October 13, 2015

Vote to pull Highway 330 interchange from DOT construction plan fails

Leonard Boswell

Leonard Boswell

An effort to pull the controversial proposal to build a diamond interchange on Highway 330 in central Iowa from the Department of Transportation’s construction plans failed today  on a 4-3 vote by the Transportation Commission.

The DOT proposed building the 20 million dollar interchange where U.S. Highway 65, Iowa 117 and county road F-17 in Jasper County cross Highway 330 after nine people died in accidents there between 2003 and 2011.

Commission member John Putney of Gladbrook asked in September that the project be pulled from the five-year road plan to give more time to see if other changes are working. There have been no deaths there in three years. The DOT says dangerous conditions still exist at the intersection and showed a video during today’s meeting in Decorah.

DOT director Paul Trombino rejected any alternative to the plan. “There is only one solution, which is the interchange,” Trombino says. “So our recommendation to the commission is to reject the motion and proceed with the interchange to ultimately prevent fatalities and improve the safety of the worst area that we have in the state.”

Transportation Commission chair, Leonard Boswell, of Davis City says the video presented by the DOT staff was well prepared, but said if the other side had the time and money that was spent on the DOT video “they could probably come up with a pretty impressive video too.” Boswell says he “respects life” but doesn’t think spending millions of dollars on the interchange is the proper solution to the problem.

“I think with all due respect to the engineering department and even though the case has been made for this intersection — that there are alternatives to safety in that intersection that have not been fully explored,” Boswell says.

Boswell, a former state legislator and congressman, says pulling the interchange from the construction plan does not mean it would never be built. “I think we owe it to our state, our people, our children and everybody else involved that we look at alternatives and complete it. We have all probably seen, I have, alternatives in other parts of the country. I have been looking intently since I have been hearing about this,” Boswell says.

Commissioners Boswell and Putney voted in favor of pulling the project along with David Rose of Clinton. Commissoners Daniel Huber of Davenport, Loree Miles of Dallas Center, Amy Reasnor of Cedar Rapids and Charese Yanney of Sioux City all voted against pulling the project.


Iowa’s subsoil water tank sitting on full heading into winter

drought-mapSome areas of the state got torrential rains near the end of September, but overall the state water report shows things looking pretty good as fall winds down. The Iowa DNR’s Tim Hall keeps track of the water situation.

“We’re kind of right where we’d hoped to be — a little on the wet side of normal, not overly wet — pretty good soil moisture going into the winter. So, actually it’s been a pretty good water year for the state,” Hall says.

The state tracks the subsoil moisture through the month of September as that’s when the opportunity to make a difference starts to end. “Generally after the ground freezes up, not so much frost, but once you get a good hard freeze, there really isn’t much opportunity for rainfall to soak into the ground,” Hall explains. “Now you can still get runoff into the streams and you still get some replenishment of the materials along the edges of the streams and rivers and obviously we can fill reservoirs — but in terms of overall general soil moisture — once the ground freezes up, the game changes a little bit.”

Hall says all 99 counties are drought free right now. “Just a couple tiny areas that are classified abnormally dry along the Mississippi River in northeast and southeast Iowa. But no areas that are even starting to approach drought conditions right now,” Hall says. Hall says farmers and others can feel good about the ground water levels as they work toward finishing their harvest and think about the new crop.

“It’s important to get the soil moisture into the ground going into winter. You like to sort of think about it as the fuel tank for water, you like to have the tank full going into spring just in case you end up with a dry spring. It’s nice to have a reserve of soil moisture in there to get things kick-started in the spring should things get a little drier,” according to Hall.

Hall says the whole midwest should be happy with the groundwater situation. “This whole region is in really good shape from a drought perspective. There’s almost no large areas of abnormally dry or early signs of drought in all the states that run around Iowa. So, regionally we’re in pretty good shape too,” Hall says. Hall says it wouldn’t hurt to have a little rain in some areas as the harvest comes to a close, as an added cushion.

For a thorough review of Iowa’s water resource trends, go to: www.iowadnr.gov/watersummaryupdate


Injured Trumpeter swan caught and taken to rehab

dnr-LOGO-thmbThe Iowa Department of Natural Resources says a swan wounded by duck hunters in Scott County has been caught. The Trumpeter swan was wounded October 3rd at the Princeton Wildlife Area at the same time another swan was killed.

A conservation officer was unable to capture the wounded bird at the time, but it was caught Friday and has been taken to a wildlife rehabilitator near Clear Lake.

The DNR says the bird had a damaged wing. Two 25-year-old duck hunters, Levi Young of Davenport and Kyle Munson of Eldridge have each been charged with one count of unlawful taking of a protected game species, one count of attempted taking of a protected game species and two charges of abandoning the swans after they were shot.


Survey of Akron shows majority of homes with high radon levels

Barcey Levy

Barcey Levy

Results of a study of the rural northwest Iowa community of Akron show more than 80 percent of the homes there have radon levels significantly above the levels recommended safe by the EPA.

University of Iowa professor and researcher Barcey Levey helped with the study. Levy, who is a doctor and director of the Iowa Research Network at the U-I’s College of Medicine, says the results show what the entire state is facing when it comes to radon. Levey and Akron doctor, Cynthia Wolff, also gathered information beyond the actual radon levels.

“We numbered the kits and we had surveys to go along with it to just to the age of their home, income level, basic demographic information, whether there was tobacco in the home, that kind of thing. A short survey,” Levey says.

Radon is an ordorless, colorless gas created by natural uranium in the earth and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.  She says they found the radon wasn’t particular in which homes it got into. “Many of the newer homes were actually higher in radon because a new home is usually better insulated and better insulation can actually trap the radon. And when you do these tests they recommend you do it under closed house conditions,” Levey says.

The radon levels are measured in picoCuries per liter. “The EPA has determined that the indoor radon levels should not be 4 or above,” Levey says. “And most homes can be reduced below 2 with a radon-mitigation system.” Some homes in Akron had levels 10-20 times the recommended levels, and one test showed the home to have a level of 120.

Dr. Levy says it is best to have the mitigation system professionally installed. She says the system could cost between $1,500 and $1,800 depending on the size of the home. Levey says the cost is a deterrent to some people, but she says the cost of getting sick and treating lung cancer pales in comparison.

Levy says Akron is a small sample, but she says it shows how big a problem radon can be across Iowa. “We know we have high levels across the state, so personally my advice would be that the legislature should legislate that all new construction — schools, homes etcetera — should have what’s called an active radon mitigation system put in at the time of the building, because it is way less expensive than doing it later,” Levey says. She says there also needs to be more education of people on what radon is and the dangers it can bring.

“Unless you are kind of aware of it you don’t really think of it,” Levey says. She says you might realize you need a smoke detector in your home or a carbon-monoxide detector, but says even doctor Wolf had never heard of the radon issue until she went to a U-I presentation. “And then she went home and tested her home and it was 38.”

Akron only had one company that did radon mitigation when the testing began, but Levy says other companies starting doing the work once the high levels were discovered. Many banks in the Akron area began offering low-interest loans for mitigation systems.

The Akron study was published this month in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.



DNR adding assault rifles for conservation officers

DNR-signDepartment of Natural Resources offices assigned to state parks are getting more firepower to go along with their handguns. DNR spokesman Kevin Baskins says the officers are now learning to use assault rifles that will be assigned to them.

“We made a purchase of 37 AR-15s. There are actually 34 officers who are in training to be certified on these,” Baskins says. Baskins says the state parks are safe but the officers often assist other law enforcement agencies such as country sheriffs or state troopers.

“A lot of our state parks are located in more remote areas of the state and that includes some of the counties that don’t have very high populations,” according to Baskins. “So, at times, our officers do provide mutual aid.”

Baskin says the rifles will allow the officers to be prepared for any situation they might face. “One of the unfortunate realities of today is that we want to make sure that our officers have equipment that meets the standard of what they might encounter in some of their everyday duties in the parks,” Baskins says. Baskins says they are sworn peace officers who can enforce any of the laws on the books. The state park officers must pass proficiency tests before being issued a rifle.

Dean Borg of Iowa Public Radio contributed to this story.


Second man sentenced in Iowa City synthetic marijuana sales

Synthetic marijuana seized in arrest.

Synthetic marijuana seized in arrest.

A man originally from Peoria, Illinois has admitted to helping an Iowa City pipe shop owner sell synthetic marijuana. Forty-year-old Christopher Watkins pled guilty to conspiring to manufacture and distribute synthetic marijuana.

Court records indicate Watkins worked for Robert Sharp, who owned the Pipe Dreamz shop in Iowa City. He admitted to working with Sharp to package bulk materials into synthetic products commonly known as “Spice” and K-2. Sharp’s store, a storage area and the house where Watkins lived in Cedar Rapids were all raided.

Officers seized thousands of packages of the synthetic material and say they found a manufacturing area in Watkin’s home. Watkins faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine once his sentencing has been set. Sharp pled guilty to the same drug charges and is also awaiting sentencing.


Wire issue causes runways at the Des Moines airport to go dark

Flight-infoThings went dark on the runways of the Des Moines International airport last night around 8:30. Airport operations manager, Andrew Wall, says they were able to figure out the problem.

“About a week ago we had a lightening strike here at the airport –which is not uncommon for lightening to strike the airfield — and it damaged some of the wire that connects those runway lights, and over time it just wore out, and it failed last night,” Wall says.

He says the runway lights were out for about three hours, and the lack of lights did not become a safety concern. “No, I wouldn’t say it was more dangerous. The planes need those lights to land and so if there were any aircraft in the landing phase of flight, they would have gone around and diverted to another airport,” Wall explains. He says it did slow down some flights.

as at least half a dozen flights were delayed or canceled and they were playing catch up today.

Wall says it is rare for the equipment to go down. “This is fairly unusual, fairly unusual I’d say. It doesn’t happen that often at all,” Wall says. Wall says travelers can check the airport website today to see if their flights are on time.