Heartland to begin building
Heartland Co-op, which has been working with Fairfield Economic Development Association and Jefferson County Board of Supervisors to build a grain storage facility east of Fairfield, emailed a news release to local media Tuesday:
Heartland Co-op is moving forward with building a state of the art high-speed shuttle train loading grain elevator east of Fairfield on Nutmeg Avenue with construction to begin immediately and be completed by September of 2015, said the news release.
“This new facility allows us to serve farmers in Southeast Iowa and expand our membership,” said Art Churchill, president of the Heartland Board of Directors.
“Members who do business with us are eligible to participate in the success of the organization through the form of patronage dividends.”
The new facility includes a 110-car loop track on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline and will ship corn and soybeans to new markets for Southeast Iowa farmers including the Pacific Northwest, Texas and Mexico.
“Our board of directors has worked extremely hard over the last several years to develop a strong growth strategy that positions Heartland Co-op for the future in production agriculture,” said Tom Hauschel, CEO and general manager of Heartland, in the news release.
“This facility will add value to our current patrons as well as future members by providing access to new markets.”
The grain storage facility will employ a minimum of six full-time positions and up to four to six part-time positions during peak seasons in Fairfield.
During construction in the next 17 months, it will employ an average of 30 people, with up to 160 construction workers on site during the building of the concrete elevator.
Todd Phillips, executive vice president of grain for Heartland, said the Fairfield elevator will lessen the miles traveled for trucks delivering grain, which will lower fuel consumption, reduce fuel emissions and improve the longevity of most roads in the area overall. He said the railroad has proven it can compete with all modes of transportation.
“I grew up near the Jefferson County line and still own a small farming operation there today,” said Phillips in the news release. “I am passionate about this project. The farmers in the area have shown overwhelming support for the project. We look forward to earning their business and adding value to their operations.”
Heartland Co-op has corporate offices in West Des Moines with operations in 63 Iowa communities and more than 450 full-time employees. The organization serves more than 5,200 members with operations in grain handling and marketing, agronomy, feed and energy.
More than 120 attend Monday meeting
Monday, after listening to 30 community members express concerns, opinions and ask questions for 80 minutes about Heartland Co-op’s proposed 4.4 million bushel grain storage elevator facility, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors had its own discussion.
Monday’s meeting agenda included considering economic incentive options for the co-op, which had announced to the public in December it intended to build a facility at Highway 34 and Nutmeg Avenue east of Fairfield.
“When Cambridge Investment Research built [in Jefferson County], we gave a one-year tax incentive, around $29,000 to $29,600,” said Supervisor chairman Dick Reed. “I try to be a fair and equitable guy. If we take all of the emotion out of the issue, how can we treat Heartland Co-op differently?
“The exit from Highway 34 [to the frontage road that will route inbound grain trucks to the elevators] needs work, right next to Leahy’s,” he said
“By the way, I’m compassionate about your situation,” Reed said to the Leahys.
Roger Leahy, his sister Mea Llama, and their parents, Jim and Marge Leahy, attended the meeting. Together, the family has four residences, a llama farm and the Overland Sheepskin Company Inc. on the property directly across Nutmeg Avenue from the proposed Heartland site.
“If it were in my backyard, I’d be sitting in the same seat you are,” Reed said to Roger Leahy. “But as a supervisor, I represent 16,000 people. And we have no control over building in the county.”
Reed said he’s known Osage Avenue has needed paving even before the bypass was built around Fairfield.
“I don’t want to pave Nutmeg Avenue if we can’t widen the narrow [one-lane] railroad underpass,” said Reed. “Scott [Cline, county engineer] and I have each talked with the railroad. Nothing is scheduled about the underpass.
“But why put a hard surface road down if in the future we’ll have to tear it up to widen the underpass?” Reed said. “I can’t see paving Nutmeg, except right there, in front of the Leahy’s property. And we can do Osage. We can do a TIF [Tax Increment Financing], so Heartland has to pay for it.”
Supervisor Becky Schmitz said her thoughts were similar to Reed’s.
“I know Osage Avenue is pretty heavily traveled,” said Schmitz. “It makes sense. We’ve heard a lot of discussion about dust. Paving that, and a section of Nutmeg, will help with dust.
“I’ve talked with farmers, and it’s not clear that farmers will use Nutmeg Avenue more than now. Most will probably take the bypass,” she said.
“I’m a pragmatic person,” said Schmitz. “We need to consider a TIF as it’s more of a benefit to the county than to Heartland Co-op because it provides a higher percentage of taxes for road use. A one-year abatement has been standard.”
Supervisor Lee Dimmitt said he did not want to extend a TIF for 20 years as first stated in a Memorandum of Understanding with Heartland Co-op the supervisors signed in December. He asked Adam Plagge, executive director of FEDA, if the county could escrow the funds the first year or so to provide an opportunity to look at other funding.
Plagge said once the urban renewal district was established and TIF funds collected, the money could be escrowed.
“I’m thinking to pave the portion of Nutmeg Avenue with a debt service levy and use the TIF only for Osage Avenue,” said Reed. “The debt levy can be used for capital improvements. There won’t be that much more semi traffic. That’s been overestimated here, as well as about county roads falling apart.”
