July 28, 2014

Governor says IWD team will help Cherokee Tyson workers

Governor Terry Branstad says the state is responding after learning of Tyson’s decision to close its plant in Cherokee. “Workforce Development will send a team up there to work with the community. Obviously this is a disappointment, as I understand it, this is a chicken processing facility owned by Tyson and one of three they are closing throughout the nation,” Branstad says.

The plant employees 450 people and will close on September 27th. “We want to do all we can to try and help the workers who are gonna be displaced and to try to help the community to try to find new employment opportunities for them,” Branstad says.

He says Workforce Development has a variety of options for those who will lose their jobs. “Looking at retraining and other placement opportunities,” Branstad says, “but also, Economic Development will be actively marketing looking for businesses to replace the one that’s being lost.”

A prepared statement released by Tyson says the Cherokee plant is being closed along with one in New York and another in New Mexico. The statement said the plans “have been struggling financially” and “it no longer makes business sense to keep them open.”


Report finds success in first 3 years of STEM initiative

Boone Science teacher Shelly Vanyo talks about STEM with Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

Boone Science teacher Shelly Vanyo talks about STEM with Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds say a review of the STEM initiative shows the program has been successful in its first three years.

Reynolds is the co-chair for the STEM advisory council, which is working with groups across the state to increase interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

She says the review found several positive results. “For example,students who participated in the first year of the STEM scale-up programs reported more interest in STEM topics as well as STEM careers,” Reynolds says. “A small gender gap between male and female participation in scale-up has been narrowed from year one to year two, and that’s meeting one of our main objectives.

Reynolds says there are other indicators of success is that participation among minority students matches their share of Iowa’s school-aged population. “Awareness of the acronym STEM among adults has increased by 58 percent from 2012 to 2013,” according to Reynolds. “And in case we were not sure if any of this mattered to the average Iowan, I am proud to report that 98 percent of those adults surveyed agreed that advances in STEM will provide more opportunities to adults in the next generation.”

Shelly Vanyo

Shelly Vanyo

Boone High School science teacher Shelly Vanyo joined the governor and lieutenant governor to talk about her work with STEM. Vanyo says one of the first things she focused on was renewable energy. “It’s often viewed by students when I surveyed them as ‘oh my gosh it’s just something else that I have to memorize that doesn’t make sense to me.’ Because of that, one of the first scale-ups that I selected to participate in was Kid Wind. Because wind energy is prominent in Iowa, but I found even living in an area where we have wind turbines surrounding us, my students knew nothing about it,” Vanyo says.

She says the students took quickly to the program. “My classroom flourished and became a busy, problem-solving collaborative environment, where many ideas were explored at one time,” Sanyo says. “There was not one right answer that was brought to the forefront. Every student offered their own idea and their own ways to solve the problems that we face as global citizens.”

Vanyo says the process was contagious. “Learning was truly student led. I found that I had students who were not even a part of my class who would walk by and give their time during a study hall or lunch period to join the learning that was going on in my classroom,” Vanyo says. The report found over 3,000 classrooms and clubs involving more than 100,000 students were involved in STEM from 2013 to 2014.

Governor Branstad says it is a program that everyone has recognized is important, including legislators. “This is an issue that’s gotten broad-based bipartisan support every session and we’ve gotten the funding we’ve requested. And we’ve also gotten match. We’ve gotten great private sector match (of funding) as well,” Branstad says.

You can read the full report on the program at the STEM Advisory Council website at: www.iowastem.gov.

the area to see if they have a missing persons report that might match the victim.

More lake GPS information now available from the DNR

The Iowa DNR continues adding to the GPS information that’s available for the states lakes. Fisheries Research Technician, Lewis Bruce, says they now have information on rock or brush piles and other habitat areas in the lakes that you can access online. “What this file allows you to do is download all the coordinates across the entire state onto hand-held GPS units, fish finders, anything that you can download GPS coordinates into. Once you have those points downloaded, once you go to a lake, those coordinates are going to show up,” Bruce says.

He says it helps anglers zero in on the best spots for their favorite type of fish. “I you’re fishing for say bluegills, it will allow you to find spawning beds. If you’re fishing for walleyes, you’ll be able to look for rock reefs,” Bruce explains. “Basically it’s gonna allow you to hit the water running instead of having to look for all these different sites on the lake.”

So, is modern technology giving away all those deeply held secrets about the best fishing spots gained through years of knowledge. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. There’s always going to be those piles that are off on an edge or those locations that everybody kind of hones in on on their own after being on the lake for awhile. It’s going to bring out a lot of points and ultimately will probably spread the fishing out more because there are going to be areas that people weren’t aware of originally,” Bruce says.

