Cargill’s Cedar Rapids rail yard is expected to be operational by November, officials involved with the project shared during a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday.
The meeting was scheduled by Cargill to give residents an update on the construction timeline and an opportunity to provide feedback on the design and placement of the sound berm, as well as tree and vegetation types.
The 12-track, 200-car rail yard will be built on city-owned property south of Stewart Road. Over the two years, plans have shifted back and forth between the Stewart Road property and the “farm property” on Otis Road. Both sites border the Rompot neighborhood and are near the Prairie Park Fishery.
Throughout the nearly two-year process, residents living in or near the Rompot neighborhood have been vocal about their opposition to the plan. Cargill employees and a handful of residents expressed their support for the proposal because of the jobs Cargill brings to the community, and fear those jobs may be threatened if the rail yard is not built. Cargill has said having its own rail yard is necessary for its Cedar Rapids operations to be cost-effective in the future.
Cargill will purchase the 28-acre Stewart Road property from the city and transfer ownership of the 23.5 acres of farm property to the city, said Eric Ruttum, a project build manager with Cargill. The execution of the development agreement and property closings is expected to happen in February.
The farm property will then be converted to a pollinator habitat. Cargill will pay for the creation of the habitat and three years of maintenance costs, Ruttum said. The habitat vegetation and design will be chosen by the city.
The habitat will be named “Chuck Hallier Memorial Pollinator Habitat” in memory of a longtime Cargill employee who unexpectedly passed away in December 2019, Ruttum said. He added that “a number of [Chuck Hallier’s] big passions were the environment [and] the outdoors.”
“This is our tribute to the legacy and all that he’s done for Cargill and the community,” Ruttum said, adding that a sign will go up on the north end of Otis Road in the next week.
About 11 acres of the Stewart Road property will be maintained as a prairie pollinator area, Ruttum said.
Five residents spoke during the meeting, including Kate Hogg who asked if native bushes could be used at the top of the berm instead of non-native evergreens, and inquired about what pesticides will be used on the track.
Hogg also brought up potential barriers to participating in town hall meetings — this first meeting was scheduled at 4 p.m. on a workday, which also happened to be Inauguration Day.
Loren Hoffmann, a landscape architect with Hall & Hall Engineers, said he will speak with Cargill about adding the native bushes but was not able to provide information on pesticides. Hall & Hall Engineers in Hiawatha is designing the berm that will be between the rail yard and the Rompot neighborhood.
Hogg and her husband State Sen. Rob Hogg filed two petitions in Linn County District Court against the Cedar Rapids City Council, challenging the decisions made in December 2019. Both petitions were denied in late July 2020.
Wednesday’s 45-minute meeting was the first of four updates the company has scheduled in the coming months.
The next update is scheduled for March and will include information prior to construction, which is expected to begin in April, said Dan Pulis, manager of Cargill’s corn milling facility in Cedar Rapids. There will be another town hall meeting in July to provide a mid-construction update.
The fourth and final update is scheduled for May 2022 when residents will be able to give feedback on the rail yard. At that point, the rail yard will be operational for about six months if the timeline goes according to plan.
Anyone who was not able to attend Wednesday’s town hall but has comments or suggestions can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.