Woman arrested during supervisors meeting MondayDiscussion on Heartland Co-op becomes heated, leads to charges of disorderly conduct
Eileen Dannemann, attending Monday’s Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meeting, asked why the board had approved a Tax Increment Financing district for Heartland Co-op when not everything about the project was known to the supervisors.
She said the board should not ignore safety issues and truck traffic volume.
Dannemann became argumentative with Supervisor Lee Dimmitt and he asked Supervisor Becky Schmitz, who was chairing Monday’s meeting in Dick Reed’s absence, to ask Dannemann to stop talking.
Dannemann said she and many people were angry.
Schmitz did tell her to stop, and also previously before public comments were allowed, Schmitz had to tell Dannemann to stop talking in the meeting.
Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton, attending the meeting to keep order, addressed Dannemann, telling her to keep order at a public meeting.
She challenged Morton who promised to escort her out of the supervisors’ boardroom. Dannemann asked where they would go.
“To jail,” Morton said.
Dannemann stood, spoke loudly that she might as well go. Morton escorted her out of the meeting with no resistance, though Dannemann did curse.
Today, the sheriff’s office confirmed Dannemann was arrested Monday on disorderly conduct charges.
In a news release provided to supervisors Monday, a local group, Alliance for Healthy Economic Agricultural Development, known as AHEAD-Iowa, asked the board to address long-term safety and traffic concerns with the development of Heartland Co-op’s grain elevator facility.
“Any urban development plan the county develops must create a net gain for all Jefferson County residents,” said Keith DeBoer, vice president of AHEAD-Iowa, in the news release. “Our organization opposes public support for projects designed to benefit a private company such as Heartland Co-op while overlooking associated costs to taxpayers.”
The press release outlined one of the key concerns of the newly formed group is the safety of the railroad underpass on Nutmeg Avenue, a north-south arterial road used now by farmers with traffic likely to increase with the location of the grain elevator at Nutmeg Avenue and Highway 34.
Monday, DeBoer said he was a concerned citizen and had never attended a county board meeting before the Heartland Co-op plans became known.
“I’m impressed with the work the supervisors do each week and the openness you’ve provided,” he said. “Our long-term goal is to address concerns about such projects as Heartland’s and any others going forward.
“The community’s net loss includes road damage and decreased air quality. The elevator will only create six new jobs. We have concerns about safety and we’d like to have input on the development plan.”
DeBoer introduced attorney James Larew, hired by AHEAD-Iowa to represent its concerns.
“This group, with 900 members in the first few weeks, at its core, wants to support farmers and agriculture,” said Larew addressing the board. “The group would just like it to relocate. It would like to have a part in the development agreement. It would like to negotiate, find some way to have community input. The most efficient way is to have that input at the front end rather than after problems arise.”
Larew said the railroad underpass is a vulnerable point in the project. The structure is 114 years old. The county engineer’s report said an inspection rated it 4 on a scale of 9 as the highest, 1 the lowest.
“Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has no plans to upgrade that bridge,” said Larew. “Might I suggest the railroad is a silent partner in this project? It definitely wants the elevator. The railroad is sitting on the sidelines. It ought to be invited in.
“Heartland had to have the railroad vouch for its infrastructure requirements, it’s public record. Could the county require some conditions?”
Larew said it seems an upgrade to the underpass will be paid for one way or another.
“AHEAD-Iowa’s wish is for Heartland to locate somewhere else,” he said. “But Plan B — the board should have direct negotiations from the beginning with BNSF or have Heartland impose on BNSF to do something.”
Larew said he has sent letters to Congressman Tom Latham, chairman of Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Congressman Dave Loebsack and Iowa Department of Transportation about safety concerns for the underpass.
“It’s not just a local issue,” said Larew. “How can entities with so much capital take no action regarding public interests? This should be addressed at the front end so that this county is not left holding the bag.”
Fairfield Economic Development Association executive director Adam Plagge said the development plan the supervisors and he discussed Monday at the meeting had no negotiations involved.
“The plan states what has already been agreed upon,” said Plagge.
Dimmitt said the supervisors have contacted BNSF.
“It’s intent is not to do anything in the near future,” said Dimmitt. “If you have some mechanism to spur the railroad to action, let’s hear it. We’ve spent two years getting a closed crossing open.
“One reason we’re not paving all of Nutmeg Avenue is it would at some point have to be torn up to repair that underpass,” said Dimmitt. “I’m open to suggestions. This board and Heartland have no leverage.”
Larew said public pressure coming to bear on the railroad could help.
“The underpass has been a concern of ours since the beginning,” said Schmitz. “We’ve had no luck with responses from the railroad.”
Larew said he and AHEAD-Iowa are interested in protecting the community and a pressure point with the railroad needs to be found.
“If we were successful in convincing the railroad to do something about it, would AHEAD-Iowa be in favor of paving all of Nutmeg Avenue?” said Dimmitt.
Larew reiterated the group prefers relocating the proposed grain elevator.
“I understand this site was
chosen partially because there’s no at-grade rail crossing,” said Larew. “There has to other places in the county or in the surrounding six counties where it could go. It’s false economics to allow the volume of traffic on roads already needing repair. Could this not be placed elsewhere?”
Dimmit said that was a question for Heartland Co-op.
“They are the ones who bought the property and registered the deeds,” he said. “I’ll infer from your not answering my question the group would not be in favor of paving Nutmeg.”
Larew said he is retained to help AHEAD-Iowa in getting the elevator relocated.
“Our clients feel not everything has been transparent,” he said.
Schmitz said she appreciates the help of the community in finding more reports and information, especially about the railroad.
AHEAD-Iowa spokesperson told the supervisors Dannemann did not represent the group or speak for them.