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A slaughterhouse at DDSO? It’s a possibility

The County Account

Among the most pressing economic issues discussed by attendees at a recent meeting of the Harlem Valley Chamber of Commerce was the future use of the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO) grounds. Community members felt that something business-oriented should be attracted and that government leaders should assist in the conversation, particularly because the property is state-owned. To that end, in recent times I have been carrying this topic forward in community conversations in asking local people what they would like to see. One idea that has surfaced is a Wassaic Slaughterhouse.

The property that housed the Taconic DDSO is zoned for mixed use, meaning it can be used for commercial or residential use, or both. A transit-oriented development that takes good advantage of the location’s proximity to the train station has, in recent times, been the proposed next use of the site. It may still be the way to go, but a region still recovering from the 1994 closure of the jobs-rich Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital seems desperate for ideas that will stimulate economic development, and help to again place Wassaic on the map. Perhaps a business park with light manufacturing, or warehousing can be assembled? Certainly there are advantages to the site including recent upgrades to the water system, central heating, access to current sewer systems and the ability to hook up to the electrical grid with an entire power station on site.

Perhaps one old idea is ripe for reconsideration, namely the development on site of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved slaughterhouse. Such a concept was the topic of a 2000 feasibility study by the Hudson Valley Livestock Marketing Task Force (HVLMTF).

Today, livestock producers face a shortage of slaughterhouses and must often travel great distances such that the current supply system does not meet present needs. The closest slaughterhouse is a small operation in Pine Plains, which serves a valuable part of the community but with a heavy demand. The greater meat market has to travel to Canaan, Schenectady and Cooperstown or as far as Scranton, Penn. Not only is this less humane to the livestock, but the impact of transport increases the stress levels of the animals which translates into poorer quality meat production. A closer facility would allow local farmers to better brand their product, creating a local niche with a higher demand that could mesh nicely with the region’s restaurant and grocery markets. Not to mention a nearby slaughterhouse can reduce transportation costs to farmers. This could very well lead to a dramatic expansion of farming in Dutchess County with likely new operations in the meat industry.

A mobile slaughterhouse now operates in the Hudson Valley in an attempt to meet farmers’ needs, but reliance is arguably difficult due to the constant need for special use-permitting in each town that the mobile slaughterhouse services. The Taconic DDSO site could provide a central location for a permanent docking site for this mobile slaughterhouse, or perhaps a separate facility could be constructed to meet local need as was considered by the 2000 HVLMTF feasibility report. That report determined that it was financially feasible to justify a plant’s construction and that such a plant would return 100 percent of an estimated $100,000 in equity in its seventh year of operation. The same plan predicted in 2000 that as many as 1,937 beef animals could be available for a new facility to process, plus up to 2,198 hogs, 714 lambs and 100-200 other miscellaneous species animals.

Regardless of whether revived discussions of a community slaughterhouse or its siting at the Taconic DDSO grounds shall come to pass, community consensus is needed for some future use for the property.

Michael N. Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.