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Legislature adjourns, with eight hours to spare


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

With a little over eight hours to spare, the Iowa legislature took final action on the last piece of a nearly six-billion dollar state budget plan on Thursday afternoon. The new state budgeting year started just after midnight. House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer of Garner made this declaration seconds after the House adjourned for the year:

“I have to say it’s so much better to adjourn at 3:30 in the afternoon than at 3:30 in the morning.” The Senate concluded two minutes later. The final drama of the final day came when a deal was struck on abortion policy. It allows Republicans to tout a move to give women getting a taxpayer-financed abortion at the University of Iowa Hospitals the option of viewing an ultrasound beforehand. Representative Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, was involved in the negotiations.

“No, it’s not as far as what I’d like to go,” he says. “I mean, we all know my personal convictions, that life is a gift from God and that I don’t believe in abortion, but this is our attempt to find that middle ground.” Senator Jack Hatch of Des Moines was the lead negotiator for Democrats on the issue.  “We believe it’s crafted in a way that provides new assurances,” Hatch says, “and also allows and maintains the same level of care to women.” Lawmakers began the 2011 legislative session in January with a to-do list that included property tax reform, but that issue was tabled this week as the final details of the state budget plan were settled. During Thursday’s closing moments, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen called it a “unique” session.

“It’s obviously going to be recorded as one of the longest lasting,” Paulen said, “if I am told correctly, the third-longest session in the history of Iowa.” Paulsen, who is from Hiawatha, is the top-ranking Republican in the legislature. “The people of Iowa chose to elect a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Democrat Senate and typically in divided government, things take a little longer to process,” Paulsen said. “While I would not have predicted, nor do I ever care to live through another 172-day session, and I think this is healthy and I think it serves the people of Iowa extremely well.”

The top Democrat in the Senate decided to speed toward final adjournment rather than read his speech for the occasion. In his written remarks, Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal said it had been a “difficult session” and finding agreement had “not been easy.” Gronstal said he still “didn’t understand why” Republicans fought so hard to roll state spending back to 2008 levels when the state ended the fiscal year with a 400-million dollar surplus and another 600-million dollars in emergency cash reserves. Republicans say they were responding to voters who’ve demanded a leaner state government.

In action on Thursday, the House and Senate approved two final bills. One assures that the governor has the authority keep state government operating through the month of July as he and his staff review the pages upon pages of budget detail outlined in almost a dozen different bills. Branstad says he needs that extra time.

“Normally the legislature would have completed its work well in advance of 30 days before the end of the fiscal year,” Branstad says. “In this case, since the bills were passed on the last day of the fiscal year, we won’t even get a lot of these bills until after the new fiscal year begins.” Branstad praised legislators for “cleaning up” some of the financial shenangans of the past, and drafting what he called an “honest” budget.

(O.Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa)

IA DOT road report on flooding & maintenance


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Interstate 29 Exit Ramp 72 Closed. – Issued 6:20 PM

Interstate 29 southbound Exit Ramp 72 or the Loveland exit is closed due to road maintenance activities.  Length of closure unknown at this time.

Current road closures/restrictions as of 5-p.m. CDT
·         I-29 Hamilton Boulevard interchange in Woodbury County: The southbound
I-29 interchange ramps at Hamilton Boulevard in Sioux City are closed. An
alternative ramp has been constructed from southbound I-29 to Wesley Parkway/U.S.
·         I-29 in Pottawattamie County: The south- and northbound lanes of I-29
between milepost 54B (North 35th Street interchange in Council Bluffs) and the
I-29/680 interchange at milepost 71 (near Loveland) are closed. This is expected to
be a longer-term closure.
·         UPDATE: I-29 from exit 24 (near Bartlett, Iowa) south across the
Iowa/Missouri state line to the U.S. 136 interchange in Missouri (Mo. 110 exit, near
Rock Port): The north- and southbound lanes are closed. This is expected to be a
longer-term closure.
·         I-680 in Omaha area: I-680 is closed from the I-29/680 interchange (exit
61 near Crescent) in Iowa to North 30th Street in Omaha, Neb. (exit 13). This
closure includes the Mormon Bridge across the Missouri River. This is expected to be
a longer-term closure.
·         UPDATE: U.S. 30 west of Missouri Valley, including the Blair, Neb. Bridge
across the Missouri River: This road is closed temporarily to permit installation of
flood barrier walls. For further information about this closure and future temporary
closures along this roadway, visit:
·         Iowa 2 in Fremont County: Iowa 2 is closed from I-29 in Iowa to Nebraska
City. Both east- and westbound lanes are closed. This is expected to be a
longer-term closure.
·         UPDATE: Iowa 175 between I-29 (near Onawa) and Decatur, Neb.: The road is
closed because of serious erosion of the embankment near the east abutment of the
Decatur Bridge. For information about the emergency repair project, visit:
·         Iowa 333 in Hamburg: Iowa 333 is closed from I-29 into Hamburg. Access to
Hamburg is currently available via U.S. 275 in Iowa. 
·         Iowa 376 northbound (U.S. 75 Business-Lewis Boulevard): The exit ramp to
westbound Gordon Drive is closed. 

