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CLARION — The Wright County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a zoning change from agricultural to industrial Monday that would allow Prestage Foods of Iowa to build a pork processing plant near Eagle Grove.

The meeting, which was attended by about 90 people packed into a Wright County courtroom, involved a two-hour public hearing on a proposed development agreement.

The 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 tax rebates to Prestage, not to exceed $8 million. No taxpayer money is involved, according to Wright County Economic Development Director Bryce Davis, 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 Farms founder Bill Prestage addressed environmental concerns at the end of the meeting.

“I’m the old guy here,” Prestage said. “Our environment has been pretty good as far as not getting into the water; we’ve been very good about that.”

He said the company has done well in North Carolina environmentally with some of the farms located within the Black River area, which Prestage considers a pristine river.

Close to 50 individuals spoke mostly in favor of the proposed project. Two-thirds of the Wright County speakers were in favor of the plant, saying they were excited about the growth opportunity. A few were undecided and requested more information.

Fifteen speakers who traveled from Webster City, Hampton and other towns in adjacent counties, also spoke in favor.

Franklin and Hamilton County supervisors voiced their support for the project.

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“No matter what you do some people will be upset,” Franklin County Supervisor Michael Nolte said. “This is great for our small-town main streets.”

Davis and Prestage representatives answered questions and addressed rumors.

Prestage Chief Operating Officer Jere Null repeatedly referred to what he called misconceptions and misinformation on the Internet while answering questions.

“I understand the concerns,” Null said.

One of the rumors Null addressed was one he had seen online about the plant including a jail cell onsite due to expected crime. Null said that is incorrect, but the company does plan to work closely with law enforcement.

Wright County Sheriff Jason Schluttenhofer said that his department will take everything as it comes and adjust as needed.

Phyllis Willis of Fertile was one of four from outside of adjacent counties to speak. She had spoken against a proposal to locate the plant in Mason City for many reasons, always saying how much she cared for the quality of life for the pigs.

“If Wright County wants it, and they seem to, then I’m OK with it, but I’m sad,” Willis said.

A second public hearing on the development agreement is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 1. A public hearing on the proposed urban renewal plan is 9:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 8.

Both 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 priority to Wright County residents.

Prestage announced earlier this month it wants to build 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.

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