Impact of Heartland on roads, noise pollution discussed
Public comments at the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday supported, opposed and questioned the county’s intent to welcome Heartland Co-op building a new grain storage facility with road and rail access at Highway 34 and Nutmeg Avenue.
For the second consecutive week, it was standing-room only in the second floor courtroom, with at least 90 people attending.
Supervisor chairman Dick Reed told the audience the board would conduct its regular meeting and allow public comment near the end of the agenda, as it does each week.
Heartland Co-op executive vice president of grain and risk management, Todd Phillips, was called up from the audience for a brief period to sit with the supervisors.
Monday was the second time a representative from Heartland Co-op attended a supervisors meeting; the first meeting was in mid-December when Phillips and CEO/general manager Tom Hauschel came to Fairfield to propose a 4.4 million bushel storage capacity grain elevator. Audience members did not have the opportunity to ask Phillips questions directly on Monday.
Supervisor Becky Schmitz voiced some of the concerns she’s heard from the community. She asked Phillips if any environmental studies had been done at any of Heartland Co-op’s 63 Iowa locations. In the past few weeks, community members have expressed concern about genetically modified organism dust from grain transfers at the proposed facility.
“Regarding dust, we adhere to the industry standards,” said Phillips. “It will be a state-of the-art facility. It’s a one-of-a-kind design.”
Later, in a phone call, Phillips said the concrete portion of the grain elevator proposed for Fairfield is a proprietary Heartland design.
“It’s where most of the loading and unloading of grain will take place,” he said.
Reed asked Phillips what he thought about waiting on upgrading Nutmeg Avenue until the railroad underpass could be widened to two lanes, and upgrading Osage Avenue first.
“Both roads are very important to our project,” said Phillips. “Both are farm-to-market roads [a federal designation] which already have a lot of truck traffic.”
Phillips said he’s heard community members ask about locating the facility farther east of Fairfield.
“If we moved farther east, the north/south trucks [hauling grain to the elevator] would have to cross railroad tracks,” said Phillips. “East/west trucks would have to travel across Highway 34.
“Nutmeg Avenue is a top priority over Osage Avenue. We chose this location based on safety.”
Phillips also addressed concerns about traffic volume.
“The majority of east/west trucks will use Highway 34,” he said. “The majority coming from the north will come down Salina Road to Nutmeg Avenue. It will be two to three years before we’re up and fully running, but I would estimate 14,000 to 18,000 trucks annually using our facility. It will have some impact on Nutmeg Avenue, but not as much as some have projected.”
Schmitz said some people are concerned about increasing traffic through town.
“There might be an increase,” said Phillips. “But if Nutmeg Avenue is improved, it will relieve some of that.”
Schmitz also asked about noise pollution.
“There’s always a certain amount of noise,” said Phillips. “Heartland Co-op is progressive. We are good corporate citizens and want to be good neighbors. It’s a two-way working relationship. I don’t believe the noise levels will be burdensome.”
After Phillips returned to his seat in the audience, Reed passed a microphone around the audience for comments. Reed said speakers were limited to two minutes, that there would be no debating among audience members and asked the audience to forego clapping and cheering.
Carolyn Duszynski said she was concerned about environmental issues the grain facility could present.
“I also am concerned with the county taking economic risks,” she said. “Why do we have to give something away to get a business?”
Duszynski was referring to discussion about a Tax Increment Finance district to capture property tax revenue to pay for county road improvements.
Paul Glossop said two constituencies were present at the meeting and the only ones benefiting from the proposed grain elevator would be the farmers.
“The others here are concerned about our planet,” he said. “It’s not what I’d consider a self-contained project. It will have health effects for the community.”
Dennis Argyle said he felt nervous about the project because questions were not answered.
“Becky Schmitz asked about environmental studies done previously and got no answer,” said Argyle. “Ask it again. And what would be the decibel level [of noise]? Maybe if upgrading Nutmeg Avenue is so important, we should make it a toll road so users pay for it.”
Tracy Diehl said she lives on Salina Road and frequently uses Nutmeg Avenue.
