BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEVER – The Iowa Fertilizer Company has requested an immediate closure to the Hwy 61 and 180th Street crossover.
In a letter dated July 24, Darrell Allman, the managing director at IFC, asked the Iowa Department of Transportation that, due to traffic safety concerns, IFC believes the median crossover at Highway 61 and 180th street should be closed immediately and without any further delay.
Allman outlined in the letter that IFC would be willing to spend up to $50,000 to do a study on costs, timing, and any potential issues associated with creating a northbound acceleration lane and the expansion of 180th Street approach to Hwy 61.
The letter also goes on to outline that IFC would consider “helping to pay for some of the costs for these two changes,” provided that all of the costs were identified and approved, but if that course of action was not acceptable to the IDOT then they would have to revert 180 back to gravel.
Lee County Engineer Ernie Steffensmeier said as part of IFC’s agreement with Lee County they are obligated to restore the road to its original condition after the construction phase, as the roadway is owned by the county.
“They were spending $30,000 a month maintaining that gravel road when they were in construction so they just paved it to save them some money, but under our agreement they would revert it back to gravel,” Steffensmeier said.
Jim Armstrong, district engineer with IDOT’s District 5 Highway Division, said Tuesday he received a copy of the letter on the 28th and his office was discussing it internally.
“We’re anticipating meeting with IFC to discuss this further,” he said. “There has been no action taken on the closure and I’m still waiting on that discussion here to see if that meeting can be arranged.”
Armstrong said the letter is just another added value to the ongoing conversations.
“Everyone should understand that there is a controlled intersection at this location. This is a request to control movement by the fertilizer plant,” Armstrong said.
Lee County Supervisor Gary Folluo said the board is holding to its original statement that the crossover should remain opened.
“We sent a letter to them stating that we would like that closure to remain open,” Folluo said.
Folluo said the he hasn’t had any conversations with other supervisors about the letter but said the board’s going to have to discuss if there have been any changes.
Lee County Supervisors typically have a workshop following the regular meetings and Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise asked Hunold, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Board Chairman Rick Larkin, if the board wanted to discuss the letter.
Hunold said he would prefer to wait until Larkin returned to discuss it.
I guess I can understand what (IFC is) trying to do, but I’m looking from the county’s perspective and we should leave that alone,” Hunold said. “If they want to do the study, I’m ok with that but it’s no way a green light to put that (closure) in. The folks down there would like to leave it alone and see how it goes.”
Hunold said he hopes IFC can see the county’s position on the closure and said the Rise Road was constructed to give truck drivers a safe path in and out of the facility.
“I would hope they would understand our position. If you build a $10 million road, you probably should use it.”
IFC officials said drivers are not employees of IFC and once products are loaded onto a truck, the facility cannot control which path they take.
According to Jesse Harris, a spokesman for IFC, the facility is encouraging truck drivers to use the Rise Road.
“We strongly encourage trucks to use the Rise Road, and the overwhelming majority of them do take this route,” Harris said. “However, there are approximately 300 trucks in and out of the facility every day now that production is underway. Even the small handful of trucks that are using 180th Street could potentially create an issue. That is what we are working with the county and DOT to address. We believe the best way to ensure safety in the area and further maximize the use of the Rise Road is to close the crossover intersection at 180th Street and Highway 61.”
He said truck drivers are not employees of the company and once the trucks are loaded and leave the facility they are on public roads and can choose whatever roads they like.
“This is why IFCo, the county, and the Iowa Department of Transportation are discussing how we can work together to ensure the continued safety of those traveling through the area, whether that is the expansion of 180th Street, a new acceleration lane on Highway 61, or the closure of the crossover intersection at Highway 61 and 180th Street,” he said.
“Since Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCo) started construction in Wever, our number one priority has been the safety of the community, its residents, our employees, and the individuals and families traveling through the area. Throughout that time, we have worked closely with Lee County and the Iowa Department of Transportation to discuss safety issues and we look forward to continuing those conversations now as truck traffic around the plant has increased.”