CEDAR RAPIDS — Amid a chorus of opposition from neighbors, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart has vowed more public input will be heard before any official action is taken on Cargill’s proposal to create a 10-track rail yard capable of holding 200 train cars in the Rompot neighborhood south of downtown.
Cargill is seeking to purchase public land for a $6.5 million switching and storage yard, which would be close to its corn milling plant on Otis Road SE and create cost savings, the agricultural giant has said.
The proposed facility also would relieve rail traffic downtown. Cargill stores railcars at a Union Pacific yard near Cedar Lake, leading to on average 25 railcars a day moving back and forth.
“Cargill has committed to hosting a public information meeting to address concerns prior to any public action,” Hart said Tuesday. “This really, I think, shows the process does work. We are going to address these concerns well before any action is taken.”
The rail yard would be within a few hundred feet of homes and of Prairie Park Fishery and nature trails. Many neighbors are urging Cargill to look elsewhere.
Kerry Sanders, a leader in the neighborhood opposition, said they want the process delayed nine months to allow more vetting, and he considered Hart’s comments encouraging.
“It indicates the city has stepped up to the plate and will slow down the project enough for the project to be vetted,” he said.
Neighbors say loud noise and toxins would destroy their neighborhood and erode property values. They asserted that the city and Cargill have been disingenuous, noting few residents were notified of plans, Cargill has not been communicative and the city’s process of selling the land was tilted to Cargill.
The rail yard would take up a 28-acre field just south of Stewart Road and Otis Avenue SE that until recently was posted as a “wildlife refuge.”
Cargill has downplayed the extent of rail activity, noting the yard would be in use only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Neighbors believe activity will be more robust than Cargill is letting on.
For months now, neighbors have spoken out at City Council meetings, even creating signs declaring “Build Trails, Not Rails.” The sale had been moving through city processes with little opposition until neighbors began to mobilize and demand answers.
More than 100 people attended a tense forum Nov. 5 hosted by Cargill.
“There’s been a lot of discussion and neighborhood concern about Cargill recently,” Hart said. “I guess this is good news for neighborhood representatives. Cargill and the city will be sitting down soon to discuss the next steps. At the meeting we will have an overview of the studies that will be completed.”
Hart said no action will be taken yet this year, and while he doesn’t have a firm timeline, it could be “February, March or April” before anything happens.
Cargill had hoped to have the rail yard open by the end of this year. But the council still must approve the sale and rezoning the land for the project to move ahead.
“No action is going to be taken until there is more public input and opportunities for citizens and neighbors to be involved in those,” Hart said.