Weekend open thread: Sledding ban edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

After an unusually dry December, most of Iowa finally got a decent blanket of snow this week. Meanwhile, a classic winter activity became the unlikely center of a public policy controversy. The Dubuque City Council moved to prohibit sledding at 48 out of 50 city parks, generating some national media coverage and debate over whether city officials over-reacted to worries about litigation.

Contrary to the exaggerated claims of some authors, no city has banned or outlawed sledding within its jurisdiction. Iowans in Dubuque and elsewhere are free to sled on private property and on some public land. The “ban” applies only to certain public parks.

That said, I agree with those who say Dubuque leaders went way too far and set the penalty for unauthorized sledding too high at $750. In fact, City Council member David Resnick was probably right when he warned, “Crowding all [these] sledders into two areas is actually increasing the safety hazard and I don’t think we should limit our potential [liability] by increasing the safety hazard for kids.” I hope the controversy leads to higher turnout in the next Dubuque local election.

According to Katie Wiedemann’s report for KCRG-TV, local leaders say unhappy Dubuque residents should talk to state lawmakers:

“Iowa law protects cities from liability in the event someone gets hurt on city property while biking, skating or skateboarding. But there’s no protection if someone gets hurt while sledding. Some lawmakers attempted to fix that during the 2013 legislative session, but the bill failed.”

However, Iowa Association for Justice Executive Director Brad Lint argued in today’s Des Moines Register that “the city already enjoys fairly broad liability immunity under Iowa law.” After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from Lint’s op-ed column, which also addresses broader issues such as unwarranted fear of litigation and groups “begging” Iowa legislators “for protection from the often nonexistent lawsuits in their fields.” As one Bleeding Heartland reader suggested privately to me this week,

Hopefully people will eventually see the sledding thing for what it is…another cynical attempt by the insurance industry to use people to twist the arms of their legislators to exempt the insurers from paying claims even in cases of negligence….

P.S.- Sledding is a common cause of serious childhood injuries during the winter. I know someone whose son nearly lost an eye and developed a life-threatening infection behind his eye socket after a sledding accident in her own backyard. I love sledding almost as much as my kids do, but keep these safety tips in mind when you play in the snow.

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FAA closing Dubuque air traffic control; Waterloo, Sioux City spared for now

The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that beginning on April 7, it will close 149 air traffic control towers across the country. The Dubuque Regional Airport tower is the only Iowa facility on the list (pdf). An airport official told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that service in and out of the airport will continue. I haven’t seen any reports confirming which facility will route air traffic in and out of Dubuque after April 7.

The cuts are related to the “sequester” of federal budget funds, which began last month. Originally the FAA had planned to close more air traffic control towers, including those in Waterloo and Sioux City. However, a press release stated that the agency decided “to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.” Another salient fact is that Dubuque “hires privately contracted employees,” whereas “Waterloo and Sioux City employees are unionized FAA workers.”

I’ve posted the whole statement from the FAA after the jump, as well as Representative Bruce Braley’s comment. The first Congressional district includes Dubuque and Waterloo. Braley voted against a continuing spending resolution on Thursday, in part because it did not reverse the “sequester” cuts.

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Six links to mark the International Day of Action for Rivers

March 14 is the International Day of Action for Rivers. These stories about water pollution and the economic potential of healthy rivers are worth a read.

Contrary to what agribusiness industry lobbyists would have you believe, a majority of Iowa farmers “support expanding conservation requirements for soil erosion and the control of nitrogen and phosphorous runoff.”

Iowa’s confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs or factory livestock farms) create more untreated manure annually than the total sewage output of the U.S. population.

Aging sewer systems in urban areas also allow too much sewage to leak into watersheds. The I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative (signed into law by Governor Chet Culver) included some money to improve sewer systems in Iowa, but we need to do much more on this front.

Iowa Rivers Revival Executive Director Rosalyn Lehman recently published a call to revive Iowa’s rivers in the Des Moines Register. I’ve posted excerpts from her guest editorial after the jump.

The Metro Waste Authority has created an Adopt a Stream website, with “resources to help you organize a stream cleanup in the Greater Des Moines area.”

Dam removal as part of a river restoration project supports local economic activity as well as the environment.

