February 12, 2016

Utilities Board schedules more time for discussion of Bakken pipeline

Board members Nick Wagner, Geri Huser and Libby Jacobs discuss the pipeline.

Board members Nick Wagner, Geri Huser and Libby Jacobs discuss the pipeline.

The chair of the Iowa Utilities Board announced today that they have scheduled at least three more meeting to discuss the request for a construction permit for the Bakken oil pipeline.

That announcement ended speculation the three-member board would make a decision on the issue following today’s meeting. Board members continued discussion on several issues that will help them determine if they will approved the permit.

Libby Jacobs

Libby Jacobs

Board member Libby Jacobs of West Des Moines says the safety of the pipeline is one of the critical issues that has come up in the discussion. “There are several parties who indicated safety records were better for pipelines versus for rail and for truck lines. Others indicated just the opposite of that,” Jacobs says. Jacobs says they need to look at the severity of the safety issues with each.

“When you look at the records for the trucking and the railroads, there have been some fairly significant incidents that have occurred that have been presented in the evidence before us. And so one must weigh the significance of those versus the leakage of the pipeline,” according to Jacobs.

Nick-Wagner-IUBBoard member Nick Wagner of Marion says he agrees with Jacobs and talked about the rail accidents.

“With the rail we’ve seen the incidents that have happened, have happened in populated areas — because that’s typically where railroads run because of the history of railroads linking cities and towns and populated areas,” Wagner says.

He says the route of the pipeline may make it safer.”I think because the pipeline is not going through major populated areas and does avoid those, from that perspective, I think it is somewhat safer than by shipping by rail or truck,” Wagner says.

Board Chair Geri Huser of Altoona, says the method of shipping is not her biggest issue. “I don’t see that whether it’s rail, pipeline or truck that there’s any inherent increases in safety,” Huser says. “I think they all have risks. And I think the real issue is whether there is any leakages or spill from any of those entities.” Huser says there’s evidence that pipeline accidents could have a bigger impact.

Geri Huser

Geri Huser

She says some of the information she has read has shown there have been some larger accidents by pipeline than there are by rail or truck transportation.

Huser says she is more concerned overall by how the spills are handled. Huser says having looked at the information on the various types of accidents, the decision comes down to how the board views the safety factors that have been put in place to protect against an accident.

The three discussed many other details during the meeting. The board will hold another meeting on February 19th and Huser says they have also reserved March 9th and 10th for additional days of deliberation.  You can go to the Iowa Utilities Board website to find out more.

Iowa’s electric coops happy with court ruling on Clean Power Plan

Chuck Soderberg

Chuck Soderberg

A spokesman for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives says the organization is happy to see the Supreme Court Ruling that halts the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan regulations until lawsuits on the issue are settled.

Association executive vice president Chuck Soderberg says the cost of complying is a big issue.

“We are supportive of putting everything on hold until the assessment process of the legal system takes a look at that, because it was a very aggressive timeline to comply,” Soderberg says. “I know the state of Iowa…was going to ask for a two-year extension because of its significance.” He says allowing the plan to move forward would have caused many Iowa cooperatives to take costly and irreversible steps to comply.

“There’s a lot of big decisions that have to be made, and each decision is very expensive. As a not for profit electric cooperative, obviously if there is an additional cost, that is a burden we do not want to put on the consumers unless we absolutely have to,” Soderberg says. The Iowa electric cooperatives provide power to 650-thousand Iowans throughout all 99 counties. Soderberg says one of their goals is to provide clean, reliable power, and that requires a mix of power sources.

“We have invested in renewable energy for a number of years. We’ve invested millions of dollars in energy efficiency programs. We have a number of rural electric cooperatives that have taken the initiative to put in solar generation,” Soderbeg says. Soderberg says the case involving the Clean Power Plan will likely end up being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court sometime in 2017.


Iowa Utilities Board could make decision on Bakken pipeline today

Members of the IUB looked at maps as they discussed the Bakken pipeline route.

Members of the IUB looked at maps as they discussed the Bakken pipeline route.

The Iowa Utilities Board continued going over material Wednesday on the request for a construction permit for the Bakken oil pipeline.

The pipeline would run from the northwest corner of the state down to the southeast. The board’s last deliberation meeting is scheduled for today.

