North Platte Recommends $1 Million Loans to New Meatpacking Plant Despite Community Concern
By Will Bauer , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
July 22, 2021, 6:45 a.m. ·
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A proposed North Platte meatpacking plant is a step closer to receiving $1 million in financial support from the city of North Platte following a meeting Monday despite some concern from community members.
In front of a packed city chamber, North Platte’s Citizen Review Committee unanimously recommended two separate $500,000 forgivable loans to the new plant. One loan comes from the city’s Quality Growth Fund and another from the city’s NorthWestern Energy Economic Development Fund.
The city council will have final approval on distributing the money to the company that will build and operate a new meatpacking plant, Sustainable Beef LLC. The plans, as they stand, are an estimated $325 million slaughter and processing facility for cattle that will be built just east of town. The loans, if awarded, would be used to covers costs associated with the engineering and planning of the new facility.
The new meatpacking plant brings with it attractive economic numbers for North Platte business leaders: 875 new high-paying jobs, more young people in the schools and community and an estimated $1 billion in economic impact, according to an estimate from Creighton University. Despite those, there are community concerns around the environmental impact, potential immigration, the smell and if those loans are really designed for such a business.
This week’s decision by the advisory committee was a win for those North Platte business leaders – like Gary Person, the president of the North Platte Area Chamber of Commerce & Development Corporation.
“I can tell you, as somebody that has been involved with economic development most of my professional life, you could work on economic development projects for the next 50 years – and I strongly, strongly believe this – you'll never find a project that's going to have that type of economic impact that's a better cultural fit for cattle country than this particular project," Person said.
The proposed plant would be operational by 2023 if all goes as planned for the plant organizers.
Sustainable Beef estimated the average salary at the plant would stand at $50,000 per year and hold a $50 million total payroll. Organizers also tout how this meatpacking plant is different from other big plants across the state.
First, the proposed North Platte location would be much smaller than the Tyson plant in Lexington and the JBS plant in Grand Island. The Sustainable Beef plant will only produce 25-30% of what the Lexington facility does, according to organizers. And secondly, the proposed meatpacking facility will be a one-shift plant – instead of multiple shifts throughout the day and night.
“We really do believe we will have people migrate to North Platte from the other major packers in the state because they can work a day shift – work for a company that really is going to take care of them," said David Briggs, CEO of the Alliance-based Sustainable Beef. "We also believe a brand new plant is going to be very positive when you think about it and recruiting will not be that difficult.”
North Platte residents have some qualms with the proposed location of the plant. The proposal falls on the east side of town about a mile north of I-80. It’s located before the north and south branches of the Platte River join further east of town.
"Actually, the more we thought about it and talked to our consultants, it really was a very good place to put this plant," Briggs said. "It's downwind from the city, so, if there's a smell, it's downwind from the city."
Briggs further added, because of the location next to the city's wastewater treatment plants, the Sustainable Beef plant can discharge its wastewater into the city's once it's gone through proper procedures.
"We think it's an ideal location," he said.
The problem that some residents have is the patch of ground where the facility would be built is a dried sewer lagoon. They argue the location next to the city’s wastewater facility could result in a spill of waste material into the Platte River.
Dee Fugate is among the most vocal opponents to the plant, and she told the North Platte Bulletin earlier this month a flood of the right conditions could release waste, contaminating the area. City officials, however, told the Bulletin the bottom of the lagoon and the berms surrounding the area are virtually impermeable.
For other city residents, the smell makes them question if the proposed location is the right place.
“Those of us who live east of the Craft State Office Building will testify that we are not downwind of the sewage lagoons," said Doyce Williams, a North Platte resident. The office building sits in the eastern third of the city, and Williams said there are roughly 8,000 people that live east of the building who would be affected by the smell of the meatpacking plant.
At the meeting, Fugate questioned if city officials, like the mayor, were not forthcoming with their plans surrounding the meatpacking plant. She asked Mayor Brandon Kelliher if city leaders signed a nondisclosure agreement with Sustainable Beef.
“All I want is a yes or no because if you don't answer me I know I'm right," Fugate said.
“I’m completely unaware of any nondisclosure agreement," Kelliher said, as a few other advisory committee members also chimed in agreeing with the mayor.
Later in the meeting, Fugate questioned whether the school and community would really benefit from all the new people that would fill the plant’s jobs.
“What are you gonna do when you get a 14-year-old boy in a class with a bunch of third graders and he can't speak English? This is what's going to happen," Fugate said. "Where are you going to place all these kids when we get hit with all these undocumented workers? And it goes on. What are we going to do with the crowding of the hospital?"
There were other concerns from citizens who operated small businesses in town and questioned whether Quality Growth Funds should be used on such a large business. Person, with the Chamber, said the funds can in fact be used for such a project.
None of the concerns were enough to sway the members of the recommending committee in the other direction, as the advisory committee recommended both sets of loans to the city council.
The dried lagoon is still owned by North Platte, and the city council still votes on the sale of the land and also a tax incentive redevelopment plan. The two future city council meetings, at the end of August and start of September, will determine the fate of the meatpacking facility’s financial support.