CEDAR RAPIDS — Facing two more votes from a City Council that signaled it already has made up its mind, neighbors in Rompot — a quiet, blue-collar area south of downtown along the Cedar River — are not giving up on efforts to block a rail yard from being built on city-owned land near their homes.
The council last Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of Cargill, one of the city’s largest employers, which says it needs the $6.5 million, 12-track, 200-rail-car facility to remain competitive. After looking around, the company says sites outside of Rompot won’t work. Now, to finalize the needed rezoning, the council must vote for it two more times.
“The issue is not over,” said Rob Hogg, who is best known as a Democratic state senator but who also has lived in Rompot with his family for 20 years. “More citizens need to get involved and engaged, and we need to stop this from happening.”
Hogg, who says he opposed the project all along but had not become a prominent voice until this summer, has been organizing nature walks around the land to showcase, in his words, “what is at stake.”
Fifty people, including Linn County Supervisors Stacey Walker and Ben Rogers, attended the first walk last Sunday, and 10 attended a second Monday. The walk circles the 28-acre site south of Stewart Road SE, highlighting its proximity to homes on one side and trails at Prairie Park Fishery on the other.
The walk shows scenic vantage points, city-posted signs marking the land as a “pollinator zone” and other examples of nature that Hogg said would be lost if the rail yard was built.
Cargill has vowed to replace the lost pollinator habitat and donate it.
Additional walks are scheduled for noon Wednesday and 1 p.m. Saturday. The next City Council vote is set for Dec. 3.
Supervisor Walker took to Twitter after he participated in a walk.
“I learned quite a bit and hope it will bring more awareness to this important issue,” Walker wrote Sunday on Twitter. “Also hoping it will cause the ”progressive,” CR city council to reconsider.”
While Rompot neighbors have been regular and vocal opponents as Cargill’s application has worked through City Hall, the walks have attracted others.
Betsy and Levi Bostian, who live near Bever Park miles from the Rompot neighborhood, became drawn to the issue from an environmental perspective and joined the Monday walk to learn more.
“I find it heartbreaking not to take into consideration and do everything you can to protect this area,” said Betsy Bostian, who also works nearby at the Indian Creek Nature Center. “Why would you take up space in a flood zone that could be used to help prevent flooding? Prairie does a good job soaking up water.”
The site is in the 500-year flood plain, and while city officials say the rail yard would make neighbors no more susceptible to flooding, the Bostians and Hogg noted the prairie is a spot to detain water, helping hold it back from properties and communities down stream during flooding. Getting rid of this area flies in the face of the city’s flood control efforts, they said.
Two additional votes to rezone the land from suburban residential to industrial are planned for noon Dec. 3 and 4 p.m., Dec. 17 at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. The outcomes of second and third votes traditionally mirror the first.
The City Council also would need to approve a development agreement tied to the sale of the land, and the soonest that could occur would be the Dec. 17 meeting, according to the city.
Hogg invited Mayor Brad Hart, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, City Council members and city staff to join him. A city staff member joined the Monday walk.
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Hogg said he believes there still is room to change council members’ minds and he hopes they do some “soul searching” before the next votes.
“I know my neighbors and I are going to be thinking about this a lot over the Thanksgiving holiday, and it will be with us every Thanksgiving holiday in the future if it is built, so I hope you can take an hour and walk with me from Rompot to the Prairie Park Fishery this week” before the next rezoning vote, he said in an email invitation Monday.
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