County Commission pauses search for meat processing facility operator, requests another joint meeting with Newberry City Commission

Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell says he wants to know more about whether the Newberry City Commissioners support the proposed meat processing plant | From video of July 11 Alachua County Commission meeting


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the July 11 Alachua County Commission meeting, the board voted to pause the process of finding an entity to operate a proposed meat processing plant until after commissioners have another meeting with the Newberry City Commission.

The meat processing plant was discussed multiple times during the meeting, including during the adoption of the agenda, when Commissioner Ken Cornell wanted to add a conversation to the agenda about how staff interpreted the motion the board approved on Monday night in Newberry.

“If we do it for one city, then we’re gonna have the City of Alachua and City of High Springs folks coming to us, asking us to move their roads up that are in bad shape.” – County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut, who voted against the Monday night motion, said he was unhappy with the way the board’s joint meeting with the Newberry City Commission unfolded. He called Newberry’s insistence on moving CR 337 up on the County’s road paving list in exchange for providing the property for the meat processing plant a “bait and switch” and said that he felt they “walked into a trap” because the board has already established a Pavement Management Plan. He added, “If we do it for one city, then we’re gonna have the City of Alachua and City of High Springs folks coming to us, asking us to move their roads up that are in bad shape. And so then we set precedents, and that is what I did not want to do… People were talking, like, we’re going to give you the property, you give us this road.”

The board considered postponing the discussion about finding an operator for the facility to a different date because Commissioner Mary Alford had to miss the meeting due to a family emergency, but they decided to go ahead because a large number of people had attended the meeting to speak about the agenda item. 

Agenda item: Scope of Work for an RFP for an operator

The item before the board was the approval of a Scope of Work for a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an operator for the meat processing facility; specifically, the RFP seeks an entity to finance, construct, and operate a meat processing facility at the Newberry Environmental Park.

The facility is projected to cost about $5.25 million from a mix of local, state, and federal funds; it will process about 15 animals a day and will serve small ranchers within a 100-mile radius of the facility. The County is currently doing due diligence on the site, including waiting for a final soils report, and the main unresolved issues are the valuation of the land to be provided by the City of Newberry and priority of the re-paving of CR 337. 

Chair Anna Prizzia defended her support of the project: “There seems to be this continual perpetual idea this project is somehow my pet project because–yes, it is a project that I have championed; we all have projects that we champion as commissioners. I definitely have been championing this project, no doubt about that. But I don’t own cows. I’m not a rancher.”

She said she “started on this journey” because she wanted healthy grass-fed meat for her family and to be able to know how an animal was raised and killed. She said that over time, she got to know ranchers, but she had to buy the whole animal, and she realized “that everyone should be able to have access to fresh, local meat that’s sustainably raised and treated fairly and treated humanely.”

“I understand that, in an ideal world… everybody just stops eating meat, and I’m with you, we should all eat less meat; we should eat way, way less meat. But people do eat meat, and people aren’t going to stop eating meat. And we should have a system that’s transparent, that has accountability and values built into it.” – Commission Chair Anna Prizzia

Prizzia said that over 100,000 acres in Alachua County are used for pasture land, about 18% of the land in the county, and that 25% of all market sales of agricultural products in Alachua County comes from animal agriculture, almost all of which is going out of state to be sold at auction. She said the reason she’s calling it a “meat processing facility… is because it’s not just a slaughterhouse; it’s also going to be cutting meat into retail cuts and packaging them so that our ranchers can sell them at our local retail outlets, at our grocery stores, to our restaurants… And I understand that, in an ideal world… everybody just stops eating meat, and I’m with you, we should all eat less meat; we should eat way, way less meat. But people do eat meat, and people aren’t going to stop eating meat. And we should have a system that’s transparent, that has accountability and values built into it.”

