The Hoopeston Planning Commission met July 16 to consider a proposal by Teasdale Foods for the city to vacate a portion of Lincoln Street from the CSX railroad crossing to First Avenue.
Mel Lollar, Plant Manager, outlined the project for the committee, explaining that the overall goal would be to connect the two buildings on either side of Lincoln Street from First Avenue to the CSX railroad crossing.
Lollar said enclosing the two warehouses together would be primarily for safety issues.
He said they currently move about 30-40 pallet loads via forklift across Lincoln each hour during dayshift and around 20-25 an hour during nightshift.
“That’s a lot of forklift traffic going back and forth across that street,” he said.
Lollar said there haven’t been any accidents involving forklifts and other vehicles, but there have been several near misses.
“There’s not been an accident, but there’s definitely been near misses,” he said.
Truck traffic in the area of Lincoln Street is also a problem that Lollar discussed.
Oftentimes semi-truck drivers will turn down Lincoln to make their way to Teasdale and this has created safety concerns as well as concerns about traffic congestion and property damage.
When truck drivers call in for directions, Lollar said, Teasdale directs them to use Second Avenue to reach the plant.
Unfortunately, he said, most truck drivers don’t contact them for directions and simply rely on GPS systems to bring them to the facility using the most direct path possible which often leads them to use Lincoln Street.
Later in the meeting, Richards said he had stopped two semi-truck drivers that were heading to Teasdale and asked why they were attempting to use Lincoln Street.
He said they confirmed Lollar’s point about driver’s using GPS.
Richards said the truck driver told him that when the truck brokers send out jobs to the drivers they just provide the address and don’t call in to Teasdale to ask for directions.
“Any truck coming from the east, from Indiana or somewhere like that, is going to make that turn on Market Street to Lincoln because that’s what the GPS is telling them to do,” he said.
Richards said trying reach out to all of the different brokers and coordinate a specific route would be difficult for Teasdale to do.
Richards feels that the situation with the semi-trucks needs to be addressed regardless of what happens with Lincoln Street proposal.
“That is one thing that has to be addressed one way or another,” he said.
Angie Kelnhofer asked if there was a way to have the GPS system offer a different route away from Lincoln Street.
Alderman Alex Houmes said there is a website where you can report issues with GPS systems offered by a variety of different providers.
Wise said he tried to fix another issue related to GPS systems involving Penn Street three years ago and, to his knowledge, it still hasn’t been fixed.
Lollar said the trucks have been illegally crossing the railroad crossing on Lincoln Street and blocking off the street would be a way to alleviate that issue.
“We all know those tracks aren’t designed for trucks going across them,” he said. “Hopefully, the Lincoln Street project will create a quieter and a safer environment for the local residents as well as our employees.”
Another motivating factor for the project is to enable Teasdale additional opportunities for growth.
In addition to connecting the two buildings, Lollar said they would plan on installing four truck docks in the new area in order to centralize where truck docks are in relation to where the finished product is thereby allowing them to ship their product out in a more timely fashion.
Lollar said Teasdale’s Hoopeston facility has undergone exponential growth in the last few years.
In 2008, while it was still Hoopeston Foods, the plant handled 3,548,000 cases, whereas in 2018 that number has jumped to 7,145,721 cases being budgeted.
“About a 201 percent increase since that period of time,” Lollar said.
New jobs have been created along with growth.
Since 2013, Lollar said Teasdale has gone from having 153 employees to 235 as of 2018. He said they have 67 temporary staff members who work based on the needs at the time. He also said there are still some full-time positions they are working on filling.
This growth has also meant Teasdale has need to utilize more space.
Up until 2015, Lollar said, the Lincoln Street warehouse was 100 percent leased to Silgan, but now Teasdale utilizes all of it and has leased three warehouses from KBA, with two of them subleased to Silgan.
“We’re definitely growing, we’re definitely needing the space,” he said.
Lollar said they have every intention of continuing to grow from year to year and this project is one way to help enable that growth.
Investment in the Community
A big reason for this growth is the investment Teasdale has made in the Hoopeston facility since they purchased Hoopeston Foods.
Since 2014, Lollar said, Teasdale has invested more money in maintenance and operation supplies at the plant each year and has budgeted $2,874,084 for 2018.
Lollar said many of the parts and supplies used for maintenance and operation are sourced from around the Hoopeston/Danville area.
In addition to this, Lollar highlighted the capital improvements Teasdale has invested in at the Hoopeston facility with more than $6.5 million being spent on capital improvements over the last five years, including $2,777,909 budgeted for 2018.
He said they recently shut down for three weeks and during that time installed a new chain into one of their hydro static cookers to extend the life of it and are in the process of bringing in a new packaging line, both of which will cost more than $1 million.
Lollar said these efforts show that Teasdale is committed to the facility and to Hoopeston.
“The company is reinvesting back into the facility,” he said. “Teasdale Foods is going to be here for the long-term.”
Committee Member Jeff Wise asked Lollar if a traffic study had been performed to determine what kind of effects this proposal would have on the community.
Lollar said Teasdale had not commissioned a traffic study, but had sent out letters to the residents along Lincoln Street asking for their opinion on the proposal. He said there was one response that wanted to keep the street open due to convenience, but had received other responses that were in favor of the proposal.
Wise also asked what Teasdale’s plan was if the proposal didn’t go through.
Lollar said they would continue with operations as they currently are for the time being.
Committee Chairman Jim Richards asked Lollar where Teasdale would look to add warehouse space should there growth continue at pace.
Lollar said their first move would be utilize the KBA warehouse space they have access to and after that would likely involve breaking ground on a new warehouse.
Committee Member Cody Moore asked what percentage of Teasdale’s staff in Hoopeston live in the Hoopeston area.
Excluding temporary employees, Lollar estimated that about 100 percent of the staff are live in the area.
Three residents who live along or own property along Lincoln Street spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Paul Kelnhofer, owner of Paul’s Auto & Truck Repair, owns property along Lincoln Street near the railroad crossing and objected to the plans to close off the street.
“My concern is that it’s going to shut down the availability for me to get to my building from the west,” he said.
With the closure of the Washington Street crossing, Kelnhofer said he will have to travel four blocks additional blocks every time he’s on the west side.
“Which costs time and money,” he said.
Kelnhofer said this extra time would also apply to the response of police to his property, pointing out that they would have to travel an extra distance to get there.
On the subject of police, Kelnhofer asked if police officers will patrol a dead-end road like Lincoln will become as much as they would if the crossing were still open. He suspects that they won’t.
He also pointed out how much foot traffic goes over the crossing at Lincoln, feeling that making people, especially kids, have to go around could present a safety issue for them.
Kelnhofer also objected to the idea that this proposal was based on improving health and safety in the area, feeling instead that the proposal was based more on the desire to grow the Teasdale facility.
Kelnhofer checked with the Hoopeston Police Department records and found that there had been no reported accidents in the section of street that would be closed in the last 20 years.
Kelnhofer said the letters that had been sent out regarding the proposal had emphasized health and safety as the impetus for the project.
Mayor Bill Crusinberry said the letter did include a section stating that the project would also be aimed at allowing further growth at the facility.
“It wasn’t strictly health and safety,” he said.
He also added that Teasdale has only been utilizing that section of street for forklift drivers for the last few years.
Kelnhofer said he wasn’t against Teasdale’s desire to grow, but feels that the people who live in the area are not being given much of a choice under this proposal.
“I’m not against any growth in any business because I am a business, but I feel like this is just getting shoved down all the people in that area’s throat that this is going to happen,” he said.
Kelnhofer said he observed the road for five hours on Friday and counted 22 forklifts that crossed the road and there were 41 cars that went over the track during that time.
“Maybe the traffic don’t mean anything, you can re-route it, that’s not a problem,” he said. “But I do have a problem with that closing Lincoln Street. It will affect my business. Lincoln Street wasn’t closed when I bought my business. If it was, maybe I would have bought somewhere else.”
Kelnhofer also objected to Teasdale saying they had received mostly positive feedback regarding the proposal when he had clearly made his concerns about the road closure known.
“I don’t agree with the fact that you’re saying there’s no opposition when the opposition is there and you’re just not using it,” he said.
Overall, Kelnhofer said he feels that approving the proposal will damage his business simply because of where it is located.
“No matter what happens, I own property there,” he said. “Why should I be penalized for owning property on the other side?”
Angie Kelnhofer, Paul’s wife, raised concerns about the semi-truck traffic and pointed out that the trucks are coming to Teasdale.
“The truck traffic that you’re worried about is your own truck traffic from Teasdale,” she said.
Kelnhofer asked if Teasdale has made an effort on their end to keep the trucks from coming down Lincoln Street.
Beyond that, Kelnhofer asked if steps were going to be put into place, if the proposal was approved, to ensure that the semi-trucks will stop coming down Lincoln.
Lincoln Street resident Kelly Farrell said she didn’t really care whether the road stays open at the crossing or not, but said she sees the positives and negatives of the situation.
Farrell raised concerns about the fire department being able to reach either side of Lincoln in a timely manner because of the closure.
Fire Chief Joel Bird spoke up later in the meeting to quell any misconceptions or concerns about the coverage the fire department provides in the city.
“We have trucks and firemen on both sides of the tracks,” he said. “So any concerns about us not being able to respond anywhere in the city, including Lincoln Street, is not right because we have firemen living on both sides of the tracks and fire engines on both sides of the tracks. We’ve taken great lengths of responsibility to do that for everybody.”
Farrell also raised concerns about the lack of alleyways on the south side of Lincoln, stating that if something were to happen and the road were blocked, they’d have no way out.
“Lincoln Street is a very thin road, there’s not a whole lot of room to back up,” she said.
Apolinar Solis Jr., another Lincoln Street resident, said he uses the Lincoln Street crossing quite often in the course of his daily life and his kids use the crossing to go see family on the other side.
“I use that road a lot,” he said. “I do see a lot of traffic all day using that road.”
He also commented on the lack of usable alley’s for traffic and the issue it presents.
Solis said he understands the concerns about semi-trucks using the road because of the danger it presents to the kids in the neighborhood.
He said having the crossing open allows the trucks to just continue down Lincoln Street to First Avenue rather than forcing them to try and back out or maneuver down an alleyway.
If the city does close Lincoln, Solis asked if there could be an alley created from Lincoln to Maple Street.
Crusinberry said the area they’re discussing is a CSX right-of-way that the city provides minimal care and maintenance for such as snow removal and hole-patching occasionally.
As for putting in an alley, Crusinberry said the city would have enter into a partnership with CSX and said “sometimes that’s a slow process.”
“But we can approach them about doing that,” he said.
Kelnhofer said he had just had a survey done on his property and found that CSX owns the property from 55 feet from the center of the rail all the way out to within two inches of where his property line is, which is now marked by a post line.
Kevin Tyler, another Lincoln resident, asked if Teasdale could take a less disruptive approach to solving the problem.
He suggested putting in some sort of barricade system or warning lights that activate when a forklift driver is crossing the street.
“If this is all about safety, why close the road?” he asked.
Kelnhofer added that he feels addressing the situation like this makes more sense, if the main focus is health and safety, than taking on a major project like the one that is being recommended.
“If you have a rabbit in your garden, let’s not blow up the garden,” he said. “Let’s try the less lethal things first to correct the problem rather than let’s shut the whole entire road down and nobody in town can use this road now.”
Richards said the proposal isn’t just about health and safety, there is an economic growth component to it as well.
He said the proposal is aimed at also allowing Teasdale to grow its current facility with the hope that it will create more jobs for the community.
Richards said the city has lost other businesses over a period of time and he feels that if this proposal helps Teasdale continue to grow then the will be to the benefit of all of Hoopeston.
“I think the big thing we need to really look at is the expansion of Teasdale,” he said. “And the fact that growth and the potential for jobs coming into our community and providing tax dollars for the things our community wants to do.”
Richards said the safety factors need to be consider, of course, but so do the economic factors.
“Right now, we’re struggling as a town,” he said. “Trying to find our identity. Obviously, we’re not going to bring industry back in here, we’ve been trying to do that since the 1980’s and it hasn’t worked.”
In the face of that, Richards said, it’s important to protect the community’s existing industries and help them get in a position to grow.
“Maybe we ought to consider taking care of what we have and see if we can expand it and provide jobs,” he said.
Committee Member Charlene Ervin added to Richards’ point saying that they need to be good neighbors to Teasdale and help them with growth.
Committee Member Cody Moore agreed, but felt that they also have a responsibility to the people who live in the affected area.
Moore, commenting on the issue with the semi-trucks, asked why there hasn’t been an effort made to put up signage to better direct semi drivers where to go.
Moore feels that there needs to be some signage put up regardless of whether Lincoln Street is blocked or not.
He said the signs shouldn’t be limited to just Lincoln Street, but placed all around the area to better direct drivers and feels that Teasdale should be responsible for these signs.
