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Wright inches toward Prestage plant

By Staff | Aug 3, 2016

CLARION – The Wright County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution expressing intent to enter into a development agreement with Prestage Foods of Iowa LLC at a meeting Monday morning.

About 75 people attended the meeting held in the Wright County courtroom.

“This gives us an opportunity to move forward with this project,” said Karl Helgevold, Wright County District 3 supervisor.

Supervisors initially announced plans to build the multimillion dollar pork processing plant July 5.

The facility would be located on 150-plus-acres of land five miles south of Eagle Grove.

Bryce Davis, Wright County economic development director, reviewed the upcoming development agreement between Wright County and Prestage Foods.

The supervisors did not vote on the development agreement Monday, as amendments are still being made.

Under the agreement, the county would be obligated to improve roads near the proposed site of the plant, Davis said.

He added that Iowa Highway 17 would likely be improved.

Prestage would also be contractually obligated to maintain 922 full-time jobs, according to Davis.

The company would also have to make minimum improvements to the site, including a $200 million capital investment.

Some of that investment would be in equipment and some would be in property, Davis said.

A 600,000-square-foot building is also required, he said.

In the agreement, the county is also protected from abandonment.

Prestage would be responsible for tearing down the building if it is abandoned, according to Davis.

The full 58-page document of the proposed agreement between the county and Prestage can be accessed on the Wright County website.

Jim Vermeer, Humboldt city councilman and vice president of business development for Corn Belt Power Co-op in Humboldt, weighed in during the public hearing.

He said the proposed development agreement is one of the best he has seen in his 20 years in economic development.

“It protects the county for this project,” he said.

Vermeer said it’s important to remember that this is an agriculture-based economy.

“I think it’s going to be great for the region,” he added.

Dustin Rief, Clarion city administrator, also addressed the supervisors during the public hearing. He said the opportunity is there for Wright County, economically.

“One thing I don’t think people are realizing is where we are economically today,” he said. “Stronghold (Manufacturing) has closed. Hagie Manufacturing has sold to John Deere. Pritchard’s (Auto Center) has merged with Wright County Motors. We currently have 10 open spaces.”

Rief also said emergency medical services are struggling as a result of declining population numbers.

“Dows just sent us a letter and said they can’t afford to continue services for EMS, so the economic impact of this is purely positive.”

Rief also attacked the race issue head on.

“The last thing I want to address is some of the hints at racism,” he said. “One thing we all have to remember is five, six, seven generations ago, all our families were first-generation immigrants. So for anyone to discriminate against that – I feel that is completely unreasonable.”

JoAnne Hardy, of Mason City, expressed concerns about the ability for the local school systems to educate potential incoming students.

“That (increased population) was a major concern for one of our city councilmen in Mason City,” she said. “I think you need to take a hard look at what the numbers will be for the added social services that will be needed.”

The Prestage plant was to be built near Mason City in Cerro Gordo County before the Mason City City Council rejected the proposal.

She said the Prestage project has been compared to a slaughter house built in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Hardy said the population there is more than 76,000, but they struggled with the increased population.

“The population will come fast,” she said. “A school there had to hire 26 ELL (English-Language Learners) teachers. There’s a problem of finding enough translators to translate official documents and school notes to parents in all the languages that are represented in the town.”

Jess Toliver, Eagle Grove Community School District superintendent, has said in previous meetings that the school system would rather deal with increasing enrollments as opposed to declining ones.

Shannon Walker, of Clarion, expressed concern that the supervisors were not listening to the opposition.

“You should be objective on this issue,” she said. “I am sure there is some good that can come of this, but what about the Jordan Aquifer?”

“We have some of the richest farmland in the world and we are covering it with concrete to build buildings on top of it,” she added.

Jere Null, chief operating officer of Prestage Farms Inc., previously addressed the issue of tapping the Jordan Aquifer.

Null said the company would be drawing from that water source.

“As far as Wright County goes, there is not another user of the deep aquifer,” he said. “The ethanol plants in this county are drawing from the Mississippian Aquifer.”

He added that Fort Dodge and Mason City are also users of the Jordan Aquifer.

Null said it would be up to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources whether or not the company will be able to tap that resource.

The next public hearing regarding Prestage will be held Monday at 9:30 a.m. in the Wright County courtroom.

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