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Local non-profit group tries to stop construction of new hog plant in Sioux Falls

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Dakota News Now) – Is it coming?

It’s the phrase a new nonprofit group is using to express its efforts to stop construction of a new $600 million pork processing plant in northeast Sioux Falls.

Locally owned Wholestone Farms – whose chairman of the board insists the facility will not look and smell a hazard to the area’s quality of life – plans to employ 2,000 workers and harvest 6,000,000 hogs a year from about half of the 172 acres of land the company purchased near I-229 and Benson Road.

About as many pigs are slaughtered north of downtown at Smithfield Foods, whose smell is well known to locals and visitors to the city.

Incorporated in February, Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls is determined to prevent the plant, and a similar smell, from spreading to an area near Great Bear Ski Valley and the new South Dakota Veterans Cemetery. The land is also about a quarter of a mile from the residential homes.

“The number one issue in my conversations with residents and business leaders in the community is odor, but it’s not the only issue,” said CSSF CEO Robert Peterson. “We know that the people of Sioux Falls want city leaders to create large-scale, well-paying jobs, and, quite simply, a new heavy industrial slaughterhouse, a massive project like the Wholestone Project, does not advance that. objective.

The group recently released a survey it commissioned of 300 Sioux Falls residents, and 78% agreed that any new industrial meat processing facility should be located outside the city limits. The same number thought the project would have a negative impact on odours, and just under 70% thought the same for traffic, congestion, water quality and housing availability.

Three-quarters of them agreed that city leaders should put the brakes on the project.

“We don’t believe that any serious attempt to study the impacts of odor contamination, noise contamination, traffic jams, water contamination has been made,” Peterson said. “What we are asking the city council to do is put a moratorium on this project until a more serious study can be done.”

The city council set a precedent in 2015 by ordering a six-month moratorium on billboards in Sioux Falls, “and I would say that a massive industrial complex like this is of far greater concern than the city limits. on billboards,” Peterson said.

But the city’s director of planning and development told Dakota News Now on Wednesday there is little more the city can do about the plant’s construction process.

Before the land was purchased by Wholestone, the Eckhoff Department approved the zoning of the proposed factory view because it fell within the “heavy industrial” category of the city’s zoning policy. Indeed, the land was near the city’s industrial park, including its water treatment facility.

Peterson said this “heavy industrial” zoning is inconsistent with the “light industrial” category that was assigned during the “Shape Sioux Falls 2040” plan, which was adopted by the city in 2016, two years before the start of the construction of Gage Brothers Concrete nearby. Installation of products.

“I don’t know how and when it was changed,” Eckhoff said. “I know the heavy industrial zoning came when Gage Brothers came up, because they needed the (heavy industrial) classification, so it’s a pretty close neighbor to that, so, I think when the owner of the land (Wholestone) rezoned for this, he rezoned the whole plot that way.

Eckhoff is encouraged that the company discharges its own wastewater.

But the permitting process is now in the hands of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which will work with Wholestone’s to ensure it meets air and water safety standards.

“In some ways, people would like the city to control everything,” Eckhoff said. “And we would only have beautiful and beautiful things here and things there. Of course, in my garden, I want things the way I want them.

“And then there’s the private sector who can sell land and control what they own within the rules, guidelines and zoning of the city of Sioux Falls and the state of South Dakota. So where do you cross that line and how much do you regulate? Because that’s something people don’t like. I understand, and I understand people’s concerns, but it’s a line we always have to balance, isn’t it? »

Eckhoff said the city tries to be fair and judicious in how it approaches the zoning and placement of facilities like Wholestone, but repeated several times: This is a case where zoning was already in place “well before the arrival of the project”.

“We looked at it and we looked at the things we could do, what regulations did we have about them,” Eckhoff said. “What could we do to try to make sure this was a good project for the town of Sioux Falls? And we found that the boxes had been checked by zoning before that.

Eckhoff understands fears that Wholestone is another Smithfield factory, originally built in 1910 and owned by John Morrell and Company until Smithfield was purchased in 1995.

But he is encouraged by public remarks made by Wholestone board chairman Dr Luke Minion.

“He talks about how it’s a new factory, a safe factory,” Eckhoff said. “It’s on one level. It’s not on the tier we have with Smithfield, and the odor and water protections put in place are different from what we’ve seen.