Crusinberry said there had been conversations about putting up signs and pointed to Route 9 as the crucial point.
He said the signs could be as direct as saying “Teasdale Trucks Use Second Avenue.”
Wise said he doesn’t believe putting up signs would make that much of a difference.
“I’ve followed trucks that have had to back up three miles and the sign was huge,” he said. “Champaign has people ramming into viaducts. They follow the GPS, the GPS tells them to turn, they’re not reading signs.”
Committee Member Bill Boose said putting up the signs at least establishes liability in case of accidents.
Moore also said there needs to be some better options for alley access on the road, but said, with the issues with the railroad, he doesn’t know what options would be available.
Richards said he recognizes that the proposal will be an inconvenience.
“Any time you’re doing anything, somebody is going to be inconvenienced,” he said. “And that’s unfortunate.”
Crusinberry added to this by commenting on the fact that people and kids who use the crossing while walking will have to cross at a different spot.
He said he’s sure there were people who bought houses near Honeywell Grade School before it closed because it would be a quick trip for their kids to get to school.
Crusinberry said these people were inconvenienced when the Hoopeston Area Board of Education voted to close the school.
“There are inconveniences with decisions that are made,” he said.
Hope for the Future
Corey Hoerning, Chief Supply Chain Officer, said he has worked with the Hoopeston plant for 15 years and when he started with it as CFO of the company it was in sad shape.
“We couldn’t pay our bills,” he said. “We had roofs that were leaking. I had tarps over machines. I did not think that we would make it.”
Through the help of the Hoopeston community, Hoerning said they were able to overcome these issues and thrive.
“The community helped us and we built up a nice business,” he said. “We’d like to continue to expand it.”
Hoerning said the proposed project on Lincoln Street encompasses several different areas of concern.
He said health and safety is a big part of it as is food quality since they’re moving product outside and beyond that there is the potential for growth.
Currently, Hoerning said, Teasdale is limited for growth at its Hoopeston facility because they don’t have enough loading docks to service their customers.
This proposal, he said, would create new loading docks and enable them to provide better service to their customers.
“After 15 years of putting my heart into the business basically, we’re just looking to see if we can expand it more and provide more positive growth for the community,” Hoerning said. “We know that it will require some sacrifices from the community and we just appreciate any support you can offer.”
Crusinberry said that when he first joined the city government 13 years ago there was a great deal of controversy with Hoopeston Foods and the city but that controversy was eventually resolved and the city has built a great working relationship with the company in the intervening years.
One of the projects the city and Hoopeston Foods, later Teasdale Foods, worked closely on was the so-called “bean lagoons.”
Crusinberry said the city owns these sediment lagoons and bought them with the intention of using a CDAP grant to install aeration systems to alleviate the smell the lagoons put off.
Crusinberry reminded people that Hoopeston was once known for something other than corn.
“We were the town that smelled,” Crusinberry said.
He said many people tried to blame it on the cattle pens, but the smell was really coming from the bean lagoons.
Crusinberry said the aeration system worked well for four years until equipment started to fail. The repairs took on an extra dimension of bureaucracy because the city had to get the repairs approved by Hoopeston Foods.
Since Teasdale took ownership, Crusinberry said he feels they’ve had good cooperation between them, the wastewater treatment plant and the city’s sewer operations.
“We’ve worked together and we’ve maintained that equipment and I really think, since Teasdale, it’s been a lot better situation between the city and the factory,” he said.
After Hoerning and Crusinberry’s comments, Richards asked the committee to vote on the motion to recommend the council votes to approve Teasdale’s request subject to the creation of a redevelopment between the city and Teasdale Foods.
Crusinberry said the redevelopment agreement covers some infrastructure issues on that property, pointing to a water main that goes down Lincoln and dead ends at the railroad tracks.
He said Teasdale would not want that water main to stay in place.
Crusinberry said the redevelopment agreement would also cover the issue of signage that was discussed before.
Crusinberry said the committee’s recommendation and the redevelopment agreement would have to be approved by council before anything was finalized.
The committee voted 5-0 in favor of recommending the council approve Teasdale’s request.
Richards said the city council will have final say over the matter.
He said all the committee can do is take the information they have received from Teasdale and the comments of the public and pass their thoughts along to the city council to help make their decision.
The Hoopeston City Council will next meet at 7 p.m. July 7 at city hall.