Cargill made quick work of what had been a nature refuge in the city of Cedar Rapids, home to birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
Just this weekend, the 28-acre Prairie Pollinator Zone at Otis Avenue and Stewart Road SE was teeming with life.
On Monday, June 28, 2021, the earth cratered as heavy equipment tore through the native plants, leaving behind a swath of devastation resembling the aftermath of a bomb dropped in a war zone.
The Cedar Rapids City Council gave the thumbs-up in 2019 to the decimation of the prairie, to make way for an industrial railyard for ag giant Cargill, in a flood zone in a residential neighborhood.
Timing of the destruction was notable, as monarch butterflies could be seen for weeks laying eggs on the multitude of milkweed — the sole food source of monarch caterpillars — that grew in the well-established Prairie Pollinator Zone.
The butterflies are a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, due to their declining numbers, and while other communities have promoted establishment of pollinator zones to protect the butterflies, Cedar Rapids appeared to do the opposite at this critical point in the species’ life cycle.
Nor were any studies made public on the possible presence of the rusty patched bumblebee, the first bee species in the United States to be placed on the endangered species list. Rusty patched bumblebees have been sighted in Cedar Rapids, but their presence might have put a damper on Cargill’s timeline.
Cargill representatives have said they hope to have the 200-car, 12-track industrial railyard operating by November.
Mayor Brad Hart and council members Dale Todd, Ashley Vanorny, Scott Olson, Tyler Olson, Ann Poe, Marty Hoeger and Scott Overland all voted in favor of rezoning the 28-acre floodplain site from suburban residential large lot to general industrial, and approved a development agreement that will allow the multinational company to operate the railyard 12 hours every day, 365 days per year.
The site is next to the popular Prairie Park Fishery. Nature lovers and neighbors pleaded their case to the City Council, to no avail.
See photos of the Prairie Pollinator Zone from last summer and more photos from Cargill’s destruction of the site: