AHEAD-Iowa takes co-op concerns to transportation commission
Terry Smith, president of AHEAD-Iowa, a community non-profit group organized in the spring, attended a meeting of the Iowa Transportation Commission Tuesday in Perry.
Smith addressed the commission with concerns about the Heartland Co-op proposed grain elevator and rail spur facility at Nutmeg Avenue and Highway 34.
Heartland Co-op applied for a Railroad Revolving Loan and Grant, requesting $2 million for assistance in constructing the proposed rail spur from the main Burlington Northern Santa Fe track onto the acreage purchased for the Jefferson County grain facility.
Fairfield Economic Development Association director Adam Plagge said this morning that Heartland Co-op was granted a $1.45 million interest-free loan.
Smith, speaking on behalf of AHEAD-Iowa, Alliance for Healthy Economic and Agricultural Development in Iowa headquartered in Fairfield, told the transportation commission the loan was awarded without consultation with the community.
“This state subsidy was awarded to Heartland Co-op without consultation with local residents and elected officials,” Smith said, according to a news release from AHEAD-Iowa. “As a result, the project entails significant potential infrastructure concerns that have not been addressed.”
The news release from AHEAD-Iowa also said that on Heartland Co-op’s application for Iowa Department of Transportation funding, no information was provided concerning the shipping capacity of the facility, nor the number of trucks the facility would attract once operational, according to AHEAD-Iowa’s attorney James C. Larew of Iowa City.
Larew also addressed the transportation commission Tuesday in Perry, according to the news release.
“Information provided by Heartland Co-op to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for permits and other applications indicates that this very large facility will have the capacity to ship 20 million bushels of corn and 12 million bushels of beans per year,” Larew told the commission. “If one assumes an average Iowa corn hauling semi truck will carry about 800 bushels of grain per trip, that amounts to more than 40,000 one-way and 80,000 to-and-fro truck trips per year converging on the facility from six contiguous counties.
“How will all this additional traffic be handled? Nobody has any idea, because no traffic study has been conducted.”
According to the press release, Larew explained to the commissioners that a particular concern raised by many of AHEAD-Iowa’s more-than-1,000 members springs from the proximity of the proposed location to the city of Fairfield. The facility will attract traffic from six contiguous counties, and only traffic coming from south, east and west can access the facility via the four-lane Highway 34.
The main access for semi trucks from counties to the north would be either through city streets or on Nutmeg Avenue, a gravel north-south road that runs under a one-lane underpass owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, one of the key participants in the new grain handling facility, said Larew.
“The underpass is a one-lane underpass, more than 100-years old and is rated by experts to be in very poor condition,” Larew told commissioners.
At a Feb. 24 board of supervisors meeting, county engineer Scott Cline reported on a bridge consultant’s inspection of the bridge and underpass. The consultant rated it a 4 out of 9 for condition.
“A rating of 4 means we should keep an eye on it, but it’s scored a 4 the past few inspections, which could be six to eight years, and it’s still usable. It does indicate a poor condition,” Cline had said.
“It’s a one-lane, 15-foot-8-inches height clearance under the bridge,” Cline had said. “It has no horizontal clearance, cracks were noted in the sides, but not on top, and it’s leaking and leaching.”
Tuesday, Larew told the commission that the railway has no plans to repair or replace the underpass, which also was reported at a supervisors meeting this spring.
“We are extremely concerned that the vastly increased north-south truck traffic resulting from grain shipments to the facility from surrounding counties will compromise the safety of the motoring public, including school buses, EMT vehicles and fire trucks,” Larew said to the commission.
According to information from AHEAD-Iowa, Smith told the transportation commission that if IDOT had all the information, Heartland Co-op may have been required to assist with infrastructure improvements.
“We believe that, had all relevant information been provided to the IDOT commissioners before they voted to approve the interest-free loan, reasonable conditions could have been imposed on Heartland Co-op to address these infrastructure concerns that would have been in its interest and also in the public interest,” Smith said Tuesday.
According to Larew, the commissioners will consider the presentation by AHEAD-Iowa as well as proposed changes to existing rules related to the processing of IDOT’s Railroad Revolving Loan and Grant Program, so that the commission is fully informed as to the impact of a project will have on all modes of transportation and sufficient public notice is given to local residents, according to AHEAD-Iowa’s press release.
Information on IDOT’s website, iowadot.gov, under news and information, shows AHEAD-Iowa was scheduled on Tuesday’s agenda for a presentation. The after-meeting information showing items approved at the commissioners meeting has no information about AHEAD-Iowa.