“I would not appreciate a toll road,” she said. “I’m from northern Iowa and my family are farmers. This is Iowa. All the little towns in northern Iowa have grain elevators in the middle of town. This is unique — it’s going to be outside of town. I hear questions about noise pollution and no peer-review studies about GMO dust. This is Iowa, with corn and soybeans; 90 percent of land is in agriculture and 71 percent of land in Jefferson County is agriculture. Iowa has some of the most productive soils to grow crops. I see no reason to hinder this project. “
Roger Leahy said he and other family members have three homes next to Overland Sheepskin Company along business Highway 34 and Nutmeg Avenue.
“We’ve paid a half-million dollars in property taxes throughout the 30 years we’ve been here,” he said. “I understand the county has no zoning. I don’t like tax dollars going to this. I don’t see any gain in employment in this.
“We didn’t ask for help when we located here. We still have our New Mexico location and may have to move back there if our quality of life goes down. I’m asking the supervisors to not support this,” said Leahy.
Crystal Castle asked what impact having 110 railroad cars being loaded will have on the area.
Heartland Co-op anticipates signing an agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad May 19; Heartland will build a railroad loop track onto its location that will accommodate 100 to 110 railroad cars parked for a week. When all cars have been loaded, they will rejoin a train on the main tracks for shipment of grain.
Barbara Stone said she is a local organic farm manager and is concerned with dust drift onto other locations, and asked for an environmental health study.
“Heartland is a for-profit company,” said Keith DeBoer. “Why would we subsidize a company? I feel as a small community we are being duped.”
Terry Smith called for an economic impact study, environmental studies and cost estimates for road maintenance.
“We all drive on the roads,” said Smith. “Offering a financial incentive through a TIF district is a guessing game for what’s best for the county. And you can bypass the community with a TIF.
“We should really know the impact of siting it at this location. If you really want to be good neighbors, put noise levels and dust levels in writing,” said Smith.
Gary Adams said he lives on Salina Road at Nutmeg Avenue.
“People are getting way over-excited,” he said. “This elevator will have centrifugal fans taking care of dust. My combine creates more dust than this elevator. These roads need paving and Heartland is paving them for free.”
Other public comments were about the volume of trucks using the roads and the cost of road maintenance; air pollution from semi-trucks; water quality issues; hours of operation at the grain elevator and whether lights would be used for night operation.
“We really ought to take a road-trip,” said Pat Hammes. “We should all visit one of Heartland’s other facilities and sit and watch for an hour.
“I’ve sat on the economic development board for years.
“Most trucks will use Highway 34,” said Hammes. “This isn’t about GMOs, this is about economic development. Go take a look at other facilities. This will be a mile out of town. Everybody can calm down. It’s about moving forward.”
Gregory Mitchell said he felt the possible negatives of the project were not being given consideration.
Jerry Nelson said he farms in Jefferson County, and his father and grandfather farmed. He is a school board member in Fairfield.
“We’re getting way off the subject on GMO concerns,” he said.
Nelson said the school district would be fine with its finances in a TIF district for the grain elevator.
Another farmer, Mike Ledger, said the discussion had turned to personal agendas.
“It’s up to the supervisors to take care of county roads,” said Ledger. “As far as land values … nobody really cared when [building] Maharishi Vedic City lowered my land values, and then there’s the pundit campus which lowered values further.”
Marcia Hansen faced the audience and said forcefully, “Shame on Heartland Co-op for doing this to Jefferson County. There is lots of dissension here and I can’t believe you say you’re good neighbors when you haven’t talked with the Leahys. The best thing about this issue is I’m getting to know my neighbors. The Leahys have offered to purchase the [Heartland Co-op site] land at fair market value. Farmers have been promised a price premium on grain. Put it in writing.”
Reed stopped her at the two-minute limit, though she said she had more to say.
The board of supervisors received a letter of support for the grain elevator from Jefferson County Farm Bureau and one from Fairfield Economic Development Association.
Phillips said in a phone call he was aware of opposition to the project, but he mainly attended Monday’s meeting to hear financial advisor Jeff Heil [mentioned in story in Monday’s Ledger] and to talk with the board of supervisors.