More than two dozen people staged a protest outside City Hall in Mason City this morning over the Prestage Farms proposal to place a $240 million pork processing plant in Mason City.
Tom Willett of rural Mason City thinks the process city leaders are taking in approving the project is going too fast. “Just slow it down, let us gather more information, get the public informed and more involved,” Willett said. “Every day we find out more and more that’s negative. If we’re wrong, more time, more scrutiny, more information should only confirm that it’s a good deal. So what is the rush?”
The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board in March awarded Prestage Farms with nearly $15 million in state incentives for the project. The City Council in Mason City is scheduled to consider a multi-million dollar economic incentive package of its own for the North Carolina based company on May 3.
Phyllis Willis of Fertile was one of the founders of the Niman Ranch Pork Company, which produces “all-natural” meats. She’s concerned the Prestage plant will lead to the growth of large-scale animal confinements and damage to the environment. “I think anybody who is for this should drive down Highway 69 from Dows to Story City and tell me if they like what they see,” Willis said. “People can’t live there. There are abandoned farms and nothing but CAFOs. Is that what we really want for our state?”
Many local pork producers have spoken out in favor of the Prestage plant at the last two City Council meetings. Willis isn’t swayed by their support.
“They like the money, which of course is probably more important to them than their responsibility to the environment and the neighbors, and the other people who have to live here,” Willis said. “This would be a horrible thing for Mason City in particular right now because it’s a beautiful city. They’ve worked so hard to make it that way. We need more than this.”
The plant is expected to eventually employ up to 2,000 workers with average annual wages around $40,000. Company officials have promised the “state-of-the-art” building will address any environmental concerns.
(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City)