This week, the Cascade County Commission requested a list of anyone who has submitted a letter during the public comment period (or who has made a public comment regarding the Madison Food Park Slaughterhouse) as they consider two Zoning Board of Adjustment candidates. Commissioner Weber stated that anyone who made a public statement would likely be eliminated as a candidate for the ZBOA, which has been granted permitting authority for the slaughterhouse proposal. Members of the board are un-paid volunteers appointed by the Cascade County Commission and serve a two-year term.
Commissioner Weber stated that the ZBOA should be comprised of individuals who are un-biased, which is reasonable; however, this board is historically comprised overwhelmingly of individuals who represent building and trades interests. The volunteer and unpaid nature of the board does not mean it is not without benefit to some members. Board members are afforded inside knowledge on future development and can influence its course. For many, it makes good career and financial sense to participate.
Our commissioners apparently have no problem with the vice president of a concrete, asphalt, and site development company that could potentially benefit from this project, serving on the ZBOA. This individual also served on the planning board which rewrote the law for special use permits on agricultural land in Cascade County in a manner that paved the way for this slaughterhouse project to reach the permitting phase. He now will get to vote on approving this permit for the biggest slaughterhouse in the Northwest United States. I don’t’ know how he personally feels about this issue. I do, however, believe there is potential for a huge conflict of interest.
If we want an unbiased board, then anyone who could potentially gain financially from this proposal should recuse. Furthermore, Commissioner Joe Briggs has publicly supported the Madison Food Park slaughterhouse. If we are going to hold the candidates to an unbiased standard, then the commissioners who appoint the candidates should be held to the same standard. Commissioner Joe Briggs should recuse himself based on the public support he has expressed for this project.
It is disheartening to me that I believe government at the local level
has failed. We are at the mercy of a Canadian businessman, three
unresponsive commissioners, and an unpaid volunteer board to
decide a matter that will define Great Falls for generations.
It is heartbreaking to know that an unfair system driven by bureaucrats and greed could completely change the course of history for our community, and we don’t get a say. I am pleading with our elected officials to truly represent their constituents and lead rather than hide in the shadows attempting to pass off accountability.
I am proud of where I live and will continue to fight for our quality of life, environment, and to keep industrial agriculture and meat processing on this massive scale out of Montana. I do believe meat processing is an important value-added component to our agricultural community, but on a much smaller scale. This facility, if built according to original plans, will be the largest meat processing slaughterhouse in the Northwest United States and one of the biggest in the country. This puts our region at risk of Industrial agriculture, negatively impacting our local farmers and ranchers. In other parts of the country, when the large meat processing facilities have moved into rural areas, this opened the door for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) taking over the agricultural sector. We should not let ourselves be taken advantage of or exploited and we must protect our rural heritage and our Big Sky Country.