Government

After 2 years of trying, Cargill wins Cedar Rapids approval for rail yard in Rompot

CEDAR RAPIDS — After two years, multiple tries and bitter resistance, one of the city’s major employers — Cargill — has the green light to build a 12-track, 200-car rail yard between the Rompot neighborhood and Prairie Park Fishery they company says will allow it to remain competitive and protect jobs.

After hearing 90 minutes of testimony largely from neighbors opposed to Cargill’s $6.5 million project on 28 acres of city-owned land south of Stewart Road SE, the Cedar Rapids City Council approved a third and final rezoning vote to allow industrial use in a residential neighborhood. That was the rail yard’s last major hurdle.

“We are out there trying to do the best we can to mitigate every concern that has been brought to our attention,” said Dan Pulis, plant manager for Cargill’s wet corn milling operation that would be served by the rail yard.

A few more procedural steps remain, including closing on the land sale from the city, before construction can begin, Pulis said. The company hopes to begin construction by spring and have the yard operational by the end of 2020.

The council also approved a development agreement tied to the sale of the property. The land value would be the greater of the city’s internal estimate of $83,220 and a third-party appraisal, which has not yet been conducted.

The council voted 8-1 on the rezoning and 8-1 on the development agreement, with member Susie Weinacht opposed in both cases.

Some are skeptical of the city’s initial land value estimate, which equates to nearly $3,000 an acre. Nearby properties similarly in the 500-year flood plain range in value from $20,000 to $30,000 an acre, according to property records on the Cedar Rapids Assessor’s website.

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“That is inappropriate in my mind,” Richard Hanson said. “You are helping Cargill achieve their economic efficiency by having a very low-cost acquisition price for the land.”

Between the rezoning and development agreement, several more stipulations are in place, such as governing hours of operation, use of lights and an aesthetic buffer.

Cargill would reimburse the city $32,800 for replanting pollinators in a buffer area of the Stewart Road site and donate 28 acres of nearby land where a new pollinator zone would be built to replace one that is lost.

“I believe we can help protect jobs in our community with a project that will coexist with the neighbors and fishery,” Mayor Brad Hart said before the vote.

Up until the end, while many neighbors seemed to recognize the outcome, they pressed for a new direction.

“I beg you, Cargill, come to our neighborhood and talk to us,” Tonya Sotelo said. “There are other solutions out there.”

Angela Gillis, who lives near the site, was among those frustrated by the outcome.

“I’m disappointed we couldn’t slow it down enough to be more collaborative because I think from the beginning it was a flawed process and (the council) had their minds made up last fall.”

Cargill employees were the primary advocates for the project before the council.

“What this rail yard would mean to my team specifically is the ability to have available the cars we need to load, when we need to load them, (so products) arrive to our customers at the peak of their freshness,” said Kirk Perreau, food safety quality and regulation manager.

Neighbors have already hinted at legal challenges.

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Rob Hogg, a neighbor and state senator, said he filed a petition Tuesday in Linn County District Court challenging the city’s amendment to its future land use map.

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

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