Wright County Supervisors have taken the first step toward a proposed a $240 million pork processing plant by rezoning land near Highway 17. Today’s vote came after both discussion and protest.
Storm clouds loomed on the horizon as about 50 members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement gathered on the lawn of the court house prior to the vote. That mood continued for some all morning. CCI member and county resident Kathy Schnell says she’s bothered by the speed at which the plan by North Carolina-based Prestage Farms is moving
“Many of us feel that this is kind of being sprung on us, that the decisions were made, minds were already made up and that this is kind of just a formality," she says.
Members of the group wearing red T-shirts, held signs and chanted, “Family Farms Yes, Factory Farms No!” and after nearly a half hour everyone moved inside for the meeting. The crowded board room held both opponents and supporters. The agenda included 45 minutes for public comment.
Tom Hoyt says he’s opposed to large scale livestock facilities. He lives near one of the county’s chicken growing barns. As he began his comments, he pulled two completely covered fly paper ribbons from a plastic bag.
“The flies – you go outside they’re all over you," he said. "You can’t sit outside and enjoy the nice summer time. In the house, when you go to the pot in the bathroom, you gotta have a fly swatter. When you sit in the kitchen to eat, you gotta have a fly swatter. You gotta have one every place in the house.”
Hoyt believes the pork plant would add to the fly population and also contaminate the ground water.
Not everyone at the meeting opposed the plan. In fact, several speakers welcome the chance to bring more jobs to the area.
“My son and one of my daughters has come back to help farm," said local farmer Gary Woodley. "My son is in the process of putting up two hog buildings, so he’s going to be a pork producer. My son is also a pastor, but he wanted to raise pigs besides.”
County Economic Development Director Brice Davis says four sites were considered for the proposal and included lengthy discussions about environment, population and traffic.
“Our goal is not to overwhelm any one community in Wright County. Our goal was to have a national dispersion of the population because a lot of individuals will live in Fort Dodge, Webster City, Clarion, Humble, Eagle Grove, and all the other towns surrounding it," Davis explains. “According to our labor shed, each individual is willing to drive up to 22 miles for a better job opportunity.”
The county also asked surrounding school districts about a plan to handle increased enrollment. Jess Toliver is Superintendent of the Eagle Grove schools.
Toliver read a statement from administrators at four regional schools “We have dealt with declining enrollment for years. We will also deal with increasing enrollment. There’s challenges with both. But, we have no say in any business development. If you have a company lay off jobs, we react. If we have a company that expands? Same thing with this. If it comes will there be changes and challenges? Absolutely. Can we handle it? Absolutely.”
After 45 minutes of discussion, it was time for a vote. Supervisors Chair Stan Watne called the roll. The decision was unanimous with Supervisors Rick Rasmussen, Karl Helgevold and Watne in favor of rezoning the site.
There were no Prestage Farms representatives at the meeting. They are expected to attend next week when the first vote on whether to approve the entire project will be taken.
Wright County is the second north central Iowa county to consider the Prestage Farms project. After approving an incentive package twice, Mason City city council members failed to approve it on the third and final vote.