Reynolds Seeks Congressional Probe Of DSM Flight Carrying Migrants
Friday, June 11
3:58 p.m. – Water restrictions being put in place in portions of Iowa
Roughly 20,000 Iowans are now facing voluntary or mandatory water restrictions, due to prolonged drought conditions that are straining local utilities.
Even before the drought, rural communities struggled with persistent nitrate pollution that left much of their source water undrinkable. Now wells with safer nitrate levels are running low too.
Bonnie Koel, manager of the Lyon and Sioux Rural Water System, calls the current conditions “scary.” “At times we can use that to blend with the water that is very low in nitrates. We can use a blending system. But when they're all getting very low, then you get to the point where there are some that are not usable.”
According to the Department of Natural Resources, nearly 90 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought.
2:04 p.m. - Congressman Feenstra says plant-based products should not carry milk label
U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra says it’s time for a federal law that ensures any product labeled as “milk” came from dairy cows or other livestock, not from plants. “I think we have to have labeling. Milk is milk,” Feenstra says. “Everything else is something different, right? You have to call it something different You should not be down the path of calling it milk.”
U.S. milk consumption dropped 15 percent between 2012 and 2017, while sales of alternatives made with almonds, oats, coconuts and rice grew by 60 percent over that five-year period. Feenstra says using the word “milk” for those plant-based products blurs the line for consumers.
“That’s why it’s so important that we have the educational process,” Feenstra says, “and that people understand where milk is coming from and what is can do for nutrition and for schools and for everybody that is involved.”
The federal School Milk Program was established in 1955. It reimburses schools, child care institutions and eligible summer camps for the milk served to children and teenagers. Feenstra, a Republican from Hull who represents Iowa’s 4th congressional district, visited an open house at the Perry Creek Dairy Farm near Le Mars earlier this week.
Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa, with reporting from Dennis Morrice, KLEM
1:41 p.m. - Black Hawk County health officials launch raffle series to encourage adults to get COVID-19 vaccine
Black Hawk County health officials say they are launching a gift card basket raffle to incentivize adult residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The raffles will take place every Friday in July. Four winners will receive a basket with gift cards totaling $500 in value.
County Public Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye says the department has been discussing possible incentives for weeks, since demand for the vaccine started slowing down.
“We wanted to really try this out so that we also attract the group that we've been struggling with, and that's the (age group) 18-24.”
To qualify, one must be a resident of Black Hawk County, be age-18 or older and have received the initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine between June 11 and July 29.
County officials say their goal is to get 75 percent of adult residents vaccinated by the end of July.
11:50 a.m. – American Farm Bureau encourages farmers, people living in rural areas to get COVID-19 vaccines
Several agriculture, business and health care groups are teaming up to try to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among people who live in rural areas.
With vaccination rates in rural counties still lagging behind urban centers, there is more focus on changing the message to convince vaccine hesitant people to get a shot.
The effort includes the American Farm Bureau. President Zippy Duvall says farmers and ranchers already know the benefit of vaccinations.
“We all understand that as farmers and ranchers, herd immunity really works. But we have got to get to that 70 percent or higher level before we can feel like we get to that point.”
Duvall says it’s important that rural communities hear encouragement from people they trust, namely local farm organizations, religious leaders and businesses with a presence in rural areas.
The American Farm Bureau is part of a consortium of agriculture, business and health care organizations trying to improve vaccination rates in rural areas.
Entry via Jonathan Ahl for Harvest Public Media
10 a.m. - 551 new cases of COVID-19, 30 additional deaths reported in the last week
6:04 a.m. - Hinson, Miller-Meeks, Feenstra oppose EPA rewrite of water quality rules
The three Iowa Republicans serving in the U.S. House are criticizing the EPA’s move to repeal Trump-era water quality rules and write new ones.
Congresswoman Ashley Hinson of Marion said the rules that became final during the last year of Trump’s presidency protect farmers from government overreach.
“The Navigable Water Protection rules provided some certainty to our farmers and producers here in Iowa and across the U.S.,” Hinson said during a conference call today with Iowa reporters. “I firmly believe that bureaucrats who’ve never set foot in Iowa should not be able to regulate our ditches and ponds on our farms.”
President Joe Biden’s EPA administrator has said the agency intends to write new rules that protect water quality, but don’t overly burden small farmers. Hinson and Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa are co-sponsoring a House Resolution that would prevent the EPA from adopting Obama-era water quality rules.
