CEDAR RAPIDS — As a key City Council vote looms on Tuesday to determine whether Cargill can build a rail yard on public space in a southeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood, opposing sides are attempting to fortify their positions — one group raising concerns about building in a flood plain and natural area while the other offering to establish a pollinator habitat to offset what is lost.
Opponents — largely residents of the Rompot neighborhood who don’t want the 200-car, 12-track rail yard so close — say building a rail yard by the Cedar River, the Prairie Park Fishery and Sac and Fox natureway is inconsistent with the city’s goal to protect natural areas and restrict development in flood plains.
“What we should be doing with this city-owned park, open space and pollinator land — land that was inundated during the 2008 flood — is preserving it, protecting it and potentially enhancing it with wetland restoration and other natural solutions to flooding,” Rob Hogg, a state senator who lives by the site, said in a letter to the city.
Cargill has a tentative agreement to purchase 28 acres of city land south of Stewart Road SE and has applied to rezone 16 acres of that from suburban residential to industrial and change the future land-use map to allow increased intensity.
Public hearings on the two requests along with City Council votes are scheduled during a 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE.
The land-use change requires one vote, while the rezoning would require three votes to pass. The second and third rezoning vote tentatively are set for Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, respectively.
Much of the site for Cargill’s proposed $6.5 million rail yard is in a 500-year flood plain, which means a 1 in 500, or .2 percent, chance of flooding each year.
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Cedar Rapids code regulates building in the 100-year flood plain — areas with a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year — but not the 500-year.
Sandy Pumphrey, assistant development services manager for the city, said the development would not protect the neighborhood from flooding but also would not make it more susceptible.
“If you fill in the 500-year flood plain, water flows around it,” Pumphrey said. “So you are not compressing the river and you are not raising the elevation of the river.”
If the project advances, city staff would delve deeper into Cargill’s specific strategies for flood risk during the administrative site review, he said.
In a statement Monday, Cargill facility manager Dan Pulis said in the case of severe flooding, the company would remove all cars from the rail yard, If the water is slow moving, damage likely would be minimal.
But fast-moving water likely would damage the rail bed, in which case Cargill would hire a rail company to assess and then proceed with any repairs before an inspection and reopening, he said.
“The ballast, ties, rails and manual switch stands will not be affected simply because they are underwater,” he said. “Rushing water and/or debris striking the equipment would likely be the cause of any issue.” ”
Cargill meanwhile has committed to establish a pollinator zone to offset disruption of habitat for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators created through a state grant.
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Cedar Rapids was awarded a $96,480 state Resource Enhancement and Protection, or REAP, grant in 2016 to establish pollinator habitat on 82 acres of land in the Sac and Fox natureway, including the proposed rail yard site.
In a Nov. 13 letter, the company told the city it “has made the decision to convert 28 acres of land to native pollinator habitat. The 28 acres will be comprised of portions of the Stewart Road and ‘farm’ properties.”
“Farm” refers to 23 acres of private land also in the Rompot neighborhood, which Cargill had planned to acquire for the rail yard before City Council rebuffed it in August. The Stewart Road property would have 11 acres left over after the rail yard, which Cargill and the city have agreed would be put into a conservation easement.
Cargill would then “gift the farm property pollinator acres to the Indian Creek Nature Center,” according to the letter.
Cargill also has agreed to an additional condition on the Stewart Road rezoning to ensure it could not become a different industrial use in the future without being reconsidered by a future City Council.
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