Tyson asks to buy county land, move section of Raccoon River Valley Trail

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The plan Tyson Fresh Meats first presented in July 2016 to the Dallas County Conservation Board included moving a smaller section of the Raccoon River Valley Trail and clearing and grading the property east of the plant to W. 10th Street.

Representatives of the Tyson corporation pitched a plan to the Dallas County Conservation Board this week for relocating a section of the Raccoon River Bike Trail (RRVT) as part of the hog processor’s expansion and reorganization of its Perry plant.

Mike Grothe, plant manager of the Tyson Fresh Meats operation near Perry, and James Eckhardt, senior managing engineer at the Tyson Foods Inc. South Dakota offices, presented the five-member conservation board with maps and preliminary plans for the changes, which have two parts.

One phase of the project would relocate northward a section of the RRVT where it passes Tyson’s on the plant’s north side. A second phase would buy or lease county property east of the plant and use it for semi-tractor trailer parking.

Moving the bike trail further north of the Tyson plant would give semi-tractor trailers room to back into the loading docks on the north side of the Tyson factory.

“They would be empty coming in,” Grothe said, “and they would back into these areas to load.”

“The bike trail is on our back side, and it’s not the area we’re most proud of,” Grothe said. “We want to upgrade that area, so if we can put trees across there and plant that to make it look better, that’s our goal.”

Tyson Fresh Meats' two-part proposal would make room for semi-tractor trailers to back up to loading docks on the plant's north side and also extended the area east of the plant for trailer parking.
Tyson Fresh Meats’ two-part proposal would make room for semi-tractor trailers to back up to loading docks on the plant’s north side and also extend the area east of the plant for trailer parking. Source: Google Earth

Grothe told the conservation board other arrangements were considered, but “a simpler solution for us — and this is why we’re here — is if we could just reposition this bike trail and move it out, what is it, 40 feet?”

Moving the trail northward would mean building on the brownfield property owned by the city of Perry.

“I’ve talked with Sven the city manager,” said Mike Wallace, executive director of the Dallas County Conservation Board, “and of course he doesn’t speak for the council, but no red flags popped up on why they couldn’t work with us on moving the trail north.”

Wallace noted Perry’s brownfield area is poorly graded and does not drain well.

“It’s a marshy mess,” Wallace said. “So it would be a little extra work involved, I would think, in grading and creating a proper base to put a trail bed on.” He said the relocation should pose no problem “as long as you’ve got specs and designs to follow.”

Eckhardt said the preliminary plan calls for rebuilding about 725 feet of the bike trail. He said his office is not licensed in Iowa as an engineering firm, so an Iowa company would be hired to design the project, such as Snyder and Associates, the engineers who originally built the RRVT.

The second part of the Tyson proposal calls for buying or leasing a portion of Dallas County property lying east of the slaughterhouse, clearing and regrading it and using it for additional semi-tractor trailer parking.

“We’re out of room for trailers and do need more trailer storage,” Grothe said. “Our trailers are down around Peters, and we’ve outgrown that area, so this just helps us on the receiving and the moving of the trailers. It helps us with our flow, with organizing things and making things better.”

Tyson Fresh Meats proposes buying or leasing a parcel of land east of the plant in order to expand their area for trailer parking. Trailers already occupy a portion of the county ground.
Tyson Fresh Meats proposes buying or leasing a parcel of Dallas County property east of the plant, the shaded area on the map, in order to expand their area for trailer parking. Trailers already occupy a portion of the county ground. Source: Dallas County GIS

Grothe said when he looked at the plat maps for Tyson Fresh Meats, he found some of the company’s trailers are already parked on county ground.

“I did not know that,” he said. “It surprised me, to be quite honest with you.”

Grothe said the additional parking would extend eastward to W. 10th Street. He said the parking extension is not a signal the factory has plans to beef up its production or add a third shift.

“It’s not increasing any production or anything,” he said. “We’re going to change our process for bringing hogs up the the slaughter floor. It adds a little building on but doesn’t add any people on or increase any volume.”

Tyson Fresh Meats currently employs about 1,100 people at the Perry plant and processes about 8,500 hogs daily.

“We don’t change anything” with the extended parking, he said. “We leave the fence where it’s at. We would propose that we put a privacy fence there, and we would bring this up to grade. We would clean it up, and we would rock it so would could put trailers in that area.”

Grothe summarized the proposal for the conservation board members, including plans for trees and a privacy fence along the northern property line.

“What our proposal would be is that we would pay to have this brought to grade, bring it up even with the existing bike trail, clean up everything that’s in this area, put a privacy fence around it that would tie back into the fence and then bring our privacy fence — the same thing — all the way down along there,” Grothe said, showing board members a preliminary plan of the project.

“And then landscape it,” Eckhardt said. “The trees that we’d take out would be replaced and the area cleaned up. The purpose of that would be so we could bring tractor trailers in, and they could pull in to the north and then back in to the south.”

“And that in a nutshell is what we’re looking for,” Grothe said, “and as I said to Mike (Wallace), we’re looking for options. I’m not sure what’s all involved in it and what it would cost us. We can certainly put the costs together for all this, and we would pay for all that. Then it just comes down to if we get the approval to do that.”

Rich Voelker, the Snyder and Associates engineer who has built numerous trails around Iowa, including the Raccoon River Valley Trail, also attended Tuesday’s meeting. His back-of-the-envelope calculation of the cost of moving and rebuilding the section of trail north of Tyson’s was about $50,000.

“From our perspective, all we really want is the specs,” Eckhardt said. “We would take care of the costs ourselves.”

Grothe said Tyson’s would “either want to purchase it or whatever our options are.”

The abandoned railroad lines comprised by Dallas County’s portion of the RRVT are involved in the system of railbanking, defined by the National Trails System Act as a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and a trail agency to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service.

Under the rules of railbanking, railroad companies retain a perpetual reversionary interest in the abandoned lines. In other words, the bike trails could be reclaimed for use as railroad lines at some future time. Railbanking complicates the sale of the old rail beds.

Dallas County Conservation Board member Jim Miller of rural Waukee noted that leasing the land to Tyson Fresh Meats would avoid the railbanking complications that would crop up if the county tried to transfer the land with a quitclaim deed.

Board Chairperson Mark Powell of Dallas Center asked what benefit, “apart from being a good neighbor to Tyson,” would be gained by the county in cooperating with the expansion plan.

“It’s a visual thing,” Wallace said. He said the area could be beautified by the proposed improvements. The board made no decision at Tuesday’s meeting but expressed an interest in further exploring the proposal.

Speaking after the meeting, Grothe said he found the Dallas County Conservation Board “cordial” and “receptive” to the project, and he praised the board for its accomplishments with the RRVT.

“They’ve really done a fantastic job of getting the system of bike trails up and running, and it’s just great,” he said. “I have friends from all over the state who want to come to this area just because of that bike trail system.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. First off, I want to see an environmental impact study for the entire proposal. Depending upon the findings of that study, I might be for approving the project provided Tyson pays for every red cent for not only their own improvements but for the new trail and the environmental study as well. If Tyson absorbs all the costs for everything involved, fine.

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