Zoning OK’d for potential pork plant

CLARION – Supporters of the proposed Prestage pork processing plant dominated the public hearing during the Wright County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday.

About 80 people attended the hearing, leaving standing room only inside the Wright County Courthouse courtroom. More than 50 people expressed their opinions on the potential $240 million facility.

An estimated 80 percent of speakers indicated they support the proposed 650,000 square foot plant.

The supervisors also voted unanimously to change the zoning of the area where Prestage Foods of Iowa LLC plans to build their plant.

They approved the first reading of the measure rezoning the site on July 18.

The supervisors voted to waive the third reading.

The area, located five miles south of Eagle Grove, will be rezoned from agriculture to industrial.

Stan Watne, chairman of the board of supervisors previously said rezoning was a necessary step for the project and will allow for increased flexibility in terms of what can be built at that location.

John L. Prestage, senior vice president of Prestage Farms, Inc. also addressed the public.

“We are coming here to Iowa to build this plant for our family because we believe it’s good for the state, good for the industry, good for agriculture and good for our family owned and operated business,” he said.

Already having a foothold in Iowa, Prestage said the company, which has been operating in Iowa since 2004, would continue to support local coops.

“We are one of the largest customers and buy about half the feed from Gold Eagle Cooperative in Eagle Grove,” he said.

He said the labor from the new plant will come from Wright County as well as surrounding counties.

“There’s 55,000 people that live within a 20 mile radius of the proposed site,” he said.

Prestage added that the company would purchase 40 percent of the hogs needed from independent farmers.

“This gives hog farmers another market for their animals and increases competition,” he said. “It also keeps the value of processing these hogs here in the state of Iowa.”

Scott J. Prestage, vice president of the turkey division for Prestage Farms, Inc. addressed criticisms.

“Prestage Foods of Iowa doesn’t represent the industry,” he said. “We represent our family business.”

He said there is a lot of misinformation about the number of spills the company has had.

“We have never had a manure spill that has left our property or entered into a public waterway,” he said. “We have taken proper steps to eliminate any potential environmental impact.”

He added that the company self reports to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“No follow up action has been required on any of these reports in the 10 plus years that we have been farming in Iowa,” he said. “We have a clean environmental record and we dedicate three full-time employees in Iowa to ensure we follow or exceed our regulations on all our forms.”

Bryce Davis, Wright County economic development director, reviewed the development agreement with Prestage Foods of Iowa.

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

“We have come up with a consensus on what the county’s obligations are and what the company’s obligations are,” Davis said.

Included in the agreement draft is a construction timeline for the plant.

“They are looking to start in March 2017 and will be finished by Jan. 31 2019,” Davis said.

Prestage will also receive a tax credit by investing in Iowa.

Davis said public improvements are one of the more important county obligations.

“The county guarantees unconditionally and absolutely that there will be wastewater service provided to the company, whether that’s utilizing different municipal entities or if the county constructs the wastewater themselves,” he said. Any plant the county would consider building would be profitable to the county.”

He added that building a plant would not be the county’s first choice, but is an added measure of security in the potential agreement.

Davis also said there would be road improvements.

“There will be some turning lanes, acceleration lanes and deceleration lanes out by the site,” he said.

“Those roads need to be improved now,” he added.

The county will fund the road improvements by utilizing the State of Iowa’s Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy Program, Davis said.

In terms of employment, Prestage is contractually obligated to maintain 922 full-time jobs, according to Davis.

There is also a minimum assessment agreement that guarantees the company to pay $2.7 million in the first ten years of existence.

“With the tax increment payment it comes out to an estimated $1.9 million that we can utilize for general funds,” Davis said.

“We will provide $1.9 million of tax revenue for the first 10 years that will help Wright County pay for schools and infrastructure,” John L. Prestage said. “Then after the first 10 years it will go up to $2.7 million for schools and infrastructure.”

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

The next public hearing is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 1 at 9:30 a.m. in the Wright County Courthouse courtroom.