SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — On November 8, Sioux Falls voters will decide whether to ban new slaughterhouses inside city limits.

Next to ballot measures on Medicaid expansion and recreational marijuana, registered Sioux Falls voters will be asked whether they want to adopt an ordinance that will, “…prohibit the construction or permitting of new slaughterhouses within the city limits.” Voters will then decide whether to adopt the ordinance by voting “yes”, thus banning any new slaughterhouses in Sioux Falls, or reject the ordinance with a “no” vote.

But what are the implications of a yes or no vote? And what is Wholestone Farms, the processing plant at the center of the question? Over the last few weeks, the Downtown Sioux Falls Rotary spoke with both sides of the debate to help voters make an informed decision on the ordinance on November 8.

What is Wholestone?

Based out of Fremont, Nebraska, Wholestone Farms is a pork processor owned by Pipestone Systems.

The hog processing plant is opening a Sioux Falls facility near Interstate 229 and Benson Road. According to Wholestone, 70 of the 200 family farms that work with the processing plant are within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. Glen Muller, the executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers, says that 26 of those producers will come from South Dakota.

Wholestone says the Sioux Falls location will utilize state of the art technology and will have operations that reduce odor and environmental impacts.

What does a ‘yes’ vote mean?

Smart Growth Sioux Falls is opposing the construction of Wholestone Farms in Sioux Falls with the initiated measure. A ‘yes’ vote on the ballot means that no new slaughterhouses, such as Wholestone, can be built within the city limits of Sioux Falls.

The slaughterhouse ordinance as it appears on Sioux Falls’ residents ballots.

The ordinance is worded carefully to only prohibit the future construction of slaughterhouses in Sioux Falls and not existing ones. In this case, Smithfield would still be able to exist and expand but would not be able to move within city limits if the ordinance passes.

Brendan Johnson, legal counsel with Smart Growth, told the Downtown Rotary Monday said it is “outside the realms” of our democracy to take away property or established businesses such as Smithfield, but what voters can do is decide whether they want to allow for a new facility to be built in Sioux Falls.

That being said, Johnson added he knows of Sioux Falls residents who are unhappy with Smithfield’s location and how downtown Sioux Falls is growing around it.

“People didn’t imagine what the future of our community was gonna look like 40, 60, 80 years later… So, along those same lines, what is the future of the Great Bear area? What is that going to look like?” Johnson said.

Despite the ordinance being brought to the people of Sioux Falls to determine whether to allow the construction of facilities like Wholestone, the processing plant has already built and opened a custom butcher shop on the land as of October 25.

A lawsuit brought against Wholestone and the City of Sioux Falls had hoped to stop the construction of facilities on the property but that has not been the case. Last week, a judge denied an injunction by Smart Growth to stop the construction of the butcher shop and now a trial will take place after the election.

Johnson told Rotary members the lawsuit and election happening simultaneously will cause expensive litigation depending on the results on November 8.

“Elections in our country no longer take place here on November 8, the reality is people are voting on this issue today,” Johnson said. “Thousands of people have voted on this and so the really ridiculous, absurd situation that we’re put in by Wholestone now, is that the people who started voting on September 28 in South Dakota it was clear that there was one slaughterhouse.”

What does a ‘no’ vote mean?

On the other side of the debate is Wholestone Farms and its supporters in the Sioux Falls community including former city councilor and president of the South Dakota Trucking Association Christine Erickson, Muller with the South Dakota Pork Producers and Jeff Griffin, CEO of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.

The three sat down with Rotary members at the beginning of the month to explain why they think residents of Sioux Falls should vote ‘no’ on the ordinance.

Griffin said that the economic impact of building the plant in Sioux Falls would be “enormous.”

“But not only the employment base here in Sioux Falls, and the Wholestone Farms project would increase that by another 1,000 employees,” Griffin said. “But I’ve learned so much about the pork industry in my couple of years, couple plus years here of how that radiates out into the region and multi-state region that all that all that all that buying power and ends up being back in Sioux Falls with the employment and the support services and the trucking and beyond.”

Muller said the addition of Wholestone Farms would provide local producers with more options.

“You know, the pork industry supplies support products for our consumers and Sioux Falls has provided us with one harvesting facility. That’s the only harvesting facility we have in the state,” Muller said. “We’re very concerned as we saw with [the] COVID incident, about the lack of harvesting capacity to make sure that we keep the meat counters full. And so that’s why Wholestone provides that great opportunity to expand our harvesting capacity.”

