Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 22, 2014

Opposition to co-op frustrates supervisors

By DIANE VANCE, Ledger staff writer | Jun 16, 2014

The bottom line is that Heartland Co-op grain storage facility is going to happen, it’s not going to move its location and has already begun building, Jefferson County Board of Supervisors chairman Dick Reed said today.

Reed was expressing some frustration during public comments at today’s regular board of supervisors meeting.

Eva Norlyck Smith asked about the scope of the Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy grant and the county conducting a traffic study on roads to the site of the Heartland Co-op at Nutmeg Avenue and Highway 34 east of Fairfield.

Norlyck Smith, listed as secretary of the nonprofit organization Alliance for Healthy Economic and Agricultural Development in Iowa on its website, said today she had read the narrative requirements for a RISE grant and wanted to know if the grant writer knew the proposed Heartland Co-op facility would be a Group 2 facility and whether AHEAD-Iowa’s concern about increased traffic bringing grain to the elevator would be included in grant application.

“Chris Kukla is the grant writer with Area 15 Regional Planning, and it’s his profession to write grant applications,” said supervisor Lee Dimmitt.

Reed told Norlyck Smith she was welcome to contact Kukla herself.

He also said he might have to limit her remarks during the public comments of the meeting and restrict her to only speaking at a public hearing.

Jefferson County intends to apply for an Iowa Department of Transportation RISE grant. Adam Plagge, director of Fairfield Economic Development Association, said the grant could pay up to 50 percent of the total costs to pave a portion of Nutmeg Avenue and Osage Avenue with state funds.

“IDOT asked the county to submit an application for a RISE grant,” said Dimmitt.

Norlyck Smith pointed out that Heartland Co-op (vice president Todd Phillips) had estimated 18,000 annual semi trucks hauling grain to the Jefferson County elevator.

“Heartland’s application to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources indicates this facility will have the capacity to ship 20 million bushels of corn and 12 million bushels of beans per year,” said Norlyck Smith. “That capacity could mean two-to-three-times as much truck traffic.”

Dimmitt said he keeps reading that statistic.

“That is if the facility is operating at full capacity,” he said. “When applying for permits, you always apply for a larger capacity.

“And in my estimation, you are making a statement that all those trucks will be on Nutmeg Avenue,” said Dimmitt. “I think we’ll see very little increase on Nutmeg Avenue.”

The county plans to pave only the southern-most portion of Nutmeg Avenue that will allow grain haulers to drive on pavement instead of gravel to enter the Heartland Co-op facility.

Since the railroad has not responded positively to upgrade the one-lane underpass further north on Nutmeg Avenue, the supervisors decided to not pave the entire length of the road.

Norlyck Smith said when Cambridge Investments was going to build its facility on Pleasant Plain Road, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors in 2008 had conducted a traffic study.

Reed asked Norlyck Smith what her bottom line of questioning was.

“What difference will a traffic study make?” he asked. “You’ve talked with us individually, you’ve addressed us here in public comments. What will a traffic study tell you that is going to make any difference?

“Nutmeg is not going to change that much,” said Reed. “In the same way we have a professional grant writer, we have professionals assessing traffic. But the county is not going to conduct a traffic study. If you look at the maps, traffic to the north of us, in the middle, will either take Pleasant Plain Road, Highway 1 or Nutmeg Avenue. Other traffic is going to take Brookville Road or Germanville Road to the by-pass.

“What are you going to do [if a traffic study was conducted] with the information? What changes with that information? It’s the county’s job to take care of roads. Heartland is going to build, and we’re going to take care of the roads.”

Norlyck Smith said the more information available, the more informed a decision could be made, potentially before the facility is built.

“We don’t have the mechanism to stop Heartland from building,” said Dimmitt. “It’s already here. And it’s good economic development. Yes, it may only be providing six permanent jobs, but there could be other jobs spun off from this development.”

“We understood the impact of the gravel road [Nutmeg Avenue] and we tried to mitigate that [by proposing to pave all of Nutmeg] at a cost of $2.8 million,” said Reed. “We were met with tremendous resistance.

“I asked your other representative [Keith DeBoer] here a few weeks ago, even if the underpass was fixed, would your group still be against paving all of Nutmeg Avenue? And the answer was yes.

“We keep having this same conversation,” said Reed. “Heartland was more willing to help with infrastructure, but now they are paying legal fees for lawsuits and spending lots of money on that.”

Overland Sheepskin Company and members of the Leahy family, which owns a business and four residences on 80 acres across Nutmeg Avenue from the grain elevator site, filed temporary and permanent injunctions against Heartland Co-op in April. The case will be heard in Jefferson County Court beginning Sept. 30.

“I don’t think this arm-wrestling over the matter is good for Jefferson County,” said Reed.

“This is a good place to speak, because the media picks it up and bad news is bigger than good news,” said Reed. “This is bad publicity for the county and it makes it more difficult to attract other economic development.

“Heartland is going to build and the county will take care of the roads,” Reed said to Norlyck Smith. “I think you care about this county, in a different light than I do. This has always been a very good community, let’s not spoil it.”

Norlyck Smith said the implication seemed to be that she was there to resist Heartland Co-op’s building and make the supervisors’ lives miserable.

“That is incorrect,” she said. “Our concern is that not all the facts have been correct. Our position is get all the facts out on the table.”

Audience member Kathy Jaffery asked what other types of jobs Dimmitt referred to that might spring up in conjunction with the grain elevator.

“I don’t think we’ll see any now,” said Dimmitt. “Because of this controversy it’s driven out any other interests.”

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