The chief operations officer for the IUB, Cecil Wright, is one of the people going through the hundreds of documents to see if the board has any questions. “This objection raises questions as to how the pipeline will affect the future of the property, and also the value of the property,” Wright says.

The IUB members ask questions about the testimony and documents supporting the landowners’ concerns. They also talked about parts of the pipeline that would cross state roadways. The lawyer for the board, David Lynch, says that is a different process.

“The Department of Transportation has a standard utility accommodation policy which it applies to a variety of different kinds of linear infrastructure — utilities that want to cross DOT property. As you could imagine, its hard to build a transmission line or pipeline without it crossing a highway,” Lynch says. He says that DOT policy dictates the placement of the pipeline.

“When they have to cross at roughly a 90-degree angle. Who is responsible for any excess road repair costs if that happens. It’s all covered,” Lynch says. The three board members looked at maps of the proposed pipeline and the individual properties as Wright talked about them. For example, he talked about a Jasper County landowner’s concerns about the impact of the pipeline.

“The issue is with regard to where the proposed line is now, is her expectation is to create an organic garden. And she is afraid that pipeline will impact the fertility or the productivity of the land,” Wright says. Some 300 property owners have refused to grant access to their property for the pipeline.

The board began its meetings on Monday and has scheduled one last meeting for today. The board released a statement prior to the start of the meeting that it may or may not make a decision on granting a license at the end of the meetings.


Vision Iowa awards grants to Donnellson and Parkersburg

vision iowa logoThe Vision Iowa Board approved nearly $525,000 for two projects Wednesday. Spokesperson Jessica O’Riley, says a project for Donnellson in southeast Iowa won a grant of $233,000.

“It will include the construction of a five-thousand square-foot public library that willgive them expanded circulation space, a separate area for programming and genealogy, as well as more computer work stations,” O’Riley says. The new library will replace the town’s current library.

The other grant is for the northeast Iowa town of Parkersburg. “It will include several little league fields, a senior league field, three soccer fields and a miracle field. And that field will be for wheel-chair bound, or those with some disabilities, both for youth and adults,” according to O’Riley The Parkersburg grant is for 291-thousand dollars. O’Riley says the grants pay for a portion of the project.

“Before they can even apply, they have to have at least 50 percent of their total project cost. Typically, the board is the last dollar in,” O’Riley says. The total project cost for Parkersburg is $1.7 million. The Donnellson project cost is $863,800.


National Weather Service offering severe weather spotting courses

Storm clouds in western Iowa.

Storm clouds in western Iowa.

The first of almost 40 severe weather “spotter” training courses in central Iowa will be held next week.

Kelsey Angle, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service, says the courses are free and open to all Iowans.

Angle says, “Anybody that has an interest in the weather and an interest in reporting information to the National Weather Service is encouraged to attend a spotter training course.” The instructors are all meteorologists at the weather service and no registration is required ahead of time.

“The courses last generally about 90 minutes,” Angle says. “With that, we will cover what to report, when to report, how to report, how to identify the characteristics of thunderstorms and what a good report is.” While the National Weather Service has trained thousands of Iowans as spotters over the years, he says you can never really have “enough.”

“That is true,” Angle says. “It’s always good, the more eyes and ears that you have on approaching severe weather is always good and quality reports certainly do help in the warning process.” The classes run through mid-April and if you can’t attend one in person, two online versions will be offered on April 2nd and April 19th at 7 P.M.

For a full list of all the upcoming spotter courses, visit: www.weather.gov/dmx/stormspotting

Senator Ernst introduces bill to deal with military sexual assaults

Senator Joni Ernst in a recent hearing with military leaders.

Senator Joni Ernst in a recent hearing with military leaders.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, has introduced legislation to help members of the military that have been sexually assaulted. Ernst says he Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment Act or SAVE,  has several goals.

“Including changing military culture and the overall prevention of sexual assault to stop this crime in the first place,” Ernst explains. “In addition, we must also ensure that strong support is in place for survivors of sexual assault in the military.”

Senators from both parties have signed onto the bill, which Ernst says will also help victims get access to the treatment they need. Ernst says the bill amends the current law to allow veterans who are military sexual assault survivors to use health care services outside the Veterans Administration regardless of the military requirements.

She says giving veterans flexibility in where they get their treatment is particularly important for rural states where veterans may have to travel a long way to get to VA treatment centers. Ernst says women are the fastest growing segment of military veterans in the U.S., with an estimated 10 percent of veterans now being women.

Ernst, who is a combat veteran who recently retired from the Iowa National Guard, has been working on another issue involving active military members. Ernst has talked with military leaders about the plan to integrate women into combat positions. She has also talked with men and women soldiers about the plan. “There are many women who are concerned they will be forced into these military occupational specialties which could hurt their careers. So there is a lot of concern out there,” Ernst says. “I think the administration has been in a rush to get this through. We need to slow down a bit to make sure we are not hurting our combat capabilities.”

Ernst says she does not want to see standards lowered for women, and the female soldiers she has talked to also do not want that. She says physical requirement are often used in placing soldiers in particular specialties, and women can score lower because they don’t have the same strength as men. Ernst says there needs to be a plan in place so women are not held back from moving up the command chain because of those differences.

“We’ve always had men in those roles, now we are opening to women, so understanding the physiological differences between men and women, what women are able to achieve. It is going to be very different from what they are able to achieve as young infantrymen or artillerymen,” according to Ernst. She says she wants to ensure that the women are not being set up for failure. Ernst says leadership plays a big role in changing the culture of the military and integrating women into the combat roles.

“And fostering respect within the teams or the squads — really encouraging a climate of dignity and respect — that’s what your leadership needs to focus on. And you will see that men and women will be able to work side-by-side and protecting (each other) whether it be your brother or their sister. They are going to be one part of one team,” Ernst says. Ernst, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says she will continue following the integration issue to ensure all soldiers are given an equal opportunity.


Lawmaker to introduce bill allowing production of cannabis oil in Iowa

Peter Cownie

Peter Cownie

A West Des Moines lawmaker plans to file a bill today that would make cannabis oil more accessible for Iowans to use as a medicine.

Representative Peter Cownie, a Republican, talked about his decision to push the bill.

“As the father of a healthy 3-year-old son and a healthy 10-month-old son, my heart goes out the families and the sick who have tried everything in the past to help their children and loved ones to no avail,” Cownie says. “I believe it is time for the state of Iowa to act.”

Cannabis oil.

Cannabis oil.

The Iowa Legislature passed a bill that was signed into law last year that allows resident to possess cannabis oil, but those who need it for their children or their own health say it is difficult to get.

Cownie says his bill bans smoking marijuana, and only makes the oil legal. “Only cannabidiol for a variety of ailments — including epilepsy. And also will allows it to be grown and dispensed in the state of Iowa. That’s the problem that we had with the original bill,” Cownie says.

Cownie spoke at a news conference Tuesday and did not want to say a lot more about the bill until it is filed, and then he says everyone will get an opportunity to voice their opinion.

“I would ask everyone to keep an open mind on the bill. There are predispositions to the word marijuana of course. This doesn’t have anything to do with that,” Cownie says. “This has to do with the oil derived from the plant.”

He did not want to say how much bipartisan support he thinks the bill may have. “I know we have some legislative support, but it is also my own personal policy, I don’t speak for legislators personally. They all need to make their own decision on this, and hopefully we’ll find common ground,” Cownie says.

Steve Gaer

Steve Gaer

Representatives of “Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis” joined Cownie to talk about how the cannabis oil has helped them or their children.

Steven Gaer says his daughter’s seizures have been cut in half since she started taking the cannabis oil.

“This is amazing stuff with no side effects that we can’t understand why people aren’t doing more to understand it and help people get to it,” Gaer says, “because there are no side effects. It either does work or it doesn’t work, but there are no side affects to this medication.”

He says the medications his daughter started taking at nine months old to prevent seizures stopped her brain development, and she has the intellect of a four or five year old and she is 26. Gaer says the cannabis oil has helped his daughter to finally sleep through the night and she recently said a complete sentence for the first time.

“I tell people this is like non-alcoholic beer. Don’t tell me if we have non-alcoholic beer that people are going to drink and become alcoholics. There are no side effects to this medication — yet she has seen results we have not seen before. And she has permanent damage,” Gaer says. “I can’t imagine a family with a young child that could have access to this, that maybe that child could live a normal life.”

The Gaer’s get their cannabis oil from New York. Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis say a survey they conducted in December shows 76 percent of Iowans support legislation that would allow the legal production of medical cannabis for those with qualifying conditions.