Cornell is skeptical about facility’s benefit

Cornell said he didn’t think the meat processing facility would save farms or lead to lower prices for local farmers. He said that instead of changing the system, as Prizzia had argued, “what it’s actually doing is dividing the community.” He asked where the rest of the funding will come from, now that the Governor has vetoed a state grant, and staff said they thought the County would be eligible for federal matching funds. The local part of the match could be the value of the property provided by the City of Newberry or money provided by a public-private partnership. 

Cornell asked staff for the exact motion from Monday night; the answer was that the motion was to direct staff to work with the City of Newberry to amend the proposed Interlocal Agreement to add the necessary details to address safety concerns on CR 337 and to move the CR 337 project up on the list of paving projects so that it begins shortly after the completion of the Newberry Environmental Park. The motion passed by a vote of 3-2, with Chestnut and Cornell voting against the motion.

Screenshot from July 11 Alachua County Commission meeting

Cornell asked Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete about the safety concerns on CR 337, and Gavarrete said the County had made “low-cost safety improvements” to the road in 2020 and 2021, although they are “not the full solution.” Gavarrete said there has been a reduction in the crash history since the improvements were made.

Cornell then asked about moving the project up the list: “As I interpret what the words say… we want to move the reconstruction, or the repaving, and the safety concerns from when it’s currently scheduled, which is in 2029 and 2030, up to 2026.” Cornell said he had asked Gavarrete for an estimate of what that would cost, and Gavarrete said it would cost an additional $5.4 million over the cost that was currently planned for that road; however, that number was questioned as the discussion went on.

Gavarrete said that unless they find another funding source to pay for CR 337, moving it up on the list would likely affect other projects. Cornell said he did not favor changing the priority list “because… we went through a process… And while I appreciate Newberry’s contribution of the land to the three projects, I don’t want us to move it forward on our list without new funding.”

“Trying to rewrite history”

Prizzia said Cornell was “trying to rewrite history… You’re trying to change a motion that we voted on last night.” Cornell said he just wanted to clarify whether the board is looking for new money “because I believe new money could be the ARPA funds if we don’t do [the meat processing facility].”

“We need to do some education; we need to help the Governor understand why these projects are important.” – Chair Anna Prizzia

Prizzia said she intends to try again next year for a State grant for the facility: “We need to do some education; we need to help the Governor understand why these projects are important… And I think the public-private partnership is also critical.” She said she didn’t think the motion on the screen was accurate “because it’s supposed to be to move the first segment of 337, Phase One… up. I don’t necessarily see it as moving it up on the list. I think all of the things that are on the list need to stay on the list.” She said the board had never discussed the timeline for the projects but just accepted “what got spit out” by the software.

Cornell said, “It’s really important for me to hear you say that.” 

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said they have until 2026 to identify additional funding and agreed that was the “cleaner” way to handle 337; she was concerned, however, at the “sudden confusion” about whether the property would be given to the County or leased to the County for a period of time. 

Prizzia pointed out that the board had not voted to do “what Newberry said they wanted, which was banked turns… I don’t know why we would do banked turns, it doesn’t sound like the safe thing to do.” She said she wanted to do whatever Engineering said was the right thing for safety and that she thought a four-way stop would be a great option.

Gavarrete said his department doesn’t know what they intend to do yet because the board has not voted to give them direction. He said a four-way stop would improve safety and that $9 million is currently projected for 2031–“not 2029, 2031”– to improve the segment from Newberry Road to just south of the second curve. He said he and his staff are working on a “fast and dirty estimate to include 150-foot turning lanes, etc., and the stop sign, and I also have my staff looking at the right-of-way… to be able to bring the road to a T intersection.” He said that if they took the $9 million and “change it from 2031 to 2026, I think it becomes like $7.6, $7.7 [million]… so whether it’s a four-way stop at one curve and don’t touch the second curve, or do a four-way stop on two curves, that’s still to be determined.” He said the $9 million “assumed that embankment.”

Does the Newberry City Commission support the facility?

Cornell said he had hoped to discuss the meat processing plant at the joint meeting with Newberry on Monday, but that didn’t happen, so he wanted to schedule another joint meeting in Newberry with the meat processing plant as the only agenda item before issuing an RFP for an operator. 

