, etc. And I do NOT feel like subsidizing foods for to China! And yes, raising my taxes IS my business whether you like it or not. Ecomonic development must make economic sense, and this thing just don’t pencil out for the residents of GF, not to mention the associated negative consequences this thing would have on our other local industries, like tourism. Some billionaires who we all know apparently just bought a huge ranch east of here? Why? Somethin’ goin’ on around here we are not being told about.

    • RJ, if you spend even a minute on Google searching the Madison, you will see the experts know very little about it. It actually extends clear into Wyoming and they are already having problems at that end. Further, the level dropped significantly a few years ago in the aquifer and the experts don’t know why. In short, even the experts don’t know that much about this aquifer and taking this much water out is likely to lower the level of the water for someone else.

      I have to agree that the labor issue is likely to import people who may not be the best for the community. There is just no way around it. Google the link between slaughterhouses and sponsorship of immigrants and you will see that the meat industry is one of the main groups attacking immigration reform.

      If this is a great idea and we are the crazy ones, Friesen should be able to point to a community somewhere that loves their slaughterhouse and is glad it came. Greeley is the butt of Colorado because of their meat plant. The entire city stinks and no one wants to be there. Putting this on the edge of town where much of our new higher end residential and the base housing exists, right next door threatens to stunt growth in many ways.

      USDA inspection is a major benefit to Canadian farmers who will gain access to the largest meat market in the world, US. It does seem like the timing with the Chinese wanting to gain access to our Montana meat is also odd, no?

    • Actually RJ, That IS how America works. The Montana State Growth policy specifically calls on zoning to take into account home owners and their property values as growth is supposed to be planned and reasonably predictable. These are the kinds of issue the ZBOA takes into account. Of course, our County Commissioners should be doing the same as well.

      You clearly have no understanding of how land use works. Landowners don’t get to do whatever they want with their land. That’s why we have Zoning. You also can’t materially damage your neighbors land by actions you take on your own. For instance putting up a stinking rendering plant. The Montana Code Annotated has provisions against odor nuisances. Also, you cant damage your neighbors property value at least without them having recourse. So this plant will be challenged on these and many other fronts. And it we’re smart we’ll kill it so we don’t suffer the horrors other towns who have these things suffer? Ever lived near one? I have.

      • I still shake my head in disbelief every morning when I get up. It’s hard to get it out of my mind. It’s the first thing I think about, and it bothers me all day long when I look in that direction, for we would be able to see that thing from pretty much anywhere on the east end of GF. I simply cannot believe that anyone would really attempt to put that stinking gigantic biohazard right there. Who would actually attempt to do such a thing? Only a psychopath. These folks just ain’t right in the head!

  3. “After the meeting the county, coincidentally, began amending our regulations to match virtually word for word what Friesen needed”: sounds like Joe Briggs wants some more $$$ and to expand his waist size another belt notch…

  4. I’m not taking a side; I just have some questions. I repeat, I’M NOT TAKING A SIDE–yet! I want more information to form an informed opinion.

    First off, a complaint–Why did Great Falls Area Concerned Citizens plan an informational meeting about this important county-wide issue on Tuesday December 5 at 6:45 pm when there’s a regularly scheduled Great Falls City Commission meeting the same day at 7 pm? Didn’t they think to check whether there were other important meetings going on? Commission meetings are posted months in advance. Or did they know and just not care that some people might want to attend both? Now those people have to make a choice. City commission only meets twice a month. You’d think this group would try to avoid those times. Just another example of the poor planning which has become Great Falls modus operandi.

    Mr. Nikolakakos, you’ve stated it’s opportunity for Friesen to “ship Canadian animals to the US and obtain USDA certification while avoiding more stringent labor and environmental rules.” An “opportunity” does not equal a done deal. Do you know the livestock laws well enough to make that statement? What about the local ag producers? Have we heard from them? What’s their level of interest and involvement in this project? Will they utilize this facility?

    You also stated, “The submitted application calls for over a billion gallons of water usage a year from the Madison aquifer, putting area wells and water quality at risk.” That sounds like a heck of a lot of water, I grant you that and it sounds potentially harmful. But where is the data that it would be harmful? If you want to fight this, you’re going to need more than speculation. It also seems that the MT DNRC would look at this regarding the potential of affecting water rights of others in the basin. Any word from them?