“The Waters of the U.S. rule that was so harmful to Iowa’s farmers,” Hinson said.
Congressman Randy Feenstra of Hull is also a co-sponsor of that resolution. Feenstra tweeted this morning that a return to the Obama Administration’s water quality rules would result in “unnecessary and costly” government regulations for Iowa farmers.
Critics of the Trump Administration’s water quality rule say it removed a quarter of U.S. waterways and wetlands from federal oversight and has endangered public drinking water supplies.
Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa
4:15 p.m. – Assistant county attorney among the candidates running to be the next top prosecutor in Polk County
Longtime county attorney John Sarcone has announced he’s retiring. His leadership has attracted criticism, most recently for his office’s prosecution of a Des Moines Register reporter who was arrested while covering a protest.
Assistant County Attorney Laura Roan says that while she comes from within Sarcone’s office, her candidacy will be her own. “I’m standing here now, not John Sarcone. I’m not his substitute and I’m certainly not gonna be his proxy. I’m a female with my own career and my own goals for the office.”
Roan says she would prioritize prosecuting violent and sexual crimes.
Kimberly Graham, a defense attorney and former candidate for the U.S. Senate, is also running, presenting herself as in line with other progressive prosecutors across the country.
2:43 p.m. - Iowa Falls man who worked as interpreter for U.S. troops to appeal asylum denial decision
A former interpreter for U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be facing immigration court later this month to appeal the denial of his asylum application.
Zalmay Niazy, who goes by “Zee,” has lived in Iowa Falls since 2015.
“It’s going to be, if I get a denial from the court, that will be a death sentence for me to go back home.”
Niazy says he is trying to find a good lawyer before his date in court.
His application for asylum was denied, citing what the U.S. considers involvement with a terrorist organization. Niazy says this is not only disappointing, but frustrating since he says he worked to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
He says he fought for the U.S. in Afghanistan and now he will continue fighting for his own safety. “I am crossing fingers and I am very hopeful that it goes the right direction, and I get to stay.”
Niazy says he wants to further his education and earn his master’s degree to be an accountant in the United States.
He made his comments on IPR’s River to River.
2:25 p.m. – Iowa City’s first Diversity Market set to begin this weekend
Iowa City will have its first Diversity Market this weekend. The pop up shopping center aims to elevate underrepresented populations in the area.
The majority of the vendors at the Diversity Market are entrepreneurs from marginalized populations who are looking to further business growth. Its main goal is to highlight Black, Indigenous and other small business owners of color.
Although it is mostly intended to put a spotlight on underrepresented groups, organizers say the pop up shopping strip will also revitalize Iowa City’s South District commercial area. Angie Jordan is a co-chair of the Diversity Market Event Committee, and she says now is the time for an event like this.
“People are listening. This is a window of opportunity for us to push all of our ideas and to collaborate and connect with networks that, now, some of them are more open to exploring collaboration.”
For now, it’s only five weekends, but Jordan wants it to become a more regular event. The market is currently at its vendor capacity of around 30, but she still encourages people to sign up for the waiting list.
Jordan says she has big dreams for the Diversity Market to someday be compared to the Des Moines Farmers Market.
2:04 p.m. - Reynolds seeks congressional probe of DSM flight carrying migrants
Iowa’s governor is asking for a congressional investigation after unaccompanied migrant children were flown into Iowa without her office being notified.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and Tennessee’s governor are asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing about the movement of migrant children into states.
According to a timeline provided in a news release from the governor’s office, a plane carrying unaccompanied minor children landed overnight at the Des Moines Airport in late April, but Reynolds was not notified, and it was 20 days before federal officials confirmed 19 children from Long Beach, California were flown to Des Moines and then transported on buses to unite with relatives or local sponsors.
A similar scenario unfolded in Knoxville, Tennessee last month. Reynolds and Tennessee’s governor say their experience “sows seeds of mistrust” and “intentionally subverts the will of the people for a secure border.
In a written statement, Iowa Democratic Party chairman Ross Wilburn said Governor Reynolds is using “a fake crisis” to divide and distract Iowans from her own record.
Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa
1:18 p.m. - Drought Monitor shows that more than half the state is in moderate or severe drought
More than half of Iowa is now in moderate or severe drought.