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Sequester could shut down Waterloo, Dubuque, Sioux City air traffic control (corrected)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned yesterday that air traffic control across the country may be severely disrupted if the “sequester” goes into effect. Budget cuts may prompt the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down air traffic control towers at three Iowa airports as early as April.

CORRECTION: Closing the air traffic control towers would not necessarily shut down all traffic at the affected airports. On the other hand, “many corporations won’t fly into airports that don’t have an active tower.”

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Weekend open thread: Local Iowa news edition

Dubuque area residents are still dealing with the aftermath of more than 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period this week, which caused massive flash flooding and road closures. It was a one-day record for rainfall. Governor Terry Branstad changed his schedule on July 28 to inspect the damage.

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa wrapped up today in Davenport. From what I’ve read and seen on the news, it sounds like the pass-through and overnight towns generally did a great job providing refreshments and entertainment for the riders. It can’t have been pleasant bicycling and camping out in this week’s high heat, but thousands of riders made it all the way to the Mississippi River. RAGBRAI officials made minor route changes in Davenport, fearing flooding after the heavy rain in Dubuque, but the river stayed in its banks.

A little more than a year ago, flooding washed away the dam at Lake Delhi in Delaware County. The lake quickly drained, ruining what had been a popular resort area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied funding for people who owned houses on the former lake. Property values and tax receipts are way down. In the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill for fiscal year 2012, state legislators included funding for a Lake Delhi dam restoration study, as well as “intent” language regarding future funds for reconstruction. Branstad used his item veto power to remove the planned funding to rebuild the dam, saying any commitment was premature before the study results have been received. More details on Branstad’s veto are after the jump. I see his point, but the veto will hurt local efforts to secure other financing for the project.

It’s worth noting that Branstad urged state legislators to pass a bill this year promoting nuclear reactor construction in Iowa, even though MidAmerican is only one year into a three-year feasibility study on that project. The pro-nuclear bill passed the Iowa House but didn’t come up for a floor vote in the Iowa Senate.

This week Kiplinger released its 2011 list of “Best Value Cities” nationwide, and Cedar Rapids was ranked number 9. Analysts cited strong local employers, good amenities, reasonable home prices, and a good recovery from the 2008 flooding. Kiplinger mentioned major downtown renovation projects but not the I-JOBS state infrastructure bonding initiative, which was a crucial for financing those projects. State Representative Renee Schulte, who represents part of northeast Cedar Rapids, cheered the praise from Kiplinger. Like all other Iowa House Republicans, she voted against the I-JOBS program. Schulte won her first election in Iowa House district 37 by just 13 votes in 2008. The Democrat she defeated, Art Staed, is seeking a rematch in the new House district 66 in 2012.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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New Iowa local food program receives state funding

Iowa will implement a new “Local Food and Farm Initiative” as part of the agriculture and natural resources budget that Governor Terry Branstad signed into law yesterday. Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart announced the goals of the program and some of the potential benefits in a press release, which I have posted after the jump. Isenhart thanked Branstad for signing the bill and acknowledged the bipartisan group of legislators who helped him push for this funding: Republican House Agriculture Committee Chair Annette Sweeney, Republican House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Jack Drake, Democratic Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Joe Seng, Democratic Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Subcommittee Chair Dennis Black, and Republican State Senator Hubert Houser, the ranking member of that subcommittee.

During the 2010 legislative session, the Iowa House and Senate instructed the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University to develop an “Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan.” The center submitted that plan to the state legislature in January 2011. This pdf document summarizes its 34 recommendations, or you can download the whole Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan here (63-page pdf).

Isenhart represents House district 27, covering part of Dubuque. He championed this program in part because the city’s Sustainable Dubuque initiative has a goal of providing more “healthy local food” to residents. Isenhart’s news release noted that the new program will also benefit areas in Iowa covered by one of the Leopold Center’s regional food system working group. After the jump I’ve posted a list of 16 local food networks which are part of that Leopold Center program. They span about 90 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Speaking of the Leopold Center, I haven’t heard anything lately about an Iowa State agronomy professor’s proposal to move the center from the supervision of the College of Agriculture to the offices of ISU’s President or Vice President for Research and Economic Development. The Board of Regents will hire a new ISU president during the next year. That person should recognize and support the Leopold Center’s work. However, the new head of the Board of Regents, who will be chairing the ISU hiring process, is Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. The Farm Bureau has already tried to interfere too much in the Leopold Center’s work.  

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