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Judge rejects legal challenge to Cargill’s Cedar Rapids rail yard plans

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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

A district court judge ruled on Friday that the Cedar Rapids City Council’s decision to amend the city’s future land use map last November for Cargill’s rail yard “was supported by substantial evidence” and acted in accordance with statutes.

Sixth District Court Judge Mary Chiccelly denied the petition filed by State Sen. Rob Hogg and Kate Hogg, who argued the amendment violated the city’s flood control system master plan, violated Iowa Code “because it does not secure safety from a flood” and that the amendment is “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and discriminatory.” The defendant in the petition was the city council.

The Court will not substitute its judgment as to the wisdom or propriety of Defendant’s action when the reasonableness of the FLUMA is fairly debatable, as evidenced in the above discussion. The Court concludes that Defendant has acted in accordance with statutes and the decision was supported by substantial evidence. The actions of Defendant were not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.

The Hoggs filed two petitions in Linn County District Court last December against the Cedar Rapids City Council. The second petition that challenges the rezoning of the land is still pending.

Six Rompot residents and the nonprofit Protect the Prairie Park Corridor (PPPC) filed motions to intervene earlier this year in both the legal challenges to the rail yard. Cargill filed a motion to intervene in March. (A motion to intervene is a request by individuals or groups who will be impacted by the outcome of a legal proceeding but weren’t initially part of it.)

Cargill, a Minnesota-based multinational corporation focused on agricultural goods and services, has been trying to get a rail yard in Cedar Rapids for almost two years. Cargill has said having its own rail yard is necessary for its Cedar Rapids operations to be cost-effective in the future.

Throughout the two years plans have shifted back and forth between the city-owned property south of Stewart Road and the “farm property” on Otis Road. Both sites border the Rompot neighborhood.

Cargill came back with a proposal for a rail yard on the Stewart Road site after its Otis Road/farm property proposal was killed by the city council in August. — Map courtesy of the city of Cedar Rapids

Cargill’s farm property plan was withdrawn last August after the city council declined to vote on the City Planning Commission’s recommendation that the rail yard be declared an “essential service.” Cargill then switched back to the site they originally wanted — the Stewart Road location. Cargill had initially abandoned the plan for a Stewart Road rail yard due to local opposition.

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 have 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.

The city council approved amending the city’s future land use map and rezoning the Stewart Road property late last year.

Cedar Rapids residents and Cargill employees at the Dec. 17 Cedar Rapids City Council meeting. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

In Friday’s decision, Chiccelly wrote: “The Court recognizes that there are competing interests with legitimate goals at play in each land use planning and zoning decision. The Court concludes that Defendant investigated the comprehensive plan and considered the competing interests before making the FLUM decision. Defendant did not ignore the enacted plan. This is evidenced by the presentations to the public, remarks from both the Commission members and members of City Council, responses to letters from community members, and items included in the Return documents.”

PPPC members said in an email that the decision was not unexpected and is the “first step in what will probably be a lengthy legal battle.” The group is considering its options. Sen. Hogg told the Gazette he plans to appeal within the state’s 30-day deadline.

The city sent out an email on Monday outlining what is required of Cargill before a construction timeline can be established for the rail yard. Cargill needs to appraise and purchase the property, complete their neighborhood outreach and submit construction plans and permits.

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The city said on its website it will continue to keep posting updates about the project, answering questions, and sharing timelines and public documents.


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