The Midwest Drought Monitor’s weekly report says 57 percent of the state is in one of those drought levels. That’s up from 37 percent just a week ago.
Severe drought is centered over northwestern Iowa.
Most of the northern half of the state is in moderate drought.
Another 32 percent of Iowa is considered abnormally dry.
Most of the state has gotten little to no rain this month, and nearly all of Iowa except for southeastern counties have had rainfall several inches below normal for the year.
8:31 a.m. - ISU survey shows biggest land rent boost since 2013
A new report finds many Iowa farmers are having to shell out more money to cover a significant increase in land rent rates this year.
Iowa State University Extension ag economist Wendong Zhang says it’s the first big boost in rental rates in eight years.
“What we saw is a 4.5 percent growth to about $232 per acre,” Zhang says. “What is noticeable is that this is probably the first major increase in cash rent since 2013 when we had the land value peak.”
Better crop and land prices, along with lower interest rates and government payments were all factors, he says, in generating the land rent rate increase. Zhang says the rates vary based on the region.
“In northwest Iowa, they’re seeing the average cash rent essentially show modest increase of $239 to $242, but in north-central Iowa, the increase is more, from $225 to $238,” he says.
The 2021 cash rent survey is based on more than 13-hundred responses from Iowa producers and landowners.
Entry from Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton via Radio Iowa
6 a.m. – Reynolds signs bill into law recognizing EMS as ‘essential’ services
Iowa counties can now recognize emergency medical services (EMS) as “essential,” under a bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds Wednesday.
Unlike fire and police services, local governments in Iowa are not required to provide EMS. But under the new law, county supervisors can declare the work essential and seek approval from voters for a new tax to support the services.
Sheila Frink, director of the Anamosa Ambulance Service, says many departments are desperate for funding.
“There’s still so many rural services out there that are surviving because they’re having pancake breakfasts and raffles,” says Frink. “I mean, they spend as much time fundraising as they do taking care of patients, and that’s sad.”
Brian Rowe of the Anamosa Ambulance Service says the change is the most significant he’s seen in his 43-year career. He says many rural services are struggling to retain staff at the same time that call numbers are increasing.
“We’re seeing sicker and sicker patients. Patients sometimes can’t get to a doctor, don’t have a family care provider, whatever the case may be,” Rowe says. “And so they try to stick it out at home. And then when they just can’t do it anymore, they call us.”
Advocates say the change is sorely needed, especially in rural Iowa, where residents often rely on a dwindling number of volunteer EMTs.
Wednesday, June 9
4:13 p.m. – Grassley responds to ruling keeping pork plants from speeding up processing lines
Sen. Chuck Grassley says he wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice to appeal a recent ruling that keeps pork plants from speeding up their processing lines.
The USDA says it won’t appeal that ruling. Republican Chuck Grassley says six pork processing plants will have to reduce their output, which means they’ll buy and process fewer hogs. “That’s all going to reduce national packing capacity by two and a half percent. Now that doesn't sound like a lot does it, but it will create a surplus of hogs on the market.”
One small hog producer in Howard County that ships to two of the six processors says this is troubling. He says if line speeds are slowed, facilities may not have the capacity to handle or bid for his pigs.
Grassley says he plans to send a letter to the USDA and Department of Justice next week. He says he hopes to get other lawmakers on board.
3:22 p.m. – Scott County Democrats don’t collect enough signatures for county auditor special election
The Republican-led county board of supervisors appointed her replacement, rather than holding a special election.
While Democrats fell short, county party chair Elesha Gayman says she was inspired by the interest from voters.
“What I want this message to really send to the voters of Scott County is to know that the Democratic Party is going to continue to stand up for the right to vote.”
2:04 p.m. - Hot, dry weather means even lower Missouri River runoff projections
Drought conditions are expected to expand and worsen across Iowa when the new map is released Thursday from the U.S. Drought Monitor. The continued hot, dry weather is being reflected in runoff predictions for the Missouri River.
Kevin Grode, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, says lower-than-normal runoff has persisted since last year. “May runoff above Sioux City, Iowa, was 2.1 million acre feet, which is 61 percent of average,” Grode says. “This follows a very dry April. Soil conditions in the upper basin continue to be extremely dry during the mountain snowmelt and spring rainfall portion of the runoff season.”
Grode says the Corps’ overall runoff prediction will end up well below normal.