    You also wrote, “Prior to 2017, this plant could not have been approved under agricultural zoning regulations. This was until CEO Edward Friesen recently visited county offices. After the meeting the county, coincidentally, began amending our regulations to match virtually word for word what Friesen needed.”

    Okay then, I want to hear more about the meeting between Friesen and county. Did he meet with the county commissioners? Did he meet with county staff? At which meeting did the commissioner vote to change the zoning regulations to match what Friesen needed? If it happened the way you claim, it is perhaps the biggest part of this story.

    Isn’t this facility now an allowable use under county zoning? Therefore, wouldn’t some part of their application need to be deficient in some way for the county to refuse to approve it? Deficient in that it doesn’t follow county codes, zoning regulations or is likely to break a law? I don’t believe an unpopularity contest amongst county residents can legally stop it. But then again, I’m not an attorney.

    For someone who is an intelligence analyst in the military and therefore should be well versed in critical thinking skills and the use of logical arguments, I’m a bit disappointed in the argument as you’ve presented it. It appears based more in the emotional, rather than the analytical.

    • Well, yes, something this unpopular can indeed be stopped. Did you miss the entire solar farm issue? Or the southern bypass mess? Both quite legal, but both wrong for us. And the Canadians do indeed promise the world, and then when they get here they do otherwise. Are you REALLY not aware of the entire ADF fiasco regarding wages? They promised great union jobs with wages and benefits. They even recieved tax breaks on such promises. But guess what? When they got here, all that went out the window. The employees had to fight like hell to get any concessions at all. I think they they are still paid far less than their Canadian counterparts. So yeah, past is prologue. But do explain how producers have MORE right than we do to determine our city’s future. That one lost me. You see, WE live here, not them. If they want it so badly, then it’s incumbent upon them to find a suitable location. And since you mentioned it, WHAT law or precedence allows a bunch of canucks to steal that amount of water out of OUR aquifer? Ya just can’t come in and take 3.5 million gallons a day because you want to. Is this an emotional issue? You bet. This monstrosity would change our community forever! Therefore, I think it’s incumbent upon the county to do an honest cost/benefit analysis. I mean hire some real experts to look at ALL the costs of such a plant, not just monetary but societal. The pollution from these plants has been horrific. So, what would make this one different? Because friesen says so? And this one is on an unprecedented scale. The community is right to say not in our town. I ask you the exact same thing I ask every supporter. How do YOU personally see yourself benefitting from this monster? If it destroys so many other good aspects of our community, why would we want it? We have a fundamental right to determine the direction that we want our city to go. And finally, talk to the folks out centerville way whose wells did indeed drop when the Hoots started irrigating from their wells. No one can say for sure what happens in the aquifer, but anecdotal evidence is about the best we have at the moment. Finally, we have been screwed here in Montana so many times in the past by outta state corporations that we no longer trust them at all. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to just pay them to stay home. Oh sure, they pay a bit in taxes, but when we end up cleaning up their mess, it just wasn’t worth it. Check out Pegasus Gold sometime. Another Canadian corporation. Seventy-four million dollars and counting, and there will never be an end in sight. How much is one of the last pure sources of water left in the country worth? Do we really have to destroy our community at the behest of the Chinese and Canadians? Why? Money ain’t everything.

      • Hey, I’m on the Madison aquifer too. Think I’ll invite in Nestle to my place and tell them they can start taking a million gallons a day or so for bottled water! Why not, right? I’ll sell it back to the Canadians. They buy bottled water from Nestle now, their own! I mean, if it’s legal for friesen, WHY NOT ME?! Hey, I kinda like this American spirit that the canucks are showing us. Sorry county officials. What’s good for canucks is good for us, right joe? And there ain’t a damn thing you can say about it, for I have a permit!

    • Jeni,

      We intend to host a series of meetings, in fact, we will be addressing the Belt Town council next week. If you’ve tried to wrangle a large meeting that doesn’t conflict with something you might understand our plight, this is a tough time of year. Hunting season on one end, holidays on the other, grain growers meetings, large school concerts, you name it. Right now we are focused on getting the word out and organizing among ourselves, our primary political audience is county officials though we believe city officials should be monitoring closely. We don’t have millions of dollars and full time consultants. We’re moms and dads, medical providers and business owners etc. with full lives. Unlike Friesen Foods and Todd Hanson who had their first public meeting only after much public outcry and they were forced to delay their Zoning Board of Adjustments hearing (at that point it would have been all but over save for permit battles) we believe the more information out there the better it is for our cause. So we’ll be out there again. And then again. And each time we intend to be more specific and more focused. They have had years to plan this on top of endless money. We have had weeks to organize and get smart on a shoestring.