Both Cornell and Chestnut said the Newberry City Commission didn’t seem particularly interested in the meat processing plant; their priority was clearly CR 337. Chestnut favored doing something about 337, but he didn’t want to disrupt the Pavement Management Plan. 

Prizzia agreed with Chestnut, saying that her understanding of the motion approved on Monday was that they would move the timeline up for 337 and ask staff to look for funding to do that. 

Chestnut said they’d known all along “that there was going to be issues of addressing all of the roads. We knew it wasn’t enough funding, Ramon stated that from day one… So I just think that we’ve done the best we could for the next 10 years.” He said he hoped voters would vote for the surtax again in 10 years “to complete our road work in Alachua County.”

“Well, we’ve already done that”

Cornell made a motion to have a joint meeting with the City of Newberry, held in Newberry, with the meat processing plant as the only item on the agenda, before they move forward with the RFP; he said he would like to hold that meeting in August. 

During public comment, several people supported the motion. Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the Newberry City Commission would be willing to meet with the County Commission, but he thought they would want the County to have the RFP for an operator before discussing the facility further. He said Newberry was offering a million dollars in value, “and I’m actually not quite sure that I’m getting enough value back for our ask… all I’m getting at this point is a four-year advance of the timeline [for 337].” Marlowe said the Newberry City Commission already had a meeting with Newberry residents to discuss the meat processing facility, “so they’re gonna say, ‘Well, we’ve already done that.'”

Wheeler proposed a workshop “because I didn’t feel like we got to speak with your commissioners last night.” Marlowe and Wheeler agreed that the room at Easton Sports Complex had a lot of echo, and it was hard to hear. 

Wheeler said she didn’t have any problem with Newberry trying to get the road repairs in exchange for the land, but she said, “The value of the land doesn’t have that much value if it’s being leased, rather than given. That one time we talked about, that land would be given to us and that we would own it, then that would be a swap. But if you’re feeling like you’re not getting the full value of what you were negotiating for, then perhaps we don’t, either.”

Marlowe said that could be figured out: “We’ve gone into this largely under the assumption that we’re trying to mirror some of the other things that we’ve done with the Equestrian Center, with the Extension Office.” He added that the suggestion to bank the curves on 337 was “based on feedback that we got from your staff, that a collector road didn’t need to have stop signs, it needed to have flow… The verbiage that we used [Monday] night was ‘address the curves,’ specifically to give you that leeway.”

Wheeler said she would prefer to change the meeting requested in the motion to a workshop. Marlowe responded, “Again, I think that I can already hear my board saying, ‘Look, we sat through five hours last night. If you can’t find an operator, there’s nothing to talk about here.'” Wheeler asked him if he would “just try,” and he said he would do his best.

Prizzia said that after the County Commission puts the RFP on an agenda with Alford in attendance, they can have a workshop with the City of Newberry. Cornell disagreed, saying that the Newberry City Commission should see the presentation that the County Commission had just seen about the RFP, and that should happen in Newberry “before we have an RFP that goes out.”

“So if we don’t do 337, is the deal off in terms of the property?… Is that the dealbreaker?” – Commissioner Chuck Chestnut

Chestnut said, “I guess I’m having some issues here. So if we don’t do 337, is the deal off in terms of the property?… Is that the dealbreaker?”

“How would I go back to my residents and say I spent a million dollars of your tax dollars, and I didn’t get anything in return for you? My residents desperately want 337.” – Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe

Marlowe responded that the deal “is ensuring that the County addresses 337 properly, with the safety concerns, and we’re asking that it can be moved forward. Now, is it a dealbreaker?… How would I go back to my residents and say I spent a million dollars of your tax dollars, and I didn’t get anything in return for you? My residents desperately want 337.” Chestnut said Marlowe didn’t answer his question, but “It sounds like a dealbreaker to me.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Although the board had already discussed the topic, a number of people spoke about their opposition to the facility during the evening General Public Comment period.