“The current dry soil conditions and NOAA’s latest outlooks calling for warmer-than-normal temperatures and drier-than-normal precipitation has resulted in the 2021 calendar year runoff forecast of 17.9-million acre feet, which is 69-percent of average,” he says.
Grode says they don’t expect much change until perhaps 2022.
“Given the dry soil moisture conditions, below average stream flow and the extended warm and dry climate outlook, we expect runoff to remain below average during the remainder of the calendar year,” Grode says.
The Corps is sending letters to water users all along the river, warning them of possible problems with low water access.
Entry from Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton via Radio Iowa
2:04 p.m. - Sheriff announces reward for information on missing Iowa boy
A sheriff announced Wednesday that roughly $15,000 and counting has been pledged as a reward for information that helps investigators find out what happened to a missing Iowa boy.
The Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office said the pledges have come from local businesses and citizens who are concerned about the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson.
The office said in a press release that Xavior was last seen “on or about May 27” in Montezuma, a small town where he lived in a trailer with his mother. His 11th birthday was May 30.
Police have not said who last saw Xavior, who had recently completed fourth grade at a local public school. One of his neighbors, a mother of one of Xavior’s friends, was the first to report him missing.
The reward fund has been created at Montezuma State Bank. The sheriff’s office said the money would be paid out for “information which leads to resolution of this case.”
Entry via the Associated Press
10:28 a.m. – Man accused of killing Anamosa State Penitentiary employees to go on trial later this month
One of the men accused of killing two Iowa prison workers is slated to go on trial later this month. Thomas Woodard’s trial will begin in Linn County June 22, after the parties agreed to a change of venue.
Dutcher will be back in court Friday for a hearing on the timeline of his case.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
8 a.m. - Iowa to step up traffic enforcement to slow road fatalities
Iowa traffic enforcement officials vowed Tuesday to crack down on motorists speeding, driving while drunk or distracted by cell phones in an effort to slow the rising traffic fatality rate.
Iowa State Patrol Col. Nathan Fulk said officers have recently reported some of the most dangerous driving behaviors in the 85-year history of the patrol. He said excessive speed and impaired driving skyrocketed last year, pushing traffic fatalities higher than the previous year even as the pandemic reduced traffic volume by 12 percent.
State officials reported nearly 1,500 citations written last year for speeds of 100 mph or more. The 119 fatalities so far this year are ahead of last year’s pace, and officials note traffic deaths often rise in the summer.
In response, law enforcement will increase the presence of officers on Iowa roads from June 9-12, looking for seatbelt violations, impaired driving, excessive speed and distracted driving.
A task force of state and local law enforcement and transportation officials has been studying factors behind the increasing traffic fatalities. The group has recommended stepped up enforcement, education for drivers to reinforce safe driving habits and a study of road safety issues that could cause problems.
The goal is to get traffic fatalities below 300 this year, something that hasn’t occurred in Iowa since 1925.
Entry via the Associated Press
Tuesday, June 8
5:44 p.m. – Reynolds signs law restricting who can return absentee ballots
Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a law restricting who can help Iowa voters return their absentee ballot.
Voters were previously allowed to designate anyone to return their ballot to the county auditor, to a drop box or through the mail. Now, only an immediate family member, household member or delivery agent following strict rules may help return a ballot, and they have to return it in person to the county auditor.
This is raising concerns that it’ll be harder for some older and disabled voters to return their ballots.
Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls says this and the earlier changes shortening the time allowed for voting stem from unfounded claims of a stolen election.
“It continues to be this case of Donald Trump lying to his party, Republican Party leaders repeating that lie to their members, and them changing Iowa election law in partnership with groups like the Heritage Foundation to try to advance that narrative across the United States.”
Republican supporters of the bill have said they want to prevent so-called “ballot harvesting,” but didn’t cite any problems with that in Iowa.
5:00 p.m. – Budget bills signed into law
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed several budget bills into law Tuesday.
One gives a major increase — $21 million — to Iowa’s prison system, after two workers in Anamosa were killed on the job.
Reynolds approved an education budget that gives no funding increase to Iowa’s public universities. It also doesn’t replace a budget cut that was made to the universities last year.
The education budget does provide more funding for the Last Dollar Scholarship program, which helps Iowans pay for community college programs related to certain high-demand jobs.
These budgets apply to the fiscal year starting July 1.
4:45 p.m. – Governor signs law limiting diversity education
Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law putting new limits on government agency diversity trainings and school lessons related to racism and sexism.
The new law says trainings and lessons must not promote certain ideas, including that the U.S. and the state of Iowa are systemically racist or sexist.
In a statement, Reynolds claims that “critical race theory” teaches kids to judge people based on their race or gender. She says, “I am proud to have worked with the legislature to promote learning, not discriminatory indoctrination.”
Critical race theory starts with the idea that racism is embedded in American society and institutions. The new law says it does not prohibit teaching about slavery, racial oppression, and laws resulting in segregation and discrimination.
Democrats opposed the bill. They say it’ll have a chilling effect on agency and school attempts to be more inclusive, and will impact efforts to teach about systemic racism and implicit bias.
The new law takes effect July 1.
1:58 p.m. - Following series of high profile attacks elsewhere, Iowa House Speaker says lawmakers will examine cybersecurity issues
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley says state lawmakers are planning to examine cybersecurity issues.
This follows a cyberattack against Des Moines Area Community College that has led to classes being canceled for four days. There have also been recent attacks on a major oil pipeline and a meat processing company with plants in Iowa.
Grassley says he doesn’t have specifics on potential legislation, but the House Information Technology Committee will work on that. He says that committee was mostly focused on broadband expansion this year.
“It wasn’t on the forefront, but I think as you see more and more incidents happen across the country — whether it’s pipelines, meatpacking, any of those critical infrastructure needs — we have a situation in the House where we have a committee that will make that part of what they will look at and be working on between now and the upcoming session.”
The Iowa Senate does not have a technology committee.
12:27 p.m. – Report finds that Iowa seniors are at low risk for social isolation
A new report has found Iowa’s seniors are at low risk for social isolation as compared to the rest of the nation.
The annual senior report is by the United Health Foundation. It found Iowa’s 65 plus population has the sixth highest rate of volunteerism in the country, and ranks seventh for low risk of social isolation.
Rhonda Randall is the Chief Medical Officer with United Healthcare. She says this year’s rankings are based on pre-pandemic data and expects some rankings to dramatically shift next year.
“A really good example where we were facing issues with seniors in our nation in social isolation before the pandemic, and then the public health guidance was to socially distance. So we're concerned that that may have gotten worse.”
The report also found Iowa’s seniors have high rates of obesity, as well as less access to geriatric health care professionals and high speed internet as compared to other states.
12 p.m. - Iowa to pay $5.7 million to settle public university claims
Iowa has agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle eight separate discrimination and negligence claims at its public universities.
Those payments include $3.5 million to an Iowa City couple who accused UI Hospitals and Clinics doctors of negligence during the birth of their daughter, leaving the baby with permanent brain damage.
Another $1.8 million will be paid to a Massachusetts sound technician hurt while working a Luke Bryant concert at the University of Northern Iowa in 2018. The state also agreed to pay a total of $150,000 to three former UI police offers who sued in 2018 accusing the institution and its administrators of age and disability discrimination.
A payment of $25,000 will go to a woman who was a University of Iowa student in 2018 when she lost control and crashed her motorized scooter after the bike slipped on diesel fuel that had spilled from a campus bus. The crash caused injuries to the student’s neck, shoulder and hand and damage to her moped.
State officials agreed to the payments on Monday, the Gazette reported.
Because the settlements include claims of medical negligence at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, the UI Physicians group is paying $2.7 million of the $5.7 million total. The state general fund will cover the remaining $3 million.
Entry via the Associated Press
11:55 a.m. – Iowa man photographed at Jan. 6 insurrection pleads not guilty to criminal charges
An Iowan, seen apparently leading a crowd of rioters during the attack on the U.S. Capitol, has pleaded not guilty to a slate of criminal charges.
Doug Jensen was arraigned Tuesday on seven federal counts, including assaulting, resisting or impeding an officer, and entering a restricted building with a deadly weapon.
He’s asked to be released from custody, arguing that he “bought into a pack of lies” but has since had a “wakeup call”.
A bond hearing is slated for June 24. Court documents suggest Jensen may be working on a plea deal.
Entry updated 2:52 p.m.
5:30 a.m. - Axne ‘astounded’ House election bill has stalled in Senate
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat from West Des Moines, said this is a “make-or-break moment” for our republic, and now is not the time to give up on election reform legislation that cleared the U.S. House earlier this year.
“The fact that we cannot see that bill getting passed right now, that the Senate is struggling to pass that bill — I’m astounded that anybody who is an elected office that takes influence out of elections…and allows people to have free and fair voting,” Axne said during a town hall forum in West Des Moines Monday.
The bill includes new campaign finance disclosures and would require at least 15 days of early voting in every state. Axne described the measure as a necessary response to this political moment.
“Right now we have some people who I work with who don’t even believe we have a valid president,” Axne said to the crowd of about three dozen sitting in the shade of a picnic shelter.
After the forum, Axne told reporters she plans to personally urge West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to change his stance on the bill. Manchin announced Sunday he won’t vote for an election bill that has the backing of just one party.
“I’m going to talk to him,” Axne said. “Listen, I take a lot of hard votes in states like Iowa. I think people who are authentic and true to their convictions and are representing the people who they serve, they’re going to make it back and I think anybody who stands up for the constitution and for people’s right to vote, they’ll make it back.”
Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa
Monday, June 7
3:30 p.m. - State launches marketing campaign encouraging Iowans to get vaccinated
State health officials announced Monday they have launched a multimedia marketing campaign to encourage more Iowans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The campaign includes television and online advertisements showing summertime events in Iowa. This is to remind people getting vaccinated can “reflect a return to normalcy.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters last week she will not enact incentives like a vaccine lottery, as some other states have done.
Nearly 1.4 million Iowans have been fully vaccinated, approximately 45 percent of the total population.
3:30 p.m. – New project will preserve pandemic memories of Latino Iowans
An Iowa State University professor, along with a student intern, are working on a project to highlight Latino experiences as the pandemic subsides.
The project is called “Voces of a Pandemic” and it started at the University of Texas at Austin – “voces” meaning “voices” in Spanish. Lucía Suárez, the director of ISU’s U.S. Latino Studies Program, wanted to try the same project in Iowa. Suárez plans to continue the project even after the pandemic fades from the daily news.
“One of the things that's like, really important is that Latinx aren’t an ‘other.’ We're not an ‘other’ population, we're part of the Iowa population,” Suárez says. “And we're here to connect, we're here to work together and that, you know, our stories are shared stories.”
Student Iris Martinez will lead Iowa’s version of the project. This summer, Martinez will interview and record conversations with Iowa Latinos to archive in ISU’s Parks Library. She says it’s important to remember everyday stories of Latinos, and not just what she calls “bad news” regarding immigration.
“We're going to all realize that everyone has a story, and the underrepresented people, it’s just so much harder to find their stories in history now,” Martinez says. “So I feel like it's so important to get their stories and just to make sure that we remember them.”
2:04 p.m. - Cedar Rapids may use federal pandemic relief for derecho repairs
Cedar Rapids officials hope to use part of the city’s federal pandemic relief money to help property owners recover from last year’s derecho. Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said many city residents need help repairing their homes.
“We’re working hard to figure out what the gap is for people who are uninsured or underinsured and so we can figure out ways to provide money and services for them and also small business and non-profits,” Hart said during a weekend appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “We’re going to help them, too.”
Hart said half of the $28 million from the American Recovery Act could delivered this week. Cedar Rapids and Linn County officials are discussing using part of the money for a permanent homeless shelter. The mayor said the bulk of the federal money, though, may be used to make up for $15-20 million in reduced tax collections during the pandemic.
“One of the ideas you can use money for is to replenish lost revenues for cities and communities,” Hart said, “so we’re looking at those rules.”
The August 10, 2020 derecho destroyed tens of thousands of trees in Cedar Rapids and the state legislature approved $250,000 to start replanting trees in the city.
“We made an ask to help us reforest our city,” Hart said. “We estimate we lost 65 percent of our tree canopy in Cedar Rapids…It’s going to take a decade or more to replenish all our trees and we’ll keep asking.”
Because of the federal disaster declaration approved by President Donald Trump, Hart said Cedar Rapids didn’t have to ask the state legislature for more assistance.
“I really don’t think that we were missing anything from the state to handle the derecho and really from the legislature we didn’t have big asks because we’re pretty resilient,” Hart said.
Last month, Senator Liz Mathis a Democrat from Hiawatha, said the legislature should have done far more to address derecho damage to trees.