      You’re asking a lot of specific questions and took a swipe at my analytic skills. I’d point you to the scope and intent of my editorial. I had +/- 500 words to make my case. I can write 1500 on water alone. Then another 1500 on waste. Another 1500 on property values. Another 1500 on the political situation. And on and on. In 500 words I set out to accomplish some simple steps. 1- Raise awareness, especially of the scope and size of the project. It’s amazing how many people I meet who have no idea, others can’t grasp the size of this thing and will tell you a story of an old small packing plant in the family or something. 2 – Lay out the basic risk factors at play: water, waste, air, quality of life, property values, social and infrastructure burden etc.
      3 – Point out the non-transparent and suspicious nature of the company in question as well as our county officials. You bet it’s an emotional issue when the water your kids drink, the air we breath, and the kind of life we enjoy are under threat. But I think I systematically laid out the outline of concerns and battlefields this matter will be fought on which is what I set out to do. The real emotional argument seems to begin and end with “JOBS, JOBS” and no further analysis regarding long term implications. I cited BLS statistics and other towns who recently waged these battles. Again, 500 words. It did work in the sense that it has you asking a lot of pointed questions. I assure you that’s more than Edward Friesen wants you doing. I would also point our that by statute, and just ethically speaking, the burden of proof is on the applicant/developer. Their SUP was full of holes that did not answer basic statutory questions. Todd Hanson just gave a brief where he spent 80% of his time talking about ABNR technology that they are “looking at” using but wasn’t in the original application. We spoke to those guys (very nice people) and it sounds like not much more than some questions were asked and he comes down here and pitches it like it’s a done deal. This company with hundreds of millions of dollars to gain using our resources and our town is not being transparent or straight yet your anger seems aimed at our meeting date and my not being analytical enough in 500 words covering a deep and multifaceted issue.

      Many of the questions you asked have been answered on our Facebook page where we have dozens and dozens of articles form reputable sources as well as academic literature, and personal testimonials etc. With as many posts as we have now we have buried a lot of good stuff, however, which is why we are in the process of taking the “best of” and putting it on our page. Again though, we’re raising families while building pages, hosting meetings, networking with environmental groups, doing media interviews, running a social media page with many thousands of interactions etc. Cut us just a little bit of slack here.

      I work this weekend and have about a dozen other items on my plate but will do my best to answer your
      specific questions when I have a little extra time. As I said, for now, if you scroll through all the posts on our FB page most of what you’re asking is there. Thanks for having an open mind.

      – George

  5. Larry I appreciate your comments. But I take issue with your remarks that categorize me as a supporter and make it sound like I’m in favor of this project. As i said at the beginning of my comments and will now restate, I’M NOT TAKING A SIDE. I’m playing the role of the devil’s advocate. I’m arguing what appears to be the unpopular cause, to expose it to a more thorough examination. Doing that is my natural reaction to the knee-jerk responses of some members of the not-in-my-backyard bunch who won’t consider the other side of the coin. Minds closed, some are willing to cast me as a supporter, even though all I really want to do is hear all sides and all the information. But sadly, their mindset is a prevalent mindset these days.

    First I NEVER said that producers had more rights than those of us right here in Cascade County. Not sure how you misinterpreted that. But I think we also need to look at this regionally (Central Montana) too and by saying that, I don’t mean that would carry as more or even as much weight.

    But, for the sake of argument, don’t we have some regional agricultural folks that would perhaps welcome the opportunity to have their livestock processed locally rather than shipping them off? My understanding is that livestock can lose weight and therefore $$ depending on distance shipped. These regional producers support our local economy as well; local businesses like farm and ranch supply stores, truck dealershipa and more–with their business coming to Great Falls from a wide geographical area . I also never said that Friesen could come and take all the water they wanted. Again, you twisted my words, it seems. I’ve worked in water rights, so I am aware of those issues. I began urging the city to explore water rights claims back in the Randy Gray days, but that fell on deaf ears.

    You’re right I did miss a lot–I moved away once because I was disgusted with local gvernment and local politics/cronyism and I’m fixing to do it again if things don’t improve. Weren’t there more factors involved in the failure of the other projects you mentioned, more than the public outcry? What about Electric City Power? There was public outcry over that didn’t stop the city from going forward.