  • If they wouldn’t have been spending money on their pet projects and purchasing real estate to benefit their buddies many roads that are in disrepair could have, and should have, been fixed by now.

    Mark, when you chime in… who’s supposed to maintain the sidewalks?

  • Key issue here is “Trust”, as in, the Newberry Mayor and Commissioners don’t trust the AC BOCC! Imagine that!

    Why does a primary city have to barter with the county for basic services that should be the #1 priority of the AC BOCC anyway? Could it be the AC BOCC’s prioritization process in determining what areas of the county (spell that historical inequities) will get road improvements first, with a pittance of the taxes paid?

    Infrastructure improvements benefit taxpaying citizens NOW! Roads allow them to: get to work, get their children to school, travel to all points in the county SAFELY! Our roads facilitate the police and fire department providing the services taxpayers pay for every year!

    Quite frankly, AC BOCC has “historically” ignored infrastructure for decades! They’d much rather take property off the tax rolls by purchasing it in the name of environmental protection! They are tone deaf in their pursuit of personal interests, and somewhere down the line, personal gain!

    Note to local politicians: I don’t care what party you belong to; spend my tax money for the benefit of the majority of the county and I will support you!

    • Govt started delaying and ignoring infrastructure — general welfare— as soon as politicians began buying our individual votes with personal welfare payments. Starting with war vets, then SSA retirees… then snowballing right thru today with student loans. It never ends.

  • Again, they kicked the can down the road for years. Newberry should not have to negotiate to get a road fix when tax dollars have already been secured to pay for the repairs.

  • Maybe these inept politicians, who seem to represent no one but themselves, should learn what the responsibilities of a county government are. Road maintenance and repair is near the top, right next to law enforcement and fire responders. Building meat packing plants for local farmers is below the bottom of county responsibilities.

  • Politics means give and take. Do the 100-mile ranchers say they’d benefit from it? Is it true small ranches are struggling to survive, and would the facility help those ranchers? These are simple questions Staff should find answers to.
    The next issue is CR 237. Is the facility plan just being used at that location to “justify” emergency road funding sooner?
    Finally, could 237 still be pushed ahead had the meat facility been located in Hawthorne instead? If there’s close by ranches in that 100-mi radius, along US-301?

  • If these two groups can’t come together the only ones hurting are going to be the citizens of Newberry. I think the mayor is losing sight of the fact that at least CR337 is even on the improvement list while many roads in the county are not. Secondly, each of the planned facilities is going to be a great benefit to the citizens of Newberry as well not just the meat processing place. Forget about that for a second, Newberry would be getting a fire training tower to jointly use with ACFR which will lead to better trained firefighters that don’t have to travel clear across county in shifts to conduct training and still provide coverage. They would also be getting a full Household Hazardous Waste collection center and Rural collection center like the one currently at Leveda Brown. Newberry businesses wouldn’t have to drive clear across the county to properly dispose of waste like they do now. The citizens wouldn’t have to drive to High Springs or Archer to get rid of their old motor oil, yard debris, paint, etc. I know the citizens of Newberry would benefit from that because the semiannual neighborhood cleanup days at the public works yard are some of the most attended clean up days in the county.
    I just hope both commissions can come together and realize they both want the same things and figure out the timeline.
    Lastly, its not like construction would happen instantly for any of the projects road or facilities so they need to just figure it out or nothing is going to get built or fixed and only the citizens would hurt.

  • Prizzia said Cornell was “trying to rewrite history… You’re trying to change a motion that we voted on last night.” – She’s just figuring that out? He’s doing the same thing with Single Member Districts. Then again, she has admitted she finally drove the road numerous times and it finally clicked for her.

    Anyone notice Chestnut’s remark? “If we do it for one city, then we’re gonna have the City of Alachua and City of High Springs folks coming to us, asking us to move their roads up that are in bad shape.” – Aren’t the roads that are in the worst shape the ones that should be prioritized? Since when should repair priorities be based on the color of a person’s skin or their voting habits? Unless he’s forgotten, the Chestnut name is etched into local leadership history.