Muller said that since the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been increased interest in buying pigs directly from producers. He added they are also seeing a growth in locker plants in rural areas.

“And that’s going to be prohibited if this goes through, because you’ve not only limited or eliminated Wholestone, but you’ve eliminated anybody else that you don’t want in your neighborhood by going to the initiative measure process,” Muller said.

Johnson, though, says their opposition to Wholestone and the initiative brought forward will not impact other businesses or economic development in Sioux Falls.

“Sioux Falls’ reputation as being a great place to start and run your business is not in jeopardy by Smart Growth,” Johnson said.  

What about the smell?

Perhaps the biggest component of the debate centers around potential smells from the facility.

Wholestone’s website lists, “operational practices will significantly reduce odor…”

Erickson said unlike Smithfield’s more central location, Wholestone’s location is “just right” as it will not be located near any residences.

“That whole area is it has been rezoned heavy industrial. And I think that’s a really important component to understand that this has already been zoned previously, and so you’ll see many other heavy industrial types of businesses there,” Erickson said. 

Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls facility

In addition, Erickson added that there are still additional permits that must be sought pertaining to air and water that will provide the public with a chance to give their input.

Muller mentioned that similar plants in Sioux City, Iowa and Fremont, Nebraska omitted very little odor on his visits.

Rob Peterson, treasurer with Smart Growth, said that comparison is not accurate to the potential Sioux Falls plant.

“Fremont is not similar at all in the fact it does not have a sewage lagoon, it is much smaller in scale,” Peterson said. “In fact, even then since they’ve been under Wholestone’s management, I know they’ve been cited several times for the improper dumping of waste and the inhumane slaughter of animals.”

That leads into discussions from both sides on the impact on water, especially the Big Sioux River which the plant will be located next to.

Peterson said that the Big Sioux is already one of the dirtiest in the country and Wholestone will worsen that.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money over the last 15 years trying to clean up the Big Sioux River. If we allow just a million gallons of hog moisture along with millions of gallons of treated discharge to just be dumped into the Big Sioux River every single day, we’re looking at a serious backslide in the quality of our Big Sioux River,” Peterson said.

Big Sioux River, 2022 taken by Jacob Newton

But proponents of Wholestone say they’ve heard differently from the plant itself.

“When I sat down with Wholestone and said, ‘Talk to me about how you’re discharging the water,’ [and] based on what they were presenting forward to some of the people that sign off on all of their permits, their water was too clean for the Big Sioux,” Erickson said. “Think about that… They couldn’t discharge the water that they had so clean, because it was going to mess with the biology of the river.”

Johnson’s concerns with the water center around use and where it’s coming from.

“When we talk about up to 3 million gallons of water per day, that’s the equivalent use of what 32,000 residents of Sioux Falls use, right?” Johnson said. 

Johnson said a large amount of water would have to be diverted from the Lewis & Clark pipeline for the plant.

Griffin said that the location at I-229 and Benson is ideal for Wholestone due to its proximity to the water supply and wastewater.

The potential impact on future business

Smart Growth and Wholestone supports clash on whether this would impact future businesses looking to put down roots in Sioux Falls.

Griffin said that the Chamber of Commerce has issued statements on where they stand on Medicaid expansion and marijuana and Griffin said the discussion on Wholestone was an easy one.

“I can tell you that because to change the rules on a business midway through to totally move the goalposts is just so averse to the principles on which the Chamber of Commerce stands that we are compelled to oppose it,” Griffin said. 

Erickson said “We run on ag and our businesses and when ag does well, you all do well.”

Griffin added that potential challenges in housing or employment for economic growth is a better challenge to have than turning away Wholestone now and trying to bring development back to Sioux Falls in the future.

“But we do not want to be a community that stifles development, because then how do you reengage it and the market is going to adjust?” Peterson said. “I would rather have the challenge for the housing and the employers this nation has proven to nomadic group of workers and in some other states. Now, granted, it’s more difficult to move a blue-collar worker, I acknowledge that, but I do believe it’s possible. And I believe employers are exploring that. And workers will come where there is the work. So, I would rather the challenge of the housing and employment to catch up with that and try to stifle development and then reengage development five years from now.”

Smart Growth doesn’t believe a “yes” vote banning slaughterhouses would impact Sioux Falls reputation for being good for business.

“Not all economic development is the same. Not all economic development is going to take 3 million gallons of water, up to 3 million gallons of water a day; not every industry is going to have an odor problem; not every industry is going to have a problem with nitrates in the Big Sioux,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Peterson said they would be willing to work with Wholestone to find a location for the plant outside of city limits.