Following a nearly five-hour special meeting, Alachua County will continue to explore a project that would build a regional meat processing center, or slaughterhouse, in the city of Newberry.
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted 4-1 on Tuesday to take the next steps, with Commissioner Ken Cornell in dissent. The public was also divided on the issue with 26 commenters in support and 31 in opposition.
The county will perform due diligence on the site, which will be within the Newberry Environmental Park, SW 266th Street or CR 337. The park will also house the city’s advanced wastewater facility and other potential BOCC projects like a firefighter training center.
The county and Newberry will need to finalize an interlocal agreement on the property as well. If the project keeps to the staff’s timeline, construction would begin in January 2024.
The discussion on Tuesday featured multiple arguments for and against with various sides—carnivores versus vegans, public money versus private money and agriculture land versus developments.
Commissioner Mary Alford said the project placed her in a tough spot, calling it an ethical dilemma, and she vowed to visit the UF meat lab to experience the process. But she highlighted the impact on ranchers if they can’t sustain their livelihoods.
“I’ve watched the farmers walk always with a bunch of cash, and the family legacies disappear as that last crop of houses is grown and our county becomes more and more like every other damn place in this state,” Alford said.
She added that the county still has opportunities to exit the project.
County staff and experts brought in said the 10,000-square-foot facility would handle around 15 animals per day and service anyone within 100 miles. The facility is estimated to create 70 jobs and have an annual economic impact of $12 million.
Currently, ranchers must wait four to eight months for a spot in a large, out-of-state center. County staff said the facility would relieve the backlog and allow ranchers to sell directly to local consumers.
The facility would take $5.25 million to build, and the county has proposed using $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to support the project. In a past interview with Mainstreet, BOCC Chair Anna Prizzia said state legislators had voiced support and would pursue matching state funds.
However, the key will be a partner to run the operations.
The county has entered similar partnerships in the past, footing all or part of the bill for a business but contracting the actual management. The new Alachua County Sports and Events Center at Celebration Pointe runs under that model along with the Alachua County Agriculture and Equestrian Center.
Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said the project will sit dead in the water if no one answers the call for an operator. As with the sports center, he said the BOCC should do the due diligence.
Cornell dissented in the vote. He said the issue rests on the use of public dollars and how the county should spend them for the public interest. He also asked if the BOCC really wants to spend ARPA funds on these types of jobs.
“I want jobs. I want to support farmers. I don’t know if I really want to support these jobs,” Cornell said.
He said agreeing to the meat processing center means not funding other projects, and he said all other ARPA projects have met with overall community support except for this one.
The majority of public speakers in opposition said meat harms consumers and argued not to kill the animals. They also cited public health and slaughterhouse employee health concerns from contaminants and viruses.
Speakers in favor of the project spoke to aiding Alachua County ranchers, allowing residents to buy local meat and creating a strong local food system.
Stephen Hofstetter, director of the county environmental protection department, said the county will conduct a Phase II site assessment before building to check for any contaminants from a crop-dusting operation from the 1960s and 1970s.
He explained that the state conducted studies and required remediations from leaked pesticides. The state approved the site as clear in the 1980s, and Newberry City Manager Mike New said the wells in the area have tested negative for any contaminants since then.
New added that the city had planned to conduct special assessments of the site when it first considered the spot for its advanced wastewater facility to ensure no contaminates lingered.
The meat processing center could be operational before the new wastewater facility, but Newberry leaders said the current wastewater facility can handle the increase.
26 in support and 31 in opposition. I wonder how many of each group are collegiate transients? The kind of folks who are passionate about nearly everything and raise a hullabaloo but then soon leave the area. Just one of the difficulties in maintaining growth and local personality of the area.
You can stop wondering/speculating. All the people I know who were there and spoke in opposition to this proposal are all long term residents of the county. They are passionate about doing the right thing in the face of climate change.
Great article. I had no clue this was on the table for Newberry.
Please keep attending these meetings and let us know what’s happening.