Pork plant backers say Sioux Falls is only place for facility

Proximity to interstate and wastewater facility, odor mitigation are reasons given
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 8:18 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - From courtrooms to television commercials, the “slaughterhouse ordinance” has been a hot topic around Sioux Falls.

Voters in the city will decide next month on a measure that would ban future slaughterhouses within city limits, which stems from a proposed 170-acre pork processing plant in northeastern Sioux falls known as “Wholestone Farms.”

Monday, the ordinance was the talk of the Downtown Rotary Club in Sioux Falls.

City business leaders heard from three opponents of the measure, who are all proponents of the $500 million Wholestone plant, which has already began construction at I-229 and Benson Road. Rotary members will hear from at least one proponent of the ordinance — Brendan Johnson, the legal counsel for the group that has mounted a lawsuit against Wholestone and the City of Sioux Falls — at their meeting on Oct. 24.

The Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO was one of Monday’s panelists, and touted that Wholestone will bring 1,000 new jobs to the market, plus a whole lot more to the city’s bottom line.

”You’re talking about a $3 billion impact in just the construction, and the rest just cascades from there,” Jeff Griffin said.

The director of the state’s pork producers, Glen Muller, told Dakota News Now before the meeting that Sioux Falls sits in a hot spot in the region for corn and soybean growers, and is therefore a prime place to make pork products. A new plant, Muller said, is needed to address the region’s food insecurity that started during the pandemic.

”We ran out of pork in the meat shelves real quickly,” Muller said. “So, we need additional harvesting space in the industry.”

Smithfield is currently the only pork processing plant in the Sioux Falls area, and harvests about 7 million hogs per year. Wholestone plans to turn over about 6 million pigs.

The face of the opposition to the slaughterhouse ordinance is former city councilor Christine Erickson, the chair of Sioux Falls Open for Business, a movement that was launched after the group Smart Growth Sioux Falls garnered the 10,000 petitions needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Erickson on Monday said not only is the location of the new plant the perfect site, it is the only site it could possibly be built, citing the city council’s 2017 decision to make that area an industrial zone, and the site visits back then from then-mayor Mike Huether and Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who was present at Monday’s meeting.

Leaders toured other states and determined the current proposed site made the most sense, Erickson said. The proximity to water supply and a new “state of the art” water treatment facility tops the list of reasons.

“If it’s not here, it will not happen, Erickson said. “I will tell you, I have talked to county commissioners. They don’t have the infrastructure to be able to have a wastewater facility to treat wastewater. We have that technology here in Sioux Falls, and our city has been very forward-thinking to make sure that we are connected to Lewis and Clark (water treatment system) so we have enough water.”

Being located next to the crossing of two major interstates (I-29 and I-90), will minimize the congestion of trucks of live animals. Traffic jams of unwanted livestock cargo on wheels is one of Smart Growth Sioux Falls’ rallying cries against the plant.

“Trucks won’t be going through the middle of town,” Erickson said.

The main concern of slaughterhouse ordinance proponents, and Wholestone Farms plant opponents, has always been the stench that typically comes from pork processing plants, like the Smithfield plant, whose odors can still be inhaled in downtown Sioux Falls on days the wind blows from the north.

Wholestone executives have told Dakota News Now they have spent $50 million on technology to reduce the odor.

”I think it’s unfair to compare a 100-year-old facility to a state-of-the-art modern processing plant,” Erickson said. There’s nothing like this anywhere in the nation. This is the only place that has the technology like this. So, we should be lucky and fortunate to have a facility that cares enough about our environment and cares about adding food production into the industry, as well.”

In the rotary meeting, Erickson and Griffin mentioned the new Wholestone Farms plant in Fremont, Nebraska. Executives and designers at Wholestone retrofitted a Hormel Plant and, like they have said they will do in Sioux Falls, spent dozens of millions on mitigating odor.

Griffin said some organizations in Fremont that were initially opposed to the building of the plant are now some of its biggest supporters.

“They welcome it with open arms,” Erickson said.

She also said Sioux Falls already has ordinances in place to mitigate odor of businesses. She used the “flame-broiled burger” aroma that comes from every Burger King people drive by as an example.

“Every industry has some sort of scent to mitigate,” Erickson said.

As for those who live near the proposed hog plant site and are concerned about odor and quality of life, Muller, the pork producer rep, had this message:

”The fact of the matter is, this property is zoned heavy industrial. So, as you moved into this community, you knew that there could be the potential of industrial development.

“Gage Brothers has moved their concrete plant there already, there will be additional industrial development in this area, so the fact that you moved into this area or built your home in this area, you recognized that there would be the potential of additional economic development, and industrial development.”

A bulk of the downtown rotary discussion revolved around Erickson and Griffin’s claim that the slaughterhouse ordinance sends the wrong message to both current citizens and out-of-state businesses that may consider bringing their operation to Sioux Falls, and even South Dakota entirely.

During the meeting, Erickson rattled off local agribusiness groups that support the Wholestone plant’s construction and oppose the “slaughterhouse ordinance,” including Ag United for South Dakota, East River Electric Power Cooperative, Cattleman’s Association, SD Farm Bureau, corn growers, dairy farmers, poultry industries, and Sioux Metro Growth Compliance.

“When Ag does well, you all do well,” Erickson said, pointing to the members of Downtown Rotary in the crowd. “It’s just a fact for South Dakota, that with it being our Number One industry, we’ve stepped up with them in making sure that we’ve learned the process, understand what they stand for, and also make sure that they’re not just meeting our expectations, but exceeding them.”

When Smart Growth Sioux Falls first launched in February as Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls, its executive director Robert Peterson told Dakota News Now:

“The number one issue in my conversations with residents and business leaders in the community is the smell, but it’s not the only issue. We know that Sioux Falls residents want city leaders to bring in high-scale, high-wage jobs, and, simply put, a new heavy industrial slaughterhouse, a massive project like the Wholestone project, does not advance that aim.”

Smart Growth Sioux Falls has put ads on TV and filed a lawsuit against Wholestone Farms and the City of Sioux Falls.

The legal counsel for the group, former U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, will be the downtown rotary’s guest at its meeting on Monday, October 24th.