Government

Blue Cargill uniforms pack City Council meeting as second rail yard vote passes

'We are in a fight for our future'

The presence of Cargill workers was apparent at the  December 3, 2019 meeting in Cedar Rapids City Hall for the second of three votes needed for the approval of a controversial Cargill railyard to be situated near the Rompot neighborhood. The vote passed 7-1.  (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)
The presence of Cargill workers was apparent at the December 3, 2019 meeting in Cedar Rapids City Hall for the second of three votes needed for the approval of a controversial Cargill railyard to be situated near the Rompot neighborhood. The vote passed 7-1. (B.A. Morelli/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cargill is a step closer to getting its rail yard in the Rompot neighborhood as Cedar Rapids City Council gave a second vote of approval, despite another contentious round of public testimony on Tuesday.

While Cargill had representatives on hand for previous meetings, they packed the council chambers for the noon meeting with some 50 employees — many donning blue warehouse uniforms — from the nearby corn-milling plant, which would rely on the rail yard proposed for 28 acres of city land about 1.75 miles south of the plant.

“This is not (only) about Rompot neighbors and their families,” said Darin Vorwald, a Cargill foreman and union steward for Teamsters 238. “This is also about me and the Cargill employees behind me. They may not live next to the rail yard, but the decision does affect them.”

Some 280 employees and other contractors work at the plant, he said.

Dan Pulis, facility manager, said he emailed staff noting, “We are in a fight for our future,” and invited them — at their discretion — to attend.

City Council voted 8-1, with Susie Weinacht opposed, to rezone land south of Stewart Road SE for a 200-car, 12-track rail yard on Tuesday. The matter needs a third vote to be finalized, likely to come on Dec. 17.

Council member Ann Poe described a difficult decision not taken lightly in which friends and neighbors are divided and a neighborhood is at odds with a key local employer and economic powerhouse.

She noted the importance of a stable employer, especially with uncertainty surrounding other big employers including Collins Aerospace. United Technologies Corp., parent of Cedar Rapids-based avionics company Collins Aerospace, plans to merge next year with Raytheon Co.

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“The reality is, every job is important, and right now, there are 250 jobs that put food on the table at stake,” Poe said.

Opponents continued to chop away at the fairness of an industrial rail yard in a residential neighborhood.

State Sen. Rob Hogg, who lives in Rompot, brought new ammunition against the plan.

The rail yard conflicts with the flood protection approach for Rompot as described in the city’s comprehensive plan, he said. The comprehensive plan states the neighborhood, some of which is in the 500-year flood plain, is an “area for non-structural tactics, including flood proofing, elevating structures and acquisition.”

“The city has told neighbors 27 vacant lots the city has acquired in the neighborhood could never be sold or developed, but in this case the city would sell city-owned land in the flood plain to the industry for the rail yard and the rail yard building,” Hogg said. “That’s a double standard and, under Iowa law that is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

Ron Corbett, former mayor and a representative of Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, supported Cargill, noting the company has compromised with neighbors at every turn.

“This issue is about jobs, really good jobs, blue-collar jobs if you want to use that term, Teamster jobs,” Corbett said. “They are coveted. Every community covets these jobs.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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