    Newberry shouldn’t have to give up anything for the needed road repairs but it is the modus operandi for this group of commissioners. It’s no different than their continued purchases of “conservation easements” to protect the borders of the wealthy from the encroachment of civilization and reducing taxes for those more able to afford it.

    It may not be a “wall” in the strictest sense but it’s a wall no matter how tall it is. They got theirs and they’ll do what they can to prevent you from having yours. They’re just better at manipulating the verbiage.

  • Things I learned from recent meetings.
    337 in Newberry is an old farm road.
    337 is narrow and in need of repairs.
    337 is on the county road repair list, scheduled for 2030.
    Newberry wants the timeline accelerated to 2026.
    Newberry thinks LEASING, not GIVING, $275,000 of possible contaminated Superfund land to the county is fair compensation to get up to $31,000,000 of county road funds to upgrade 337.
    It is a lie that Newberry is giving “a million dollars”.
    Newberry spokesmodel Marlowe kept repeating his mantras “337 is Dangerous” and “Wrecks—People Die”
    Is Newberry doing anything within its power to help 337 TODAY?
    Newberry is a pro-annexation pro-growth government.
    Newberry has no impact fees.
    Newberry KNOWS 337 is dangerous until 2030.
    As one resident noted, Newberry has recently approved two subdivisions totaling over 1000 houses.
    On 337. Insanity? Yes.
    Newberry is approving massive growth on “dangerous 337” that the road cannot handle, then begging the county taxpayers to bail out their lack of thinking and planning.
    Conclusion: The Newberry government is a family of redneck gypsy travelers grifting their way through life. These conservative “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” folks who want to secede as no tax “Springs County”(sic) have no financial planning skills and are welfare queens with their hands out expecting Alachua County taxpayers to bail them out of their own stupidity. I pray the BOCC does not fall for their scam.

    • What a typical aloof Gainesville Crat comment. I’ll take the redneck planning skills any day of Gainesville Commissioners , City and County. Look what they have done to themselves and GRU. I think someone with a 5th grade math degree and common sense would be step up for the obvious results in Gaineville’s and GRU Insolvency they caused. Buckle up for a real audit . You have the States undivided attention! And you earned it. I think Newberry is very solvent.

  • Question:: Is Newberry a city of beggars?
    Newberry is a pro growth city. Real estate sales people rule.
    Newberry needs to expand its sewer plant to handle the new growth.
    They want a huge oversize $40 million plant to last them for years of future growth.
    Monday they announced they had to date collected $17 million in state grants toward the project.
    A state grant means tax money from the taxpayers of the rest of the State of Florida subsidizing their growth.
    What they did not mention regarding the sewer plant funding.
    Contributions via taxes from existing residents of Newberry?
    Loans the existing citizens would pay back?
    Impact fees for incoming residents to pay for the cost for the new plant to serve them?
    Nope. 100% free tax money is their only source of funding. No contributions from Newberry.
    Conclusion:: Newberry is a town of welfare queen grifters with their hands out who want other taxpayers to pay for their growth. Guess it is beneath their dignity for these so called conservatives to pay their own way. Effing hypocrites and grifters.
    BOCC: Just Say NO.

  • There is another issue that needs resolution.
    BOCC chair Anna Prizzia is an employee of UF IFAS.
    IFAS is one of the prime promoters of building a meat plant in Newberry.
    When Prizzia is promoting the meat plant, she is promoting the views of her employeer.
    This is called “lobbying.”
    Prizzia appears to be in violation of the BOCC rules by being an unregistered lobbyist.
    Prizzia may need to recuse herself from voting on this subject and file a form 8B “Memorandum of Voting Conflict.”
    County manager and legal staff need to make a determination if Prizzia is breaking the rules.
    Or the state ethics commission may need to make a ruling.