    I totally agree on a cost/benefit analysis. But if a cost/benefit analysis is done, it might include factors from a wider geographical area than you’re willing to consider. It would also consider the socio-economic effects, the environmental effects, etc and the cumulative effects of all of the above.

    To conclude, there’s something I’ve always found interesting. Why do certain people/groups oppose projects near them, claiming that since they’re local they know best and their opinions carry more weight, yet when a project is at some distance away, even states away, those same people/groups feel their opinions should carry as much weight or even more weight as the locals, particularly when the locals are in favor of a project? Many examples in the history of the environmental movement bear that out. But I ask–isn’t that a double standard?

    • Thank you for your response, Jeni. Helps to clarify just where you’re coming from. I appreciate your efforts at shedding light on this issue. I will be glad to respond further when I get a chance to. But for now, yes, let’s have an honest debate. I think that’s all we’re asking. We simply can’t allow a few individuals to determine our future for us without total public input. It’s way too important. P.s. I didn’t actually take you as a supporter. We’ve got to leave something for the babies, both human and animal, right? It’s what supposed to as decent human beings.

  6. Thanks Larry! I agree we can’t let a few individuals decide…there has been far too much of that going on around here for far too long! The more discovery, disclosure, discussion–the better!

  7. As far as the secretive nature of the process used to spirit this plant through, it seems to me that if an official with the county had just scored the deal of the century for Great Falls, don’t you think they’d have been shouting it from the rooftops? And if not, why? Because they knew that this thing was a real stinker. They knew full well what the response would be. Hence, they barely implemented the minimum notification requirements, which are nearly non-existent. Bad form.

    So yeah, let’s do find out what transpired behind closed doors.

  8. Here are some random thoughts. A local landlord group called into question the Neighborworks GF/CMD Development apartment project, Rockcress Commons, because they see no shortage of rentals in that price range. Is it possible that Rockcress Commons was developed because of advanced knowledge that the slaughterhouse would be built here and import a certain income-range group of workers, thus creating the need for that housng? Ed Friesen hinted about another project for his company in a January 2017 Tribune article when interviewed about the livestock nutrition facility Friesen was building south of the old Buttrey warehouse.

    “Friesen said the company is considering further expansion in Great Falls, but declined to elaborate. He thanked Great Falls Development Authority officials for helping with their current Great Falls project, including providing a $106,000 “gap loan” that supplemented bank financing.” (Tribune, January 17, 2017)

    Interestingly enough, NWGF is calling Rockcress Commons “workforce housing.” Of course, that particular apartment complex wouldn’t house the total proposed number of workers at the plant, but perhaps it was a start and they planned to add more in stages?

    The proposed Rockcress Commons project hit the news in September 2016. Friesen mentioned “expansion” in January 2017. Did one need to happen before the other? Or maybe there’s no connection at all.

    Also interesting that GFDA helped Friesen with a loan for the livestock nutrition facility, but a GFDA FB post on November 1 stated, “As of now we have nothing to do with this project (slaughterhouse).” So GFDA worked with Friesen on one project but not the other? GFDA puts out a lot of slick PR touting its expertise and role in promoting agri-business in the area, yet it’s not involved in the biggest one, the slaughterhouse …hmm…interesting….

  9. GFDA is trying to cover their ASS sets methinks now that the hog park has been found out for what it really is. I, too, wondered about all that low income housing at the time and I couldn’t figure it out. How can that be beneficial to the overall economy? To attract workers paid so poorly that they can’t even afford rent? I thought that they were probably being built to house all the walmart workers. Soon, we will have two places to shop in GF, Walmart one and Walmart two. Great competition, right? And much of their food is coming from China now, one of the most polluted countries on earth! I bought some fish from Vietnam there one time thinking it might be better than China, but it was so bad I couldn’t eat it. Vietnam has gone to hell since I was there in ’71.

    But now, we have to house twelve thousand hog workers. What’s that in housing terms, about five new Parkdales? I want to call then PORK dales! More truthful. Of course the landlords would be angry about all this. But truth be told, hog workers won’t make enough to pay rent unless there’s about five families living in each house! Which there will be. The Mexican brick layers who built that first Nw bank on tenth lived in shipping crates! Naturally, they weren’t union, and they didn’t even speak English. When they did sub-standard work, their company had to call union guys to fix it! True story.

    I suspect that we can’t even imagine how much real global corporate money is behind this hog plant. It’s probably unstoppable. We are a colony now for China.

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