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Sioux Falls voters reject slaughterhouse ban

Wholestone Farms' plans for a $500 million pork processing plant will move forward. Customer butcher shop is up and running but timeline for further development is unclear.

Wholestone butcher 2.2.jpg
Wholestone Farms butcher shop in northeast Sioux Falls. The city of Sioux Falls issued an occupancy permit for the building on Oct. 7.
Patrick Lalley / Forum News Service
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Voters declined to dabble in the decision of whether Sioux Falls should expand the number of slaughterhouses in the city.

Residents solidly rejected a change in local ordinances on Tuesday, Nov. 8, that would have capped the number of animal processing plants that can operate inside city limits.

The final vote was 52.4% to 47.6% against the ordinance.

"We are proud that the citizens of Sioux Falls did what’s right for our community and chose to keep Sioux Falls open for business," Christine Erickson, spokesperson for the group opposed to the ban, said in a statement early Wednesday.

Wholestone Farms plans to build a $500 million pork processing plant in northeast Sioux Falls. Those plans sparked a challenge from Smart Growth Sioux Falls, which gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot. The final weeks of the debate were marked by sharp statements about the potential for odor and water pollution in the city. The opposition group, Sioux Falls Open for Business, countered with a final push highlighting the fact that biofuels producer POET, and its founder and CEO Jeff Broin, were the prime drivers of Smart Growth.

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The electoral victory doesn't mean Wholestone will be breaking ground in the immediate future, said Luke Minion, chairman of the board.

The financial and market conditions have changed in the past year. Inflation, interest rates, the strong dollar and the overseas market for pork all play into the timeline for moving forward, Minion told Forum News Service.

"We have to get the math right," he said. "This project has to be very carefully executed."

What's unclear, are the potential legal challenges that could still emerge regarding Wholestone's plans. The results would appear to negate a pending lawsuit brought by Smart Growth against the city of Sioux Falls related to the issuing of permits for a customer butcher shop on the site. But lawyers for both sides have referenced the potential for further legal wrangling regardless of the vote.

Many business and agriculture interests in the state supported Wholestone, in part because the company was nearly five years into the planning and permitting before the opposition emerged. Commodity groups in particular pushed to build the plant with the S.D. Soybean Association contributing $125,000 to Sioux Falls Open for Business, the committee formed to support Wholestone.

But Smart Growth also had significant financial backing, notably from POET, which contributed more than $1 million to the campaign. POET’s headquarters are about a mile northwest of the Wholestone site at the Benson Road exit on Interstate 229. Broin also owns a home in a gated community about a mile southeast of the site.

Smart Growth did not immediately respond to interview requests Wednesday morning.

A POET spokesperson sent a statement regarding the election results.

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“As South Dakota’s largest ag company, POET is and always has been dedicated to creating opportunities for farm families by growing value-added agriculture. We support all types of ag processing; we simply believe that these sort of projects belong in rural areas. We said we wanted the people to decide and they have. The process worked. We’re proud of the work we did and we would do it again,” the statement said.

Minion said he's grateful and humbled that Sioux Falls voters sided with the 200 farmers who own Wholestone.

"It’s back to what it should be about. We are going to do the project when we can operate it successfully," he said.

"What was sad and disappointing to me was how ugly the opposition got. If it weren’t for POET, I don't think there ever would have been a vote."

MORE FROM PATRICK LALLEY:

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at plalley@siouxfallslive.com.
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