In a Wednesday interview with Dakota News Now, Minion said Wholestone wouldn’t be “absolutely an eye candy,” as Peterson said residents expected, nor would he be broadcasting the ” nauseating odours” described by the CSSF.

“We have spent five years and approximately $50 million to ensure that the new plant’s odor reduction technology will match or exceed the (nearby) City of Sioux Falls treatment plant.

“I live in Sioux Falls and believe me, we are well aware of people’s concerns. We have been open about sharing our designs. We’ve built the best odor mitigation technology available.

The director of Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls is not convinced that this will be satisfactory.

“Mitigation is not elimination,” Peterson said. “Smell is subjective. Things can smell stronger to one person than to another. So how do you measure that?

“I appreciate the effort made in this regard, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is not the right place.”

Peterson said there was “lots of land in South Dakota” to build a factory, so why within the city limits of Sioux Falls?

Minion said that for a company that will eventually employ 2,000 people, the plant needed to be close to a large population, and echoed Eckhoff’s logic of placing it in an industrial area.

And with regard to the other major concerns answered by the CSSF survey:

* Water Contamination: Eckhoff is encouraged that Wholestone will discharge its own sewage, and Minion said the company has been coordinating with the state since 2017 to ensure sewage is “acceptable and compliant.”

“Wastewater is completely state controlled,” Eckhoff said. “They will have to monitor and send samples and that sort of thing.”

* Traffic and congestion: Eckhoff said, “We’re going to upgrade that interchange anyway, and it’s going to be industrial traffic, mostly with quick access to I-229, and so definitely (traffic) won’t be going through any residential neighborhoods. There will be traffic, but it will be on Benson Road and I-229, mostly.

* Work and housing: In a city of over 202,000 people – which just grew its population by 7,000 in 2021 – and with giant projects underway like an Amazon facility, Peterson and 62% of the 300 residents in the CSSF survey think the Wholestone plant would have a negative impact on housing availability.

But the plant won’t be built, and therefore the workforce won’t be needed, until 2026 at the earliest, Minion said. The factory plans to start with 1,000 employees and grow to 2,000 by 2028.

“It’s six years from now,” Minion pointed out. “It’s not that horrible, scary thing.”

Eckhoff said: “I don’t care if it’s Wholestone Foods or Amazon or a company trying to employ 30 people. Labor is a major issue in our city, and across the country, and across the state…Affordable housing is a complicated and important issue. I do not deny it. The amount of jobs, I think that’s our concern as a city. How do we absorb the growth, and not just from this project, but from the overall growth, huge overall?… It’s a challenge.

He said the city has “programs that we have in place. Some taxing. We fund some things. We try to find ways to incentivize. We are looking for opportunities for recycling houses. He mentioned that the growth rate, inflation, and the availability of labor and supplies “are all headwinds against us right now.”

Even though Sioux Falls has licensed a record number of single-family and multi-family homes each of the past two years, “they need to be built. They have to stock up. They must obtain the materials at the price at which they hoped to obtain them.

“It’s not like people are growing up in areas we didn’t expect them to grow up in. They just do it much faster than we thought.

* Economic impact and quality of life: Minion said he can’t stress enough that Wholestone Foods is owned by 220 hog farmers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Eckhoff calls the upcoming plant a “value-added agricultural project.”

“Agriculture is still part of our industry,” Eckhoff said. “Agriculture is doing well in these surrounding communities, and farmers and producers are spending money in Sioux Falls. They contribute to our health care, our retail, our services and our overall economy…

“One other thing aside, and I’m not ruling it out, but from a purely economic standpoint, a locally owned value-added agricultural business is a big driver for the money.”

Peterson said that the CSSF is not against the construction of the factory, nor against agriculture. But the factory would have to go elsewhere, and there are other ways to keep the city’s economy booming.

“The way we look at it is, do we want Sioux Falls to be a town of the past and continue to rely on old industry,” Peterson said, “or do we want to continue attacking new industries, attract young professionals, attract families? Does a new mega-slaughterhouse within the city limits make Sioux Falls a more attractive place to live, work, raise a family? Does it improve the quality of life of the inhabitants? In our opinion, no.

Construction is expected to start around New Years 2023. Peterson said “you’ll hear more” from the CSSF.

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