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Ronan clears up confusion around proposed meat processing plant

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RONAN — The Ronan City Council held a public meeting on July 12 to address community concerns as well as clear up some misunderstandings about a proposed meat processing plant. The project was first brought before the council in May, but they decided a public hearing would be best to conduct first to consider public impact. 

The proposed meat processing plant would be located on 30 acres of land off Mink Lane and Main Street SW. The facility itself would only use a three-acre piece in the northwest corner of the property and contain a small 3,000 square foot plant meant to process 18-25 animals per week. Primarily intended for hunters, most of the animals would not be slaughtered at the plant but rather in the field, and also inspected for wasting disease. Those that are slaughtered onsite would only be kept overnight, slaughtered humanely and without using guns. A USDA inspector will be on site on kill days. Any hunter would be allowed to bring their meat to be processed, regardless of tribal status. If the CSKT gets the funding to go through with the project, it’s estimated that it will take approximately three years from December to get up and running. 

Ronan Public Works Director Dan Miller and CSKT Land Use Planning Director Janet Camel addressed the crowd that filled city hall with a thorough explanation of the proposed meat processing project, including visual aids. The first misunderstanding addressed was that this project is not already set in stone. The execution of this project will depend entirely on a grant CSKT has applied for. If they do not get funded, it will be quite some time before they are able to reapproach starting this project. CSKT will find out in some time near November if they received the funding but decided to proceed with their proposal to annex the property now to budget for the use of city water and sewers. 

Another question asked during the meeting was if property tax would be paid on the location, to which the answer was no. However, the plot of land proposed for the meat processing plant is already part of a land trust, meaning it already belongs to the tribe and no tax has been paid on that parcel of land anyway. The addition of this plant annexed into the city would at least provide funds to the city for the use of the city’s water and sewers, impacts on the roads and infrastructure costs. The project could provide approximately seven new local jobs. The only reason they asked to annex the entire 30-acre property is due to the fact they’re not subdividing. 

A large concern raised at the meeting was the issue of smell and noise that would come from the plant. However, experts in attendance shared that the composting method planned is a method frequently and successfully used. Using a capped section on approximately two thirds of one acre, the process uses woody arborist chips for a carbon source and has had a high success rate containing the smell. A PhD professional, who specializes in properly maintaining these systems, will be on call to assist. Personnel from the MSU Extension Office explained that if the temperature and system is properly maintained there would be no odor and the system would also produce quality compost that could be used for agriculture. Should something go wrong, and a smell arise, they would troubleshoot and rectify the problem as quickly as possible, possibly with an additional cap. Another attendee mentioned that this composting method is used in similar, slightly larger plants in Missoula and Hamilton and has had success eliminating the smell of compost. As for noise, they would only be operating from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays with no weekends and no gun use, so sound would be minimal. 

That lot that was chosen was selected after debating numerous elements, Camel explained. Deciding factors included proximity to the substation for three-phase power and hookup to city sewer and water. In addition, the site is not so remote as to cause concern about grizzly bears.  As an extra precautionary measure, plans include an electric fencing around the compost area. The project site passed an environmental checklist having historically been utilized for similar purposes, including a mink farm at one point. Miller also explained the area isn’t very attractive for housing as it’s close to the transfer station and a proposed subdivision for single family homes is being planned for elsewhere in the community. 

To ensure the proposed meat processing plant doesn’t contaminate the city water system, a lactic acid wash, as well as a grease trap will be used. The facility will control their water using stormwater basins and the ditch on the edge of the property will be replaced with a pipe that will allow the water to continue to serve others. 

Facility traffic is not expected to provide an impact as the facility will employ under ten individuals, and the small number of people coming and going to have their meat processed is unlikely to affect the roads. However, project administrators will consider doing a full NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) study if they get the funding. Council members pointed out having an additional business on that road may help prompt the county to improve Mink Lane. 

While the facility will be designed to be expandable, due to the area’s limited customer base, it is not anticipated to expand greatly. The only currently planned addition is a later phase storefront to allow non-hunters to purchase local meat. Any additional expansion is expected to be more freezer space, approximately the size of a single-wide trailer. Camel explained the project’s intent is to maintain a small operation that simply meets the needs of the area, not to try and expand to an industrial level.  

City Council members explained the tribe could decide to go through with this operation with or without the city by drilling their own wells on the property. Camel stated they have no intention of doing so at this time as they’re still not even certain they’ll get the funding for this phase of the project. Camel also expressed the tribes’ desire to work with the City of Ronan for a mutually beneficial arrangement potentially providing the city some say in the plant’s operations. Camel explained that the proposed plant would not compete with any other local meat processers, but rather fill a gap in the county. Locals currently struggle to find a place to get their kill processed as other providers are often overbooked. 

“We want to be good neighbors,” Camel stated. “A lot of this is for food security so we can have locally raised meats available to people in the valley rather than having to pay huge prices for a lot of the meat that you buy at the grocery store.” 

After a productive discussion with the public, the council ultimately voted to annex the land with the intent to enter a cooperative agreement with the CSKT to address any potential issues that could arise in the future. The motion was passed four to two, as some of the commissioners were on the fence about the location. 

“That’s why we have the council, and that’s why it’s diversified with different people with different thoughts, and this is what we’re supposed to do,” Mayor Chris Adler commented. “Bring it to the table and lay it out, and if we don’t agree with everybody else, we can still agree to disagree and all have a coffee afterwards.” 

To learn more about the project or ask further questions, contact the Ronan City Council by going online to: 

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