CEDAR RAPIDS — Neighbors close to a rail yard supporting Cargill’s west side soy processing plant are advising residents in Rompot south of downtown to do what they can to block a Cargill-owned rail yard from coming to their neighborhood.
“Why would you torture another neighborhood?” asked Tonya Sheley, 25, who lives a few houses from the west side rail yard. “It’s a nightmare sometimes.”
Several residents in the Taylor neighborhood describe a loud, noisy environment with horns blaring at all hours and house-rattling clangs of train cars, frequent semi truck traffic and dust from gravel piles stored at the end of their street.
Sheley, who lives on 10th Street SW, said she keeps her windows closed at all times to try to block out the sounds, meaning her air conditioner runs all the time in the summer.
Cargill noted that CRANDIC owns and operates the rail yard supporting its plant at 1110 12th Ave. SW, which Cargill has owned since 1942 and expanded in 1968. The soy plant is affiliated with the Cargill soy processing plant at 410 C Ave. NE.
“CRANDIC will switch out rail cars at the plant once a day and only uses horns at the site when they are crossing the roadways, which is governed by the Federal Railway Administration,” Cargill spokeswoman Kelly Sheehan said in an email. “Safety and operational bells/alarms from the facility may be audible by neighbors, but they have nothing to do with the rail movement.
“Please know that Cargill follows all ordinances, rules, and laws when it comes to activity happening on Cargill-owned property, as we take safety and operating responsibly very seriously,” she added.
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At least one Taylor resident stood up for Cargill, saying the agricultural giant has been an “always courteous” neighbor that has responded to requests such as moving a fence and provided car wash vouchers when a job dusted up nearby cars.
He recalled Cargill donated land for nearby 10th Square Park, which was built after a mother and her two sons died in a 1998 house fire.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Brian Vanderpool, who lives by the rail yard and plant and owns the adjacent Chappy’s Repair, 1000 10th St. SW. “Trains are trains. People knew the train yard was here when they moved here. They had to drive across the tracks to get here.”
Some Taylor residents have been following news of Cargill’s plans to install a $6.5 million, 16-track railroad storage yard on 24 acres of privately owned farm land bordering Prairie Park Fishery and the Rompot neighborhood. It would support the Cargill corn milling plant at 1710 16th St. SE.
Rompot neighbors have been fighting back since catching wind of a previous version of the plan last year, raising concerns about noise, property devaluation, semi traffic, safety and air quality.
City staff have been satisfied with Cargill-backed studies contending those concerns are largely unfounded. The city and Cargill also have agreed to several other measures including limiting operations to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and having a tree-lined berm to buffer sound, light and visual impacts. Cargill also predicts minimal semi traffic.
Neighbors aren’t buying it, though.
Rompot neighborhood leaders held a community meeting Wednesday evening to unveil their proposal to locate the rail yard on Cargill’s own property adjacent to the corn processing plant.
Cargill has previously said it has examined the site, but topographically it is not feasible.
Neighborhood spokesman Kerry Sanders promised a “supercharged evening” and “fireworks guaranteed.”
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“Cargill and the city are attempting to fast-track this project through the approval process before the community has even been informed of Cargill’s plans,” he said. “The communities that will be effected most strongly by Cargill’s proposed location have not been given the voice to date that has been promised by Cargill, by the city, and by the mayor himself.”
Cargill gained tepid support — a 5-1 vote but with most vocalizing their struggle to decide — from the City Planning Commission earlier this month with some panel members suggesting such a project wouldn’t fly in other neighborhoods. Rompot is considered a blue-collar neighborhood.
The City Council is tentatively scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on whether to grant an essential service designation for the rail yard during its Aug. 27 meeting. Council members have been largely silent on the matter since initially supporting the plans before residents began raising questions.
Back in the Taylor neighborhood, long time residents such as Mike Dighton, who has lived near the rail yard for the west side Cargill plant since 1996, offered a word of caution.
“If they can get out of not dealing with them in any way, I’d go that route,” Dighton said. “I wish we could get rid of the traffic, noise, dirt and dust. We’ve been dealing with it for years.”
Shelby Gabrielson, 19, has lived on 10th Street SW most of her life. She said the rail yard is usually “not too bad.”
“You notice it mostly at night. It gets loud and shakes the house,” she said, adding a lot of truck traffic comes down her street. “It’s a bit of an inconvenience but overall not that bad. Eventually, you just get used to the train noises.”
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