  • Why is the meat processing facility an issue again? I thought it had been vetoed, then these bozos put it on the agenda, then they table it. Make up your minds and stop wasting time on a non starter of an issue.

  • Time to clear up a misconception the county proponents of a meat plant keep spouting. “The slaughter will be more humane.”
    Perhaps animal lovers think this means the cows get a warm bath and a foot massage before they die? Wrong.
    Cows are required to be stunned before their throat is slit to bleed out. This is usually done by a captive bolt gun, an air powered gun that shoots a captive steel rod the size of a roll of pennies into the forehead of the cow to give it a brain concussion before its throat is slit. Placement of the stun bolt is critical.
    Large commercial meat packers process up to 7000 cows per day. Newberry’s slaughterhouse is being designed to do 15 cows per day. In the rush of a commercial operation the bolt is sometimes not shot into the ideal spot on the forehead, not properly stunning the cow. The “humane” rules that Commissioner Alford promotes requires the cow’s head to be raised and held for a second so the stun shot can be better applied.
    In a large commercial operation this slows down the line costing time and money. In Newberry at 15 cows per day a few extra seconds per cow makes no difference in the operation.
    What does this really mean? In a commercial operation the average stun bolt strike is one half inch off from the ideal location. In the “humane” version, the average stun bolt strike is only one quarter inch off from the ideal location.
    This is the difference between “regular” and “humane” slaughter. “Humane” slaughter kills the cow better and quicker. In either case, the cow dies because its throat is slit. Google “temple grandin humane slaughter if you think I am making this up.

    • As long as I’ve got beef on the table and it’s safe for human consumption – knock it’s horns off, wipe it’s rear end and throw it on a plate.

  • Since Chuckie brought it up. When are you going to fix the roads around High Springs and Alachua? The roads need to be fixed before free jail phone calls and funeral rides.

  • Something is going on it’s little Kenny.

    Almost like he is trying to create a record.

    You know he isn’t contact with being a AC commissioner. Perhaps trying to get the nut vote to take Clemons or Perry’s seat?

  • From the beginning Chair Prizzia’s pet IFAS project, the Newberry Meat Processing Plant, has considered only one site: the new Newberry Environmental Park. Normally a $5.5 million county government project, which could be located anywhere in the county near a sewer line, would start the site selection process by investigating the hundreds of potential sites in the county and ranking them before picking one.
    In 2022 the City of Newberry paid $687,200 for this 54.97 acre property, parcel 2538-9-1, or $11,460 per acre. The previous owners bought it in 2012 for $100. Total, not per acre. Why would no commercial developer pay more for this 54 acres of prime real estate? Conjecture: fear of liability of building on this possibly toxaphene contaminated site?
    The Newberry Environmental Park and site of the County Meat Food Production Plant are right on top of what is also known as the “North Florida Crop Dusting EPA Superfund Site.”
    The county can buy 10 acres along Hwy. 41 or 24 that is not a Superfund site for $115,000 and not have to deal with the City of Newberry with a commission too childish to enter into a proper interlocal agreement. Motormouth Marlowe’s claim that Newberry is contributing “a million dollars” of value is stuff what comes out of the north end of a southbound male bovine. On a $5.5 million project, $115,000 to buy the land is peanuts. Remember, the county budget includes $100,000 for “Art in Public Places for this slaughterhouse. It is required by county policy. I guess the cows will be calmed viewing this art on their way to die. How humane.

  • Alachua County has 280,000 residents. Discounting for vegans and children, 75% of the population is 210,000 residents. US per capita beef consumption is about 85 pounds per person per year. This is 0.23 pounds per person per day. Alachua County eats 48,300 pounds of beef per day. A dressed 1050 pound steer yields 450 pounds. Alachua County eats 107 cows per day. Anna Prizzia claims the Newberry slaughterhouse will provide “food security” for Alachua County and feed the “food desert” in East Gainesville processing 15 cows per day. Anna Prizzia is math challenged and delusional. Or else there is a secret agenda behind this folly we have not learned about yet.

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