The operator of a meat processing facility that opened in Gardiner last year plans to build a slaughterhouse about three miles away at Libby Hill Business Park.
The owner of Northeast Meats recently purchased a lot from the city at the business park and hopes to open the connected poultry and red meat U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected slaughterhouses by Sept. 15.
Gardiner City Council approved the purchase-and-sale agreement last week, but the Planning Board must still approve the proposed facility. The board will likely review the plan in around three weeks, according to Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development for the city.
Bill Lovely, who owns the meat processing facility with his wife Anette, said having both the poultry and red meat slaughter facilities is what will make the project cost effective. Two Maine poultry companies – Maine-ly Poultry in Warren and Common Wealth Poultry Company in Whitefield – will lease the poultry slaughtering and processing facility. Northeast Meats will use the red meat facility and then truck the slaughtered animals to its current building on Brunswick Avenue to be processed and packaged.
Lovely said a goal of the business expansion is to help Maine farmers sell more local meat.
“The whole idea behind it is to try to keep more meat in Maine for people to eat. Right now, tractor-trailer trucks are rolling out of the state with Maine animals,” he said. “It would be nice to have a facility that’s big enough to support them.”
The only state-inspected poultry facility, Weston’s Meat Cutting and Poultry, is in West Gardiner. There are other slaughterhouses inspected by the state and USDA for other kinds of meat. However, there are also around a dozen poultry farms with on-site processing facilities approved through the state, according to Henrietta Beaufait, manager of the Maine Red Meat and Poultry Inspection Program. Most of those on-farm facilities use the up-to-20,000-bird exemption, but they aren’t allowed to process animals from other farms or sell meat or other poultry products outside the state, she said.
Some facilities, called custom exempt, only do slaughtering and processing for personal consumption.
Beaufait said the major difference between the USDA- or state-inspected facilities and the various exempt facilities is an inspector must be on site to view the work at the former.
She said the new poultry slaughterhouse will likely have the greatest impact on farmers because it will now allow them to sell products to companies such as Whole Foods that distribute in other states. It’s also easier for a farm to increase the number of birds it raises than it is for a beef farm to ramp up its cattle operation, Beaufait said.
“I think there are a lot of people around that could easily increase poultry because the turnover is rapid. On the red-meat side, for a farmer to decide to increase his market and increase his herd, that’s a major decision,” she said.
Lovely said he doesn’t expect the company to have any problem finding demand from farmers. Northeast Meats currently processes Maine animals that have already been slaughtered in other facilities. It distributes to stores around the state and New Hampshire and sells fresh meat at Founding Farmers Community Market in downtown Gardiner, he said.
He said the city of Gardiner has been very helpful. The Planning Board hasn’t yet reviewed the project, but the city is allowing groundwork to be done on the site to help speed up the process.
Rudy, the city’s director of economic and community development, said he expects the application materials to be submitted sometime this week. The meeting can be scheduled 21 days after the code officer says the information is complete, he said. A slaughterhouse is considered a major manufacturing place and is allowed in the zoning district and business park, Rudy said.
As part of the sale agreement, the city approved a credit enhancement agreement for Lovely, who is using a recent promotion from the city that allows businesses to put 10 percent down for the property and pay the rest off using credit enhancements.
The city will give back 50 percent of the new tax revenue for the first seven years and 33 percent for the next 13 years, as long as it doesn’t exceed the purchase price of $146,250, according to Rudy.
The sale, pending project approval by the Planning Board, will be the second in a row for the city. Before the sale of two lots to Riverside Disposal in July, the city hadn’t sold a lot since 2011. The city built the park along Interstate 295 about 15 years ago, incurring more than $9 million in debt for the initial construction and subsequent expansion in 2006. The sale to Lovely would leave only 12 of the 28 lots unsold.
Rudy said he thinks the slaughterhouse will also have a positive effect on the entire state’s agriculture sector, and that location will allow it to serve farms throughout Maine.
“There is a lot of talk in Maine about growing the agricultural economy and farming all across the state,” he said, “and this proposal is a very important step in us being able to get these agricultural products from the farms to the tables of people around the state.”