“I cannot stress to you how important a tree canopy is not only to our environment but to costs in the future for some of our municipalities,” Mathis said during Senate debate. “…We’ve got to get real about damage to eastern Iowa from the derecho.”
Mathis said some private fundraising is going on to help plant new trees, but cities like Cedar Rapids and Marion face huge costs to replace trees.
Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa
9 a.m. – For the first time in a year, Iowa prisons will allow in-person visits for vaccinated inmates
Iowa prison officials plan to resume in-person visits with incarcerated individuals beginning next month, but the department will limit visits to only those inmates who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to state statistics, roughly 62 percent of inmates have had at least one vaccine shot and 59 percent are fully vaccinated.
“Once the word is kind of spread around the prisons about the visiting restriction that you need to be vaccinated in order to have visitors at this time, that I would expect to see additional inmates that do decide to get vaccinated, if they’ve kind of been on the fence about that.”
Department spokesperson Cord Overton says prison staff and visitors will not be required to be vaccinated.
“All inmates that receive visitors will be required to have been vaccinated. Otherwise they'll have to receive their visits via the video system that we will keep in place. And again, those video visits are free of charge the advance for the inmates right now.”
Friends and family say that going without seeing their loved ones in-person for more than a year has taken a major toll on inmates. Advocates are concerned mental health needs in prisons have risen sharply as a result of the extended lockdowns during the pandemic.
8 a.m. - COVID-19 vaccinations don’t disqualify you from donating blood
Throughout the pandemic, Iowans continued to give the gift of life through blood donations.
American Red Cross spokesperson Sue Thesenga says it’s gratifying to see how donors have consistently given hundreds of pints, typically from behind masks.“We are so grateful to the donors who stepped up in the past year,” Thesenga says. “People really helped us maintain a stable blood supply through the pandemic and they continue to do so.”
For the million-plus Iowans who have gotten a COVID-19 vaccination in recent weeks, Thesenga says they’re still eligible to give blood. “This is an important message to get out,” she says. “In most cases, there is no blood donation deferral time after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Thesenga says donors will be asked which shot they received — Moderna, Pizer or Johnson & Johnson. Donors know the importance of their actions, she says, and how they’re helping to save lives.
“People realize that,” Thesenga says. “They are looking for ways to help and they know rolling up a sleeve and donating blood is a really easy way to do that.” Summer is a challenging season to collect blood as people are busy getting outdoors and vacationing. She assures, giving blood is easy and typically takes less than an hour from your day, while the actual blood donation only lasts five to ten minutes.
Appointments can be made at redcross.org.
Entry via Matt Kelley for Radio Iowa
7 a.m. - Missouri River expected to see lower flows this year
Two years after Missouri River flooding ravaged parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, officials are now dealing with what’s shaping up to be one of the river’s driest years.
Significantly less water is expected to flow into the river this year because conditions remain so dry and snowpack is below normal levels, according to the Norfolk (Nebraska) Daily News. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that its forecast from last month hadn’t changed.
The Corps estimated Thursday that 17.9 million acre feet of water will flow into the river this year. That is only about 69 percent of the average of 25.8 million acre feet, which would make this year the 22nd driest in the upper basin since 1898.
Currently, the amount of water being released from Gavins Point Dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border is around 29,500 cubic feet per second and is expected to be about 30,000 cubic feet per second through July 1. But if runoff remains low, the Corps said the release would lowered about 1,000 cubic feet per second below the full-service levels for the second half of the season.
Entry via the Associated Press
6 a.m. - New facility for barge traffic opens along Missouri River in western Iowa
Farmers can now export their grains and get fertilizer through a new port along the Missouri River in Monona County. The $11-million facility gives area farmers a new way to reach international markets.
Farmers used to have direct access to barge traffic in Sioux City, but that went away in the early 2000s. Iowa State University agricultural economist Chad Hart says if area farmers wanted to send their grains to other countries, they had to send them by truck or rail to the Mississippi River.
“Now with this port in place, they’re hooked along the river system just like eastern Iowa. And so it gives them new opportunities to reach the foreign markets. They could reach them before. It was just more difficult before.”
Hart says area farmers will see a slight increase in the prices for their products because of more demand. The barge terminal belongs to NEW Cooperative. The co-op’s goal is to bring 240,000 tons of corn, soybeans and other materials through the port each year.