$20.6 million USDA meat processing plant planned at Watertown business park

Plans to build a $20.6 million meat processing facility at Jefferson County Corporate Park were unveiled Thursday. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Plans to build a $20.6 million meat processing facility at Jefferson County Corporate Park were unveiled Thursday. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

SACKETS HARBOR — A $20.6 million meat processing facility certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been planned at the Jefferson County Corporate Park by a local developer and a group of farmers.

Plans for the 42,000-square-foot facility at the park off outer Coffeen Street in the town of Watertown, about a mile west of Interstate 81, were announced Thursday by project stakeholders at North Harbor Dairy in Sackets Harbor. The development of the facility, to be called New York Meat Co., has been led by West Carthage developer Michael E. Lundy, CEO of Lundy Development Corp.

The development of the plant is expected to create 60 jobs.

Located next to the FedEx Ground building, the facility is planned on about 9 acres of property Mr. Lundy owns on Lots 10 and 11 at the park.

Jay M. Matteson, Jefferson County agricultural coordinator, said the facility would have the capacity to harvest about 100 large cattle per day, along with 200 to 300 smaller animals such as calves, sheep, pigs and goats. It would serve farms across a 100-mile radius surrounding Watertown, he said, providing a much-needed hub for farmers to process their livestock. Of the roughly 533,000 large cattle across the region, about 160,000 are processed each year.

“But 90 percent leave our area to go to large meat processing facilities in other states, mainly Pennsylvania,” Mr. Matteson said, citing Cargill Meat Solutions in Pennsylvania as an example of a large processor in the Northeast. “We believe this will allow for the rapid expansion of processing capacity in the region — whether it’s dairy or beef cattle, pig, sheep or goats.”

In addition to Mr. Lundy, potential investors in the project who are members of a steering committee are Ronald C. Robbins, owner of North Harbor Dairy; Stephen G. Winkler, owner of Lucki 7 Livestock Co. in Rodman, and Ronald F. Porter, Adams. The committee began planning the project last year.

Mr. Matteson said plans for the facility come as the farms now have limited options in the region for processing their cattle at USDA-certified plants. The USDA inspection seal is required on meat intended for resale, allowing farmers to sell individual cuts of meat to restaurants and consumers.

The only USDA-certified plants in the north country are Red Barn Meat of Croghan and Ward Willard & Son of Heuvelton. Last year, Tri-Town Packing of Brasher Falls lost its USDA certification after failing to meet regulatory demands.

Assuming 500 dairy cattle are supplied weekly at the facility, Mr. Matteson said, it would have the capacity to process about 26,000 cattle per year. He said about 80 percent of the beef processed at the facility is expected to come from the cull cattle of dairy farms — those that aren’t producing enough milk or are getting too old.

“We believe Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties can cover most of the supply, but farms in Central New York and Ontario will also benefit,” he said, estimating the annual revenue drawn by farms from the plant to be about $28 million.

He said the committee also has explored the possibility of providing beef to the New York City Board of Education, which is now supplied meat for its schools from other states.

“The district is interested in getting 14,000 pounds of ground beef from New York state,” he said, adding that the facility also could serve state prisons.

COVERING THE COST

To make the project affordable, Mr. Matteson said, the development group plans to seek a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement from the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency. The group also plans to apply for funding toward equipment through Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new $1.5 billion upstate revitalization competition. The north country’s council will be pitted against six other upstate regions for a chance to win one of three $500 million pots of funding toward regional projects.

Mr. Matteson said other investors, including area farmers, will be sought by the group to help fund the project. Most of the project is expected to be privately funded.

“Opportunities are open to invest in the project, and I’m very optimistic that this will work,” he said. “And if we can’t put together an investment group, we know that there will be interest from others who would be willing to do it as a sole proprietorship.”

The facility has been planned as a three-phase project in which the 42,000-square-foot building will be expanded to about 62,000 square feet in the second phase and 110,000 in the third, Mr. Lundy said. He said the facility’s staff of about 60 employees could grow by 30 to 40 during the second phase. Openings for inspectors, butchers, packagers and administrative workers would be available.

Designed by Mid City Design of Omaha, Neb., the climate-controlled facility calls for an enclosed four-bay loading area at its rear, where trucks would unload cattle. Other trucks in the loading area would transport hides and other inedible animal parts.

Before being processed, cattle would be loaded into livestock pens that would each have room for 25 head. The first phase of the project calls for four pens; the second phase calls for five.

“The areas for cattle have been designed to be warm, quiet and as stress-free as possible,” Mr. Lundy said. “The building is designed so that nothing is visible and there is no noise or odors.”

The initial buildout also calls for a two-story administration building and space for harvesting animals, chilling meat, and packaging and shipping products. A classroom and laboratory space in the building has been designed to be used by culinary arts students at Jefferson Community College.

As part of the second phase, an addition to the structure would include space dedicated to the production of specialty meat products, such as beef jerky, sausages and hot dogs, Mr. Lundy said. The third phase calls for the addition of a 50,000-square-foot climate-controlled warehouse to increase storage space. Additional project phases are expected to add about $10 million to the project cost.

The site plan for the project has been developed by GYMO Architecture, Engineering and Land Surveying, Watertown. Mr. Lundy said plans will be submitted this summer to the Watertown Town Planning Board, which will review the project.

“Our intent would be to get all of our approvals done to be ready to break ground on the project by the spring of 2016,” he said.

Transporting cattle to USDA processing facilities outside of the region is now costly for farms in the north country, Mr. Matteson said. As a result of feed and water deprivation during transportation, cattle can lose up to 10 percent of their weight during long trips because of shrinkage, which is caused by the loss of excrement, urine and cell tissue, he said.

By alleviating a host of transportation-related headaches for farmers, Mr. Matteson said, the proposed facility would spur them to expand their cattle herds.

“Our livestock would be spared the long journey of hours and hours to be transported to other states,” Mr. Matteson said. “And I think what will happen is this will create better opportunities for dairy farms to also raise beef livestock.”

Mr. Robbins said he believes the facility will serve a wide array of dairy and livestock farms across the region.

“It could be a weekend farmer with 50 head of beef cows or 20 head of beef cows, or it could be a dairy operation such as ours that has about 300 cull cows a year,” he said.

Video of Thursday’s event can be seen at http://wdt.me/meat-plant.

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer