Cargill rail yard plans moving forward, but not final just yet

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Plans for a Cargill rail yard are moving forward after two crucial votes from the Cedar Rapids city council on Tuesday night.

Cargill is looking to build a rail yard on this property in the Prairie Park neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids. Photo: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 (Mary Green/KCRG)

Council members unanimously approved an amendment to the city’s Future Land Use Map and the first reading of a rezoning request on the proposed rail yard property, both of which Cargill needs in order for the project to begin. The only council member who did not take part in the vote was at-large member Susie Weinacht, who was not present for the meeting.

In total, discussion over the rail yard took up more than three hours of meeting time, much of which was used by neighbors asking the city council to not approve the plans.

Those plans call for Cargill to build a railyard on a 27-acre piece of city-owned land in the Prairie Park neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids. The land is within a mile of another site Cargill was considering earlier this year, but Cargill abandoned those plans after city council members failed to approve them in August.

Council members said Tuesday that they believe the current proposal is fair to both Cargill and the neighbors who live in that area, many of whom have listed noise, light and environmental impact as their concerns.

Overall, most of the conditions Cargill is tacking on to its plans to satiate neighbors were included in the plans for its previous proposed site.
Those include constructing a berm and line of trees to block noise and visually block the rail yard from view from the neighborhood, prohibiting the use of train horns in the area, and limiting operation hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

Cargill also added a few new conditions to the newer site. Among them, the company said it’ll create a buffer area between the yard and the rest of the neighborhood and move certain pollinating plants and vegetation from the site to another nearby location. The city will also prohibit other industrial uses on that land besides its use as a rail yard if the rezoning request passes.

Several people spoke in favor of the rail yard plans at Tuesday’s meeting, most of whom were current or former Cargill employees or work with the company.

Some Cargill employees argued that the company’s economic viability in Cedar Rapids is at stake if Cargill can’t build the rail yard.

“If we are not able to make these needed investments to remain competitive, we’ll be put in a position to determine the longevity and the future of this location,” Mike Wagner, the company’s managing director of North American starch, sweeteners and texturing business, said.

But many of the people who live in that neighborhood told council members that they were disappointed and upset that these plans are moving forward.

Between Tuesday’s speakers and others who wrote to the city council about this topic, 54 people said they were against the proposal. In contrast, 18 people said they were in favor.

“You listened to the pain and fear of all these people who oppose this, and you don’t have the nerve to say, to explain yourself?” Dorothy Hogg asked after just two of the eight council members in attendance explained why they were approving the amendment to the Future Land Use Map.

However, four more council members later explained their votes prior to the vote for the rezoning request, with some of them calling for Cargill and the group of neighbors to do a better job of working together. Two council members, at-large member Tyler Olson and District 3 representative Dale Todd, also said they believed voting in favor of the rail yard was in the best interest of the highest amount of people.

Two more rezoning hearings and approvals are needed from the city council before the rail yard plans officially get the OK. Those votes are currently scheduled for Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, though the city council may decide to hold both votes on Dec. 3.