Split BOCC kills meat processing plans

Alachua County Commissioner Charles Chestnut
Alachua County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut
File photo

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) ordered staff to stop all work on a county-owned meat processing center, killing the controversial project after several special meetings and previous split votes.  

The motion passed 3-2, with Chair Anna Prizzia and Commissioner Mary Alford in dissent.  

Besides ending the meat processing project, discussion at Tuesday’s meeting also hinted at moving two other county projects away from the city of Newberry.  

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“I don’t support anything, any of our projects, going to the city of Newberry,” Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said. He said the county was made to look like the bad guys at a joint meeting last month.  

Alachua County has two other projects in the works, a solid waste collection facility and fire rescue training center. The county has previously directed staff to move forward with plans to build those projects at the Newberry Environmental Park. 

However, the meat processing facility began to generate disagreement in the community and on the BOCC. At an April 4 special meeting, Commissioner Ken Cornell voted against the project and began looking for off ramps, and more than 50 public commenters split their support for and against the project.  

During a joint meeting with Newberry on July 10, the county heard the city’s concerns about CR 337. Marlowe said the city would want that road improved in exchange for the land offered for the county projects.  

But county commissioners said they were disappointed that the conversation shifted from the pros and cons of a meat processing facility in Newberry to the community’s desire to redo CR 337.  

Before public comment at the joint meeting, Marlowe asked that those with ethical stances against meat wait until the end of the meeting in order to let Newberry residents talk about what they would want in a meat processing facility interlocal agreement and any concerns that they had.  

Still, Chestnut expressed frustration the next day, July 11, at a regular BOCC meeting. He said the county was made to look embarrassed and like the bad buys—a sentiment he reiterated Tuesday.  

“It’s like we were embarrassed that night, in my opinion, or it was a setup for us that night because we never did talk about the processing plant at all,” Chestnut said. 

The BOCC unanimously decided to ask for another joint meeting with only the meat processing facility on the agenda, but Marlowe said the two boards had nothing to discuss until the county decided what it wanted to do and took more action.  

Tuesday’s recommendation from staff mirrored one from earlier this year—issuing a request for operators to submit proposals for how they would run the facility if completed. Finding the right operator serves as a key part in the process, and the BOCC delayed voting on the motion in order to have the joint meeting with Newberry and learn more about the community’s interest.

Marihelen Wheeler
Courtesy of Alachua County Marihelen Wheeler

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler joined Chestnut and Cornell in the majority voting against moving forward. She said that she didn’t want to end all possibility of a meat processing center, but that the county should turn the project over to a private group or co-op.  

The county could offer grants for a facility without being the driving force, she said. 

“I’m ready to let this go into the hands of the people that will actually make this happen for the community,” Wheeler said.  

She added that the project has divided the community and distracted the BOCC.  

During a staff comment on the solid waste collection center, Cornell said he would be interested in pursuing other site options. Other commissioners also said they weren’t tied to placing the projects in Newberry, with Alford saying the city has benefited plenty from the county in recent years—highlighting the county’s Agricultural and Equestrian Center, the gas tax revamp, and Champions Park.   

The Newberry City Commission bought 93 acres for the environmental park with plans to build a regional wastewater facility on the site. The commission also agreed to set land aside for three projects that Alachua County had in the works.   

Chestnut spoke loudest against the city, centering on efforts in western Alachua County to form a new county called Springs County.  

“It pisses me off; I’ll just be honest with you,” Chestnut said. “Because why would we put county resources into a city that wants a new county, a Springs County?” 

Chestnut said every time Newberry wants its way in a situation, the idea of forming Springs County comes up. He said he doesn’t want to be bullied into a decision and added that the city also didn’t support the county’s Wild Spaces Public Places surtax last year.  

Prizzia, a longtime proponent of the meat processing facility, released a lengthy statement of support in February. But since then, the project ran into opposition, including from animal rights groups, and then Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $1.75 million in funding earmarked for the facility. 

On Tuesday Prizzia said she would support a new site for the project. Alford even tried to persuade Chestnut into supporting the project by having the commission eliminate Newberry from the proposal.  

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the condition of County Road 337 was the priority for the joint Monday meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe speaking about the condition of County Road 337 at a joint meeting of the city and county commissions.

In a phone interview, Marlowe said that from the beginning Newberry has sought to be an easy partner with whatever projects the BOCC gave the green light. But, he said, somewhere along the line the meat processing plant got pegged as a Newberry project requiring City Commission action.   

“If Alachua County has made the decision not to move forward with any of the projects, ultimately these were all county projects and they were all up to them, whether or not they wanted to pursue them or not,” Marlowe said. 

He said the relationship between the city and county—which included a 2021 lawsuit Newberry filed against the county—began to heal with the election of new city and county commissions. Marlowe pointed to beneficial joint projects as examples of their collaboration. 

Marlowe said the meat processing project called that relationship into question, with Newberry painted as the bad guy. Marlowe said he holds no ill will and doesn’t think the City Commission does either.  

“But I do think that it’s difficult to try to be a good partner with an entity and then see that entity, kind of, turn against you and put you forth to the public as ‘this is a Newberry project’ and ‘Newberry is pushing this’ and ‘Newberry’s being the difficult one,’” Marlowe said. “All Newberry did was offer up free land for three county projects, and all Newberry asked for in return was escalated timeline on a road that the county already plans to do.” 

An interlocal agreement with the city of Newberry on any of the three projects has not been finalized, and the BOCC left the state of the other two projects untouched on Tuesday.  

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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Apparently it was a ploy to get a county road repaved in bustling Newberry, where future tax revenues would have funded that anyway.
Why not put the slaughterhouse in non-bustling Hawthorne or Archer, don’t they want more jobs?

Joe Holland

We need that plant. It will create jobs and help with food. Who ever stopped it from being built needs to be sent somewhere else.


I don’t know if we need it or not. Don’t know if it would benefit our community. It may have benefited local farmers to be sure and I’m not against that as far as jobs for our community is concerned I really doubt it. Wouldn’t it have only attracted migrants that might have worked in terrible conditions for extremely low pay? Isn’t that the norm for most of the meat processing in this country?

The Buzz

Don’t see why Alachua County would organize and finance what should be private enterprise.

If it’s really needed, and it might be for smaller entities/farmers, then they need to explore private resources.


local politics. sheesh.
They shouldn’t wear such restrictive clothing because it sure seems like they’ve all got they shorts tied up in knots.

Ted D Bare

One interesting thing that hasn’t been reported is that just before the final vote, one other board member asked Chestnut if he would support a meat processing plant somewhere else besides Newberry and he replied with something like now you really put me on the spot, ……, but no.
So it appears he had other unstated issues with the whole plan besides Newberry.