CLARION — The Wright County Board of Supervisors took an initial step Monday to approve an economic development agreement with Prestage Farms.
About 80 people including multiple members of the Prestage family attended the two-hour public meeting in a full courtroom to discuss the proposed development agreement, which the board supported 3-0.
On Monday, about 30 people spoke publicly. Two-thirds of the 17 Wright County speakers argued in favor of the project.
Six of eight speakers from bordering counties spoke in favor of the plant. Four of five speakers from outside counties opposed construction.
Opponents expressed concerns over wages, wastewater and environmental issues.
“Why aren’t we calling the shots here?” said Wright County resident Kristi Frohling. “Prestage is desperate to locate in Iowa, anywhere that will put up with them.”
Proponents cited economic benefits from the plant’s construction and operation.
“We don’t have the opportunity to attract the Microsofts or the Googles,” said Humboldt City Councilman Jim Vermeer. “This is the (economy) that we have.”
A public hearing on a proposed urban renewal plan — a way a county or town uses financing to renovate an area — is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Monday, Aug. 8. The board will take a final vote on the economic development agreement during its 9:30 a.m. meeting Aug. 22.
Those hearings will be in Wright County Courthouse’s second-floor courtroom and will follow rules the supervisors passed previously, including limiting each person’s comments to two minutes and giving speaking priority to Wright County residents.
Last month, the board approved a zoning change from agricultural to industrial that would allow the company to construct its proposed facility 5 miles south of Eagle Grove.
The proposed development agreement calls for construction to be completed by March 31, 2019, with the plant employing 922 full-time workers by Jan. 1, 2020.
The lowest-paid workers will begin at more than $37,000 annually plus benefits, Prestage officials previously said. Average annual pay is expected to be more than $47,000.
A second phase would add at least 850 additional full-time jobs, according to the agreement, which stipulates the company must then employ at least 1,772 full-time workers through Dec. 30, 2030, to be eligible for incentives.
If employment stipulations are met, the agreement says Wright County will give 10 years of annual property tax rebates to Prestage, not to exceed $8 million. No additional taxpayer money is involved, Wright County Economic Development Director Bryce Davis told the Globe Gazette, since the rebates will be from taxes Prestage will pay.
The county will also resurface and improve portions of roads near the site, Highway 17 and County Road C-56, at its expense. The agreement indicates the county plans to apply for state funding for the road projects.
Prestage announced last month it would seek to locate a 650,000-square-foot plant near Highway 17 and 320th Street, about 5 miles south of Eagle Grove.
The $240 million project was rejected by the Mason City Council on May 3.
CLEAR LAKE — Youngsters from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota faced choppy conditions on Clear Lake Monday during the first day of the Inland Lake Yachting Association Opti Dinghy Championships.
“The race is challenging, depending on the wind and lake condition,” race co-chair Margaret Osmundson said. “There’s a lot of skill involved.”
Winds — which gusted around 15 mph Monday afternoon — delayed at least one of the races.
Osmundson said the participants needed to know how to sail upwind before turning around to head to the finish line.
Ranging in age from 8 to 15, the 94 sailors hail from Clear Lake and a number of other Midwestern cities, including Chicago; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; and Twin Cities suburbs.
They are sailing optimist dinghies — small, single-person, one-sail boats generally used by younger sailors.
The championship, which Osmundson said is family-friendly and lends itself to team building, continues a second day on Tuesday.
— Ashley Miller
MASON CITY — A veteran politician and a political newcomer both said Monday they will be candidates if the council approves Mayor Eric Bookmeyer’s call for a special election.
They are former councilman Max Weaver and Andy O’Brien, owner of Action Coaching in Mason City.
The council will act on Bookmeyer’s recommendation at the council meeting Tuesday night. The election would be to fill the at-large seat vacancy caused by the death of Alex Kuhn on July 15.
Weaver served three terms on the City Council. This would be his eighth bid for public office. In a political career that dates back to 1995, he has won three council elections, lost three and most recently was defeated in a run for mayor.
Asked why he was interested in returning to city politics, Weaver said, “I have tried to be very respectful of those in office by staying out of government affairs. But it is pretty obvious on the Prestage issue that there is a big disconnect between city officials and the public with regard to trust.”
O’Brien has been involved in civic activities for many years. In his business he provides coaching to business people in order to make them more successful. His wife, Jodee, is the former executive director of Main Street Mason City and now heads the United Way of North Central Iowa.
The council has the option of appointing someone to Kuhn’s open position or holding a special election. If the council approves the call for an election it will be held Sept. 20.
The winner of a special election would serve the remaining 3½ years of Kuhn’s term.
The City Council meets at 7 p.m. in the Mason City Room of the public library.
— John Skipper