Highway segments at higher risk of being closed due to flooding
·         I-29 (north of Missouri Valley, between mileposts 77-78): Flood barrier
walls have been installed in this area. 
·         I-29 (north of Modale, between mileposts 85-88): This is a levee-protected
area. However, if a breach were to occur, the roadway could be inundated with
several feet of flood water. 
·         UPDATE: I-29 (south of Blencoe, between mileposts 103-105): Flood waters
are spreading across the drainage area nearby. A flood-mitigation strategy for this
area is currently being evaluated. 
·         I-29 (north of Blencoe, near mileposts 107 and 109): Flood barrier walls
are being installed in this area to reduce the risk of flooding. There is a
temporary detour in place for I-29 northbound travelers, which is allowing the
barriers to be installed. Follow the detour signs. 
·         I-29 (north of Whiting, near milepost 121): This area is threatened due to
a connection between the Missouri River and a stream that flows under Berry Avenue
and through the Badger Lake State Wildlife Management Area.   
·         I-29/I-680 interchange: This interchange near Loveland was previously
closed due to flooding. Mitigation work, including use of sandbags, barrier wall and
pumps, allowed the roadway to reopen. Because this area remains vulnerable to
increased water levels, additional mitigation measures will be taken, including
contract work to install large drainage pipes.  
·         U.S. 34, between I-29 in Iowa and Plattsmouth, Neb.: This roadway is
protected by a levee system, but remains at risk from a levee breach or overtopping.
U.S. 34 remains open to travel. 

Being monitored 
·         I-29, northbound off-ramp to Dace Avenue in Sioux City (exit 147B or
commonly known as the Downtown/Tyson Events Center): Flood mitigation efforts will
be deployed to try to keep this ramp open.
·         I-29, southbound exit ramp to Nebraska Street (exit 147B) in Sioux City:
This area is dike protected, but would be inundated if the dike is breached or
·         I-29, northbound and southbound lanes in Sioux City at the U.S. 77/Wesley
Parkway underpass (between exits 148 and 149): Flood mitigation efforts will be
deployed to try to prevent this low area from being flooded. 
·         UPDATE: I-29, from the Bellevue, Neb., interchange (exit 42) to the
Bartlett interchange (exit 24): This area is at a lesser risk, but would be
inundated if a levee is breached or overtopped.
·         I-29 exit and entrance ramps at the Bartlett interchange, exit 24: Ground
water has been rising nearby. Flood waters have closed I-29 south of the
·         Iowa 127 near Mondamin: The Iowa DOT is monitoring areas east and west of
Mondamin, near mileposts 0.8 and 1.5, but the risk of flooding is lower because the
road is protected somewhat by a high ridge. 
·         NEW: Iowa 370 west of I-29, including the Bellevue, Neb. Missouri River
crossing: This area is levee protected. Levee reinforcement work was performed this
week on an area just south of Iowa 370.

DNR enforcement actions


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued a report on recent consent orders the department has voluntarily entered into with other parties, with regard to environmental violations. The consent order is legally enforceable.

The DNR says Titan Machinery, Incorporated, in Shelby County, has agreed to pay a $3,500 penalty for illegal disposal, including the illegal open burning of solid waste from the company’s Avoca dealership.

And, the DNR says a consent amendment has been issued with regard to a Council Bluffs church for water supply violations. The amendment to a 2010 Administrative Order resolves an earlier appeal of the order. Officials say the Eastern Hills Baptist Church is required to pay a $1,250 penalty and $125 in fees.

A consent amendment is issued in settlement of a previous administrative order, to amend a pre-existing consent order. A consent amendment indicates that the DNR has voluntarily entered into a legally enforceable agreement with the other party.

Cass County Cooling Centers


June 30th, 2011 by Jim Field

Cass County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Kennon has announced that cooling centers have been set up in a few areas of the county to help those who may need to escape the oppressive heat today and Friday.  In Atlantic, the YMCA will be available both days to those non-members who go to the front desk and let the staff know you are there to beat the heat.  In Anita, the Health and Wellness Center will be available until 8:00 pm Thursday and until 6:0 pm Friday.  Also, the Griswold Library will be available Thursday evening until 6:30 pm and Friday until 5:00 pm.  Temperatures are expected to be in the upper 0’s both days with heat index readings well over 100 degrees.

Wickman Center completes 1st year of service


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

A facility in Atlantic which provides licensed daycare service to as many as 75 children, is celebrating the first anniversary of its opening this week. The Ann W. Wickman Child Development Center opened on June 28th, 2010. The facility employs 22 staffers, in addition to Executive Director Dianna Williams.

Williams says the Wickman Center averages between 48 and 65 kids per day. 27 of those students receive assistance from the Department of Human Services (DHS). The Center is licensed to hold 75. 138 children are enrolled at the facility. Six months ago, there were 90 children enrolled, and 19 staffers employed at the facility, which run by the Nishna Valley Family YMCA. Food for the center is made possible through an arrangement with Hy-Vee.

The Wickman Child Development Center recently received certification as a Natural Learning Environment Playground from Nature Resources, and a Community Impact Award from the YMCA.

Southwest Iowa Family Services (SWIFS) President Hal Gronewold says the first year’s results for the facility exceeded expectations. He attributes its success was attributed to the fact it is a state-of-the-art facility, and to the leadership provided by Williams and her staff, along with the expertise of the YMCA…the nation’s largest childcare provider.

Gronewold says also, their fundraising campaign had been completed for the facility. More than $1.15-million in grants and donations have been raised, covering over 70-percent of the construction costs. The remainder of the costs are covered by long-term mortgages from USDA Rural Development and First Whitney Bank and Trust.

Campground Remains Closed


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

ONAWA, Iowa – Lewis and Clark State Park, near Onawa, will be opened for day use only beginning at 8 a.m., July 1.  The campground, however, will remain closed.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will also re-open Blue Lake, the oxbow lake within the park, to boating under a no-wake restriction. The only open restroom facility will be the pit latrine near the boat ramp.

Kevin Szcodronski, chief of State Parks for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says “We intend to keep Lewis and Clark open for day use until the Missouri River forces us to close it again.  What we ask from the park visitors is to respect the flood protection measures we have in place.  We will not be opening any of the flush toilets or showers, or turning on the electricity.”
Park hours will be from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.  Lewis and Clark State Park joins Lake Manawa as the second state park operating as day use only while under the threat of flooding from the Missouri River.
“We will have a dock in for boaters to use, but the restriction is that boaters must operate at no-wake speed,” Szcodronski said.

Missouri River levee fails in southwest Iowa


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

PERCIVAL, Iowa (AP) – Authorities are reporting that a Missouri River levee has failed near Percival in southwest Iowa. The National Weather Service says the breach occurred Thursday morning a mile northwest of Percival in Fremont County.

Local emergency officials told the weather service that the breach is expected to flood only previously evacuated areas between Interstate 29 and the river. Percival sits just east of the interstate.

National Weather Service forecaster Josh Boustead says the breach was discovered after the river level downstream at Nebraska City dropped about 6 inches this morning to 27.6 feet. The breach occurred shortly before 4 a.m. Boustead says the breach was roughly 100-to-150-feet-wide Thursday morning.

Percival is about 16 miles northwest of Hamburg, which had to build a secondary levee earlier this month after earlier breaches.

Atlantic Area Chamber of Commerce Director resigns


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Ann McCurdy

The Atlantic Area Chamber of Commerce’ Board of Directors is expected to begin the search for a new Chamber Executive Director. The move follows word today that current Executive Director Ann McCurdy has tendered her resignation, effective at the end of July. McCurdy started with the Chamber in 2006, and was named Executive Director in 2007.

She says there’s no particular reason for her resignation, other than to have a “happier, healthier lifestyle,” and spend more time with her kids. She intends to be a “full-time mom” to her three children, ages 5, 3 and six-months old.

Her husband, John McCurdy, is a Community Development Specialist for SWIPCO (The Southwest Iowa Planning Council). Ann says he fully supports her decision. Ann says she’s enjoyed her time spent as Chamber Director, and is looking forward to seeing who her replacement will be.

Cass Co. BOS passes NW sewer/water extension resolution


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

The Cass County Board of Supervisors have adopted a resolution relating to the financing of proposed water and sewer projects to be undertaken by the County. The action came during their meeting this (Thursday) morning, in Atlantic. Auditor Dale Sunderman said the resolution was drafted and approved by bonding attorney Bob Josten.

He says in order for the county to maintain its tax exempt status and be able to repay some of the upfront financing costs associated with the mobilization of the project before the General Obligation bonds are issued and the cash is in-hand, the Resolution maintains the county can repay the fund monies are borrowed from.

The maximum amount of bonds the county can issue for the water and sewer improvement project northwest of Atlantic is $560,000, but the actual amount has not yet been determined, and may be as much as $30,000 less.

To date, no County funds have been allocated on a long-term basis or otherwise set aside to provide permanent financing for expenditures associated with the project, which would connect the City of Atlantic’s water and sewer system to a 50-acre area owned by CADCO (The Cass-Atlantic Development Corporation), near where the defunct Amaizing Energy ethanol plant was to have been located.

In other business, the Cass County Supervisors voted to re-appoint Terry Rutherford, of Atlantic, to the Cass County Commission of Veterans Affairs for a term of three-years, based on a recommendation by the Commission and the fact Rutherford has served on the Commission for several years.

Cass Supervisors approve 1 pay raise, deny 2 others


June 30th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

The Cass County Board of Supervisor’s today (Thursday) approved a wage adjustment for one county department assistant and denied raises to two others. The board approved a request proposed in December by County Attorney Dan Feistner, for Assistant Stacey Platt. Platt has been with his office for nearly three-years.

Monies for her wage increase will come from the Delinquent Fines and Fees account, and will not affect his budget or what the tax payers contribute to her salary. Her pay will increase $260 per pay period.

The board denied a request by General Assistance/Mental Health Coordinator Teresa Kanning, for wage adjustments to the salaries of her assistants Debbie Schuler and Vicki Adams. If approved, Schuler’s pay would have increased $102 per pay period, while Adams’ would have increased slightly more than $196 per pay period.

Supervisor Chuck Kinen said he was opposed to the wage adjustment because the board had already approved a two-percent across the board increase earlier in the year, and because the board had agreed not to provide middle of the year increases in salaries.

Kanning told Kinen the issue was discussed during a budget work session, and she was instructed to present her proposal at the beginning of the Fiscal year. Kinen said the increases are “completely out of line.” Kanning said the increase would have brought her staff up to the same rate of pay as others who perform similar tasks in the courthouse are receiving.

Kanning said she has approached the board many times over the past few years asking for an increase in her assistant’s pay, especially for Schuler, who was required to have, and does hold, a college degree. Schuler has worked for Kanning for the past seven-years.

Kinen said people should be more concerned about having a job than how much they are going to make, to which Kanning replied neither of her assistants were aware she was making the request on their behalf. Because a motion to approved the wage increase for Adams died for lack of a second, Kanning left the Board room. The supervisors then failed to approve an increase for Schuler when there was no second to the motion.

Supervisor Mark Wedemeyer said the board should make note of the pay requests and have them equalized by January 1st. Kinen said later, it doesn’t make sense for the assistants to be paid more than their director, in any department.