Nutmeg underpass subject of board discussion
Jefferson County Supervisor Lee Dimmitt said Heartland Co-op has the same rights as anyone else who purchases land in the county.
The county does not have zoning laws.
“This board has been called liars and other descriptive terms,” Dimmitt said Monday during the hour-plus public comments period at the weekly Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meeting.
“This is my first foray into creating a Tax Increment Financing district, though the county has used TIF before — to build roads in Maharishi Vedic City. This has been a learning process for us,” said Dimmitt. “And that is why we hire experts, because we trust their expertise. I am a layman in these areas.”
The board has hired Marsha Corey to draw up an urban development plan and business attorney Pat Martin to review the plan. The attorney’s fee is estimated to be between $2,000 to $5,000.
County engineer Scott Cline addressed facts about the Nutmeg Avenue underpass owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad because it was brought up in several conversations as a concern.
“In this year’s bridge report, it says it was built in 1900, and in my experience, that means they don’t know the exact date,” said Cline. “The railroad also has its own inspection team. The structure could have been modified since it was built, or it could not have, we don’t know. The structure is rated in several areas. Some of the other numbers in the report are above 4.”
In February, Cline reported to the supervisors the bridge consultants reported the structure rated a 4 overall out of 9.
“A rating of 4 means we should keep an eye on it, but it’s scored a 4 in the past few inspections, which could be six to eight years, and it’s still usable,” Cline said in February. “It does indicate a poor condition. This was a cursory review.”
“It’s a one-lane, 15-foot-8-inches height clearance under the bridge,” said Cline. “It has no horizontal clearance, cracks were noted in the sides but not on top, and it’s leaking and leaching.”
Dimmitt said no one opposed having the underpass replaced.
“I support that regardless of Heartland building here or not,” he said.
Carole Simmons, treasurer of the newly formed community group Alliance for Healthy Economic and Agricultural Development, told the board of supervisors AHEAD-Iowa was encouraged that the county did not go for a 10-year TIF district.
“We want to continue to work together,” she said.
Keith DeBoer, vice president of AHEAD-Iowa, said the 900-member organization doesn’t see the county board as adversaries.
“I see that,” said Dimmitt.
“This room is not filled with residents who disagree with you, those that support having Heartland here,” said Dimmitt. “Your opposition is vocal, but that doesn’t mean what you consider best for the community is what we consider best. We arrive at decisions with great difficulty. There isn’t anything being done here under the table. I’ve spent four to five hours with some individuals to explain this project and our process.
“Both sides are passionate about this.”
Audience member Doug Bricker said the issue has so much controversy because no one knew about the project until about two months ago.
“Has the board done a feasibility study on traffic or about the railroad?” he said.
Supervisor Becky Schmitz said the board of supervisors follows the law in publishing notices and agendas about meetings before the meetings.
“It’s a legal requirement and we budget for it,” she said. “This project has been a process. We’ve held numerous conversations in public meetings since December. We’ve discussed roads and traffic with our county engineer Scott Cline at these meetings.
“We don’t have every piece of information we’d like to have.”
Dimmitt said he’s not personally seen a feasibility study.
“Logically, nobody invests in a $20 million project without some kind of study,” he said.
Bricker asked if the board has requested to view any studies. Dimmitt said he had not.
“Early on, when Tracy Vance was still the Fairfield Economic Development Association director, he asked me to meet with Todd and Tom, and they were asking for a lot of concessions. They made the public announcement in December,” said Dimmitt.
Todd Phillips, executive vice president and grain and risk management director at Heartland Co-op, and Tom Hauschel, CEO and general manager of Heartland Co-op, attended the Dec. 16 board of supervisors meeting and announced their proposal to build a grain storage facility at Fairfield.
“I don’t think the board tried to hide anything,” said Dimmitt. “We’ve provided information as we’ve received it. We may have failed in not asking more comprehensive questions.”
Attorney James Larew, legal counsel for AHEAD-Iowa, asked the board to consider his remarks as friendly.
“We’re trying to think with you,” he said. “If the facility locates here and the underpass gets more deteriorated, to a 3 rating, you’ll have to close it. That brings more traffic through town. We’re just asking you don’t use a boilerplate agreement in drafting the urban development plan. Customize it.”
Cline said the underpass would not be affected by trucks passing through it but by the trains traveling across it above.
Audience member Steve Ulicny said his area of expertise is quality of life.
“See if people are happy,” he said. “Industry never looks out for the good of people or for quality of life. It’s not unreasonable to look at regional planning.”
Dimmitt said when subdivisions rules changed the corn suitability rating of land, the county was threatened with lawsuits.
CSR is way to rate the soil’s ability to grow agricultural crops. Land with a higher CSR value is not allowed to be used for building a housing subdivision because it takes land out of the cycle for growing crops.