County officials need to take it slow before approving the siting of a slaughterhouse at the Dallesport Industrial Park. Proposed is a $30 million, "state of the art" meat packing plant that would process more than 500 cattle per day. While the projected 200 new jobs would be very welcome, there are other considerations that are equally important.
In the first place, there appears to be significant community opposition to placing this type of plant here. Residents are worried about waste discharge, odors, and water use. The company says these problems will not exist. We hope that's true. But the issues need to be fully explored and resolved before a conditional use permit is granted. At this point, all we have to go on are the promises from the project's proponents.
Second, Klickitat County Commissioner Joan Frey said in a public meeting that the county has "verbally committed" to provide $350,000-$500,000 toward the project. The timing of this is clearly not appropriate, given that the June 9 public meeting in Dallesport was the first real opportunity for local residents to offer any input on the proposed slaughterhouse facility. Some believe that the county has already decided to bring the plant here, regardless of what the local residents want. This view gains credence when a county official says a financial commitment to support the plant has been made before the community has had its say.
On the plus side, this plant could boost the agricultural sector of the county, and provide a new and lucrative market for area ranchers. And of course, the 200 jobs, although relatively low-paying ($9 per hour), would provide a welcome economic boost.
The county and the Port of Klickitat, which owns the land, has invested a lot of money in the Dallesport Industrial Park, and no doubt there is pressure to land a company that will create jobs and bring in tax revenue. But the county needs to consider the long term, too. It is possible that if a slaughterhouse is built here, the door for other opportunities may close. Innovative businesses, fairly or unfairly, may be less likely to consider locating their companies in an industrial park that has a slaughterhouse as its anchor tenant. The Dalles is luring companies such as Google, and there is no reason the Dallesport Industrial Park cannot do the same. Yet a slaughterhouse may make the selling job more difficult.
To continue moving Klickitat County into a new era of business recruitment -- as we have seen handled so successfully at Bingen Point with high-salary companies such as Insitu (70 employees and growing) and Innovative Composites Engineering (27 employees) -- the Port of Klickitat and the county may need to pass on the proposed slaughterhouse, and wait for a better pitch.