Melanie Carlson, engineer at French-Reneker-Associates Inc., hired to work with the county, said a TIF district can be amended to include different intersections as needed.
Previous discussion among the supervisors has included paving Nutmeg Avenue between Salina Road and Highway 34, and re-doing the intersection of Salina Road and Pleasant Plain Road.
“Once we make a decision which direction we’re going, there will be a public hearing,” Reed said.
Vote to move forward
The supervisors voted unanimously to spend approximately $272,000 in debt levy funds (property taxes) to pave a portion of Nutmeg Avenue from old Highway 34 for 1,000 feet north to include the proposed truck exit from Heartland Co-op property; create a possible 10-year Tax Increment Finance district to pave Osage Avenue at a cost of $2.2 million, subject to review with financial advisor Jeff Heil; and provide a one-year tax abatement incentive to Heartland Co-op.
Heil of Northland Securities Inc. was hired by the supervisors in March to guide them through the financial choices in the project.
During public comment at the board meeting, about 10 people asked the county supervisors to not give Heartland Co-op any financial incentives and to not proceed with any actions until more information was available about the scope and size of the project. Nearly 20 people altogether at Monday’s meeting spoke in opposition to the grain elevator project, while eight people spoke in favor. As one farmer said, some of his friends were on tractors in the field Monday morning, beginning to plant for the season.
Phillips attended an April 7 supervisors meeting and was in Fairfield again meeting with local leaders and FEDA on April 14, including Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy, as well as Jefferson County supervisors Reed and Schmitz, who met Phillips separately so as not to violate open meetings laws.
Plea for cooperation
At the opening of Monday’s meeting, Schmitz read a statement before any community members spoke.
“When I ran for board of supervisors, I had a couple of goals in mind,” she said. “One was helping with mental health issues and another was to facilitate more cooperation between the county and city governments.”
She mentioned the controversy in the mid-1990s when county zoning was discussed; and how roads for Maharishi Vedic City were paved from funds from a TIF district, resulting in two supervisors losing re-election. She said the civic center was a more unifying project.
“The recent weeks have been grueling,” said Schmitz. “A wedge has been driven into the community and exaggerations about Heartland Co-op have been voiced. We’ve tried hard to provide the correct information.
“One of those is about supervisors’ secret meetings; another exaggeration is about the size of the [grain elevator] buildings, and the traffic/truck volume.
“We have just as much responsibility to represent the agricultural community as any others. These decisions are not easy. There’s always someone negatively affected.”
Schmitz said she appreciates the respect afforded to the board of supervisors. She named some of the opposition’s concerns, including dust, increased traffic and road developments.
“Elevator dust and noise will be monitored by the Department of Natural Resources and Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” she said. “We are looking at traffic concerns closely and our best estimate is most trucks will travel on the four-lane.”
Schmitz said the supervisors have been inundated with postcards and emails; so many she hasn’t been able to respond to all of them.
“We can look at this elevator as an eyesore or as growth for our community,” she said. “The uniqueness of our community is at risk because of this divide. We are known for diversity, peace and community.”
Later in Monday’s meeting, Malloy spoke as a member of the audience.
“The first issues I heard about this were concerns about trucks traveling through the city,” he said. “When the bypass was built, Fairfield received a one-time roads improvement fund of $2 million.
“There is a disconnect in this type of hearing,” Malloy said. “The supervisors can only make a decision about funding road improvements for this project. All the comments I’m hearing are more about zoning. And we don’t have a way to express zoning outside city limits.”
Malloy said he agrees with Schmitz about more cooperation between the city and county.
“Hopefully, we can start developing and reviewing how to cooperate,” said Malloy. “We could have a type of review process to determine how to deal with future projects.”
Two people in the audience expressed apologies Monday.
“I apologize for referring to Heartland Co-op as a for-profit company,” said Keith DeVore. “It is a co-op.”
He went on to discuss the financial aspects of improving county roads for grain truck use.
“A TIF is not a financially sound way to go,” he said. “The county should not create a TIF. Heartland has negotiated with the railroad for four years; it seems clear they plan to come here. They do not need any incentives.”
Roger Leahy apologized for distributing information in the community comparing the height of the Jefferson County Courthouse and the proposed grain silos disproportionately.
“I had a discussion with Todd Phillips after the [April 7] meeting,” said Leahy. “I asked for details and pictures and I was told the design is proprietary. He told me the silos would be 220 feet tall.”
The height is now known to be 150 feet for the silos, with the grain arm/piping to reach the height of 220 feet.
Leahy said 1,300 community residents signed a petition in one week to ask the supervisors to not rush into any agreements.
“We have no industries developed on the east side of town, but we do have half a dozen homes there,” he said. “It’s a finite benefit [to build the elevator] and we could have a big loss.”
Some comments were about the dangers of grain fires and explosions and Fairfield’s lack of ability to deal with such a disaster.
“We are trained for grain elevator fires,” said Scott Vaughan, Fairfield fire chief. “We haven’t trained on one this size. Our aerial truck reaches 85 feet, but you can’t purchase one that reaches 150 feet. Heartland tells me it will have steps to get us up that high if needed. As for water supply, it will be available. We are doing pre-planning and will train for this. We will work with Heartland.”