EAGLE GROVE — Eagle Grove Mayor Sandy McGrath supports the plan of Prestage Foods to build a pork processing plant near Eagle Grove — the same plan the Mason City Council rejected in May.
What gives McGrath a unique perspective is that she has been a nurse for 30 years and is the county’s environmental health officer.
It was environmental concerns that drew much of the opposition in Mason City. McGrath said she doesn’t share those concerns.
“Every city has to do what they think is right for them,” she said. “I respect the decision Mason City made just as I would hope they respect what we do in Wright County.”
The opposition group that led opponents in Mason City is attempting to do the same in Wright County.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), a Des Moines-based environmental advocacy group, has arranged a press conference for 8:45 a.m. Monday to lobby against Prestage, 15 minutes before the Board of Supervisors meets to vote on rezoning the property where the company wants to build.
The plant would be built at a location along Highway 17, about 5 miles south of Eagle Grove, a city with a population of 3,582. If all goes according to plan, the $240 million plant will open by the fall of 2018 and will employ 922 at the start.
As for environmental concerns, McGrath said, “Prestage has answered all of our questions regarding water and wastewater and they will be scrubbing for any odors. They will be getting the proper permits and they will be well regulated. As a health officer, those are the safeguards I would ask for.”
One of the permits would allow Prestage to tap into the Jordan aquifer, one of the concerns of the ICCI over the Mason City proposal.
Prestage plans to connect into Eagle Grove’s wastewater treatment plant, which the city plans to expand.
Wright County officials are expected to act on a development agreement later this month with details still to be worked out. It was the Mason City Council’s failure to approve a development agreement on May 3, by a 3-3 vote, that sent Prestage looking elsewhere.
“The majority of our people who have talked to me are in favor of this. Some are not. Everyone has a right to their opinion,” said McGrath. “I just hope everyone gets their facts straight and then decides for themselves.”
McGrath said she has not noticed any organized opposition in Eagle Grove and Wright County such as Mason City experienced and that 80 to 90 percent of the comments she has received have been positive.
PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — has expressed opposition to the plan. The organization says it’s going to put up a “MEAT KILLS” billboard near the potential plant site. The sign claims a number of diseases — including diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer — are linked to eating meat.
“Sometimes with the negative, it is the same message being passed along time after time,” McGrath said.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But we are a community that likes to band together and I think we will.”
McGrath said Prestage Foods officials have been extremely cooperative and happy to answer all questions.
“It is a learning process,” she said. “I just hope everyone is able to look at the facts.”
She sees Prestage as a good fit for Wright County, which she described as “very agricultural” and said the county welcomes any company that will be productive and a positive influence on growth.
McGrath said cities and counties have to look at every opportunity for growth, but must always keep a watchful eye.
Sometimes growth comes slowly, she said. “There’s only one way you can eat an elephant, and that’s one bite at a time.”