CEDAR RAPIDS — Homeowners near a prairie where Cargill wants to build an industrial railyard are considering their options after a judge ruled against them.
“We are extremely disappointed with Cargill’s plans to ruin this prairie to the public’s detriment and the property damage that it will inflict on surrounding neighborhoods,” Jeremiah Kenny, president of Protect the Prairie Park Corridor, said in a statement.
“We are disappointed with the City’s decision to bend well-formulated flood protection policies and zoning ordinances to wrongfully appease Cargill’s bad decision to locate a railyard in a flood plain, on a protected prairie, in the middle of an established residential neighborhood. And, we are disappointed that our Courts can make such an important decision without the benefit of a hearing. We are considering our options.”
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mary Chicchelly denied a petition by nearby residents Kate Hogg and state Sen. Rob Hogg, who argued that the city’s Future Land Use Map amendment, at Cargill’s request, violated the city’s own Flood Control System Master Plan and comprehensive plan, among other issues.
The two were later backed by six members of the Protect the Prairie Park Corridor non-profit corporation in the petition against the city.
In 2018, the city agreed to sell the 28-acre property, at Stewart Road and Otis Avenue SE, for $83,220 or $3,000 per acre. The Hoggs noted that the property is in the city’s 200-year floodplain and should not have been sold.
Several years ago, Cedar Rapids received a Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) grant for $96,480 to plant native prairie pollinator habitat, and designated the land as a “Prairie Pollinator Zone.”
Despite objections from numerous neighbors and users of the Prairie Park Fishery, which abuts the prairie, the Cedar Rapids City Council voted in December 2019 in favor of rezoning the 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.
Cargill’s plant on Otis Road SE is nearly 2 miles away from the Stewart Road property.
Chicchelly ruled that the city acted within its permitted authority pursuant to Iowa law, and dismissed the case.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Rob Hogg noted that the judge has yet to decide on a related rezoning case, “but regardless, the district court’s decision on our petition for certiorari in the future land use map case was factually and legally wrong and we expect to appeal.”
Protect the Prairie Park Corridor members said the decision was not unexpected.
“This is the first step in what will probably be a lengthy legal battle,” the group stated in an email. “This community intends to hold both the city of Cedar Rapids and Cargill fully accountable to their obligation to honor and protect both the Prairie Park Community, and the 250,000 annual users on the Prairie Park nature Corridor.”
During a press conference next to the prairie on Monday, July 27, member Kerry Sanders said the group could appeal the judgment, wait until Cargill violates noise and toxic emissions standards with their new railyard to seek damages, or lobby them to do what’s right for the community.
“This is not the end of anything,” he said, surrounded by several neighbors. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Protect the Prairie Park Corridor will host a fundraising event, with food and live entertainment, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, at BoMac’s, 219 16th Ave. SE. Proceeds will help pay for legal fees.
Isha Kalia, a recent graduate of Linn-Mar High School, started an online petition in an effort to save the Prairie Pollinator Zone. Find the petition here.