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Cargill will begin clearing the land for its Cedar Rapids rail yard later this month

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The site where Cargill plans to build their 12-track, 200-car rail yard, Nov. 27, 2019. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Cargill will begin preparing the land south of Stewart Road for construction later this month, with construction running through October, officials involved with the project shared during a virtual town hall meeting.

Cargill’s 50-minute virtual meeting last Wednesday was the company’s second town hall event providing information about the rail yard near the Rompot neighborhood. The first town hall was held in January and residents were able to provide feedback about specific design elements of the rail yard.

During last week’s meeting, Cargill officials addressed the feedback residents provided earlier this year. Part of that feedback submitted in January was a question by Kate Hogg, asking if native bushes could be used at the top of the berm instead of non-native evergreens.

Eric Ruttum, a project build manager with Cargill, said native shrubs will be added to the top of the berm. Ruttum added that all of the plant species will be native to Iowa. The company will use two separate lists, one from Iowa State and one from Trees Forever, to verify that the appropriate species are planted. Tree and shrub planting will begin this fall, with final plantings occurring next year in the spring if needed, Ruttum said.

Cargill was originally planning to build an office building on site, but Ruttum said the office will be added to the existing corn plant on Otis Road. The company has also eliminated the large stadium-style lights and will make lights motion activated where it’s possible so they aren’t on all night in an effort to reduce the impact on nighttime pollinator species, Ruttum added.

Construction will begin sometime this month with land preparation being the first step. This will consist of tree removal, as well as clearing and grading, Ruttum said. About 12 inches of topsoil will be removed as part of the process. The topsoil will be kept onsite for later use.

Rail work is expected to start in July and run through October, Ruttum said. The company’s plans call for the rail yard to be operational by November. The site of the rail yard is known locally as the Stewart Road property, and 11 acres of the 28-acre property will be maintained as a prairie pollinator area.

Cargill has hired Peterson Contractors, Inc. (PCI) based out of Reinbeck, Iowa as the prime contractor. PCI will be working between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The site where Cargill plans to build their 12-track, 200-car rail yard. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The last 30 minutes of the town hall consisted of six residents asking questions about the project and sharing their thoughts. Of the residents who spoke, at least four of them regularly attended city council meetings when this project was on the agenda and voiced their concerns and opposition of the project.

The Cedar Rapids City Council approved amending the city’s future land use map and rezoning of the Stewart Road property in late 2019.

Kate Hogg and her husband, State Sen. Rob Hogg, live in the Rompot neighborhood and both attended the virtual town hall. The Hoggs 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. They are appealing the district court decisions to the Iowa Supreme Court and anticipate a decision being made in six weeks to six months.

Kate Hogg asked during the virtual meeting how the construction site’s wildlife will be evacuated prior to construction. Ruttum did not have an answer at the time of the town hall but followed up with the Hoggs later in the week via email. In the email, which was provided to Little Village, Ruttum said the company was planning to use “pre-stressing” techniques to get the animals to leave the site before construction begins.

After doing some research there are a few best practices for this. The first one we will employ is ‘pre-stressing’ the wildlife. This entails disturbing them in a way that makes the habitat less favorable to wildlife staying there. Some actions that we will do for ‘pre-stressing’ include driving on the site, driving heavy equipment on the site when unloading equipment, and removing trees from the site in areas that rail tracks are going through. All of these activities function to encourage wildlife to relocate from the property. The second thing we will do is conduct our clearing and grubbing in the direction that pushes wildlife to the most conducive location. In this particular case we will start clearing/grubbing in the northeast corner and proceed west/south towards the rail tracks. This will push the wildlife towards the fishery that will not be developed.

Among the questions Sen. Hogg asked was how individuals will be kept safe during construction with trucks making an anticipated 10,000 trips to the site during construction.

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“This is tormenting people who live in this neighborhood, who bought houses in this neighborhood relying on the city’s land use plan, and now we have to have an industrial rail yard in our neighborhood, apparently,” Sen. Hogg said. “We’re going to have 10,000 trucks roughly coming down our roads this summer. This is going to be absolute misery.”

Ruttum said that truck safety will be stressed during safety orientation and will also be discussed with each drive and with PCI management. Cargill will have “zero tolerance” for drivers violating the laws or not following safety practices.

Rompot resident John Schriner asked what Cargill intends to do with two residential properties the company owns on Otis Road. Otis Raod, which also borders Rompot, was the first site Cargill had considered for its rail yard.

Ruttum said that Cargill does not intend to seek rezoning for the two residential properties the company owns.

“Currently purchased properties will be resold as residential properties at a later date,” Ruttum said.

Dan Pulis, manager of Cargill’s corn milling facility in Cedar Rapids, added that the company has “no intentions of moving any of the rail yard or storage buildings or office or anything on the north side of Otis Road.”

“We’re not looking to expand Cargill’s operation into the community,” Pulis said. “So anything that we purchase would be maintained as residential. So, I cannot make a commitment about not purchasing [any additional property], but what I can tell you is our intention is that we are not going to rezone any of the properties we’ve already purchased or plan to purchase or will purchase in the future.”

The next update is scheduled for July and will include a mid-construction update. There will be another town hall meeting in May 2022 for residents to 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 cedar_rapids@cargill.com.


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