‘Our community is still fighting this’: Protesters call out Cargill’s rail yard, environmental track record during CEO’s visit to Cedar Rapids

Around a dozen people showed up in below-freezing temperatures to protest Cargill’s environmental record and plans to build a rail yard, which were approved by the Cedar Rapids City Council in December. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

As Cargill CEO David MacLennan discussed the company’s future in Cedar Rapids, protesters across the street criticized the company’s environmental record and the contentious rail yard planned for construction next to the Rompot neighborhood.

MacLennan, who was in town for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance’s annual meeting on Jan. 29 at the DoubleTree hotel, shared the various investments the company has made in its Cedar Rapids operations — including investing $25 million in the company’s Cedar Rapids corn milling plant. He described Cargill’s future in Cedar Rapids as “one of growth” and how the company is “here to stay,” the Gazette reported.

MacLennan did not address the issue that was on the minds of some of the protesters outside — the controversial 12-track, 200-car rail yard that was approved at the Cedar Rapids City Council’s Dec. 17 meeting.

Throughout the nearly two-year back and forth 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, at times, have expressed their support for the proposal because of the jobs Cargill brings to the community and the need for a rail yard to keep Cedar Rapids-based operations cost effective.

Wednesday’s protest was organized by Mighty Earth, an organization focused on protecting the environment. Chaired by former California U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, Mighty Earth is a funded project of the nonprofit Center for International Policy. The organization has released two critical reports on Cargill, a Minnesota-based multinational corporation focused on agricultural goods and services.

Environmental issues are “extremely important” to North Liberty resident Sheila Zeithamel (second from the right). “It concerns me,” Zeithamel said about the rail yard. “Any impacts to our climate and environment have got to stop.” — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Approximately 12 people turned out in below-freezing weather for the protest, held at the corner of 3rd Street E and 1st Avenue NE, across from the hotel.

Members of the Prairie Park Community were present, but spokesperson Kerry Sanders said in an email before the event that their focus is more on “holding City Council and city staff accountable.”

Activist Dorothy Hogg, who lives near the future rail yard site and was involved in helping organize the protest, said she wanted attendees of the event to be “aware this isn’t one sided, and it’s a very complex issue locally.”

During city council meetings in 2019, residents brought up various concerns: the impact on Prairie Park Fishery, concerns about flooding and lack of communication from Cargill.

She hoped the protest would “put pressure on Cargill to have conversations with the community.” Sanders echoed the desire to talk to Cargill and have an open dialogue.

“Our community is still fighting this,” Hogg said.

Activist Dorothy Hogg, who was involved with planning the protest on Wednesday, Jan. 29, hoped the action would “put pressure on Cargill to have conversations with the community.” — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Dorothy’s parents, State Sen. Rob Hogg and Kate, filed two petitions in Linn County District Court in December regarding the rezoning and future land use amendment, both of which were approved by the city council.

“The community supports him fully,” Sanders said about the legal action.

When asked if the Prairie Park Community is planning their own legal action, Sanders said he could not comment at this time.