There’s now a lot of information available to help you find fish, but Bruce says that doesn’t guarantee that you will be successful. “Just because you are sitting over the structure doesn’t mean they are going to bite,” he says. “It seems like it can be more frustrating sometimes when you have all the technology available. You can see the fish there, you can see your lure there and they are just looking at it.”

But Bruce says the information should cut down on the time it takes to get into position to catch fish. “You know, our ultimate goal is to shorten the time between bites and give anglers all the opportunities that they can for catching fish,” Bruce says. “And ultimately we are putting a lot of the angler’s money into fish habitat and they should be the ones to benefit from it.”

To find the habitat coordinates, go to the DNR’s website .


Minburn man sentenced on child pornography charges

A Minburn man is given the maximum prison sentence on federal child pornography charges. A U.S. District Court judge sentenced 76-year-old Harold “Hal” Halstrom to 10 years in prison.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security special agents say 76-year-old Harold “Hal” Halstrom was one of the top ten most active collectors of child pornography they were tracking on the internet between 2010 and 2012. The judge said his sentencing also took into account Holmstrom’s decades of sexual abuse of five female family members which had gone unreported until his prosecution on the child pornography charges. The judge said the victim impact statements were among the most difficult he has read in his time on the bench.

Investigators say Halstrom had wiped images of child porn from his computer, but a computer forensic team was able to recover evidence of more than 48-hundred images of child porn involving children under 12, bestiality and violence.


Waterloo man charged with crimes connected to escape in North Carolina

A man who allegedly escaped from prison in North Carolina in 1973 has been formally charged in Iowa. Sixty-nine-year-old Ronald Carnes is charged with four counts of Social Security fraud, two counts of identity theft and one count of being a felon and fugitive from justice in possession of a firearm.

Carnes was living in Waterloo and raised suspicion after facial recognition software at the DOT found he had applied for two driver’s licenses. Police in Waterloo found copies of birth certificates that were not his at Carnes’ home in April. He allegedly used them to collect Social Security and obtain driver’s licenses that he used to avoid being captured.

Carnes is being held without bond until his next court appearance in August.


Eastern Iowa looks to be testing ground for driverless cars

Johnson County in eastern Iowa is trying to pull out into the fast lane and get ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to being the home for developing driverless cars. The Johnson County Supervisors unanimously passed a proclamation Thursday encouraging the testing of the vehicles — the first county in the nation to do so.

Iowa City Area Development (ICAD) Group president Mark Nolte, says the proclamation comes on the heels of a visit by a delegation to the “Automated Vehicle Symposium” in San Francisco last week. “We had some great discussions with some the companies that are looking to implement this technology, and so this proclamation and the ones that will follow from the city of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, help really show that we are serious about wanting to encourage them to come and use our roadways to get the mileage necessary for the public to adopt this new technology,” Nolte says.

It seems like something from a Jetsons’ cartoon, but Nolte says driverless cars are no longer that futuristic. “Driverless vehicles will be the next big technology that profoundly affects all of our lives — kind of like the smart phones have over the last few years,” Nolte says. “And so we’re trying to position Iowa to be the leader in this emerging technology.”

Nolte says there are sveveral selling points Iowa can offer to automakers. “We’ve got a lot of engineering research at the University of Iowa and Iowa State. The University of Iowa is home to the National Advanced Driving Simulator which is very critical as an asset for our state as we look to encourage these companies,” Nolte explains. “If you look at what’s been done in the automotive sector, what’s coming for the trucking sector. We just see that there’s as a natural fit for Iowa in this coming industry.”

He says companies like GM, Mercedes, Volvo and Google were all at the event in San Francisco, and he says they aren’t the only ones looking at the technology. “Every automaker is looking at these systems right now. I think the question is: Who is going to be first to market? And is the public ready for it? And the only way to find that out is to put these on the road and let people experience them,” Nolte says.

Nolte says getting the public used to the idea of the driverless car is a big issue. But he says there are already some systems being used and the studies have shown they increase the safety of vehicles. “We as humans overestimate our competency for safety behind the wheel,” according to Nolte. “When you compare us to these systems — we are going to have 360 degree vision, they’ll never get tired, they’ll never get distracted, they’ll be able to communicate with other vehicles with the infrastructure — they are vastly superior from a safety standpoint than humans ever will be.”

Ann Arbor, Michigan has a system for driverless cars that’s in a simulated environment that Nolte says is not as favorable to the automakers as having the vehicles run on regular roads. He says the Johnson County group might work with them on the research. Nolte says there are a few other competitors out there. “So far, three states have limited testing laws, Nevada, Michigan, California. California is having some issues rolling out the rules around this,” Nolte says. “So the feedback we’ve gotten from some of the legislative and public policy folks for the auto industry is, the first state that lets us come in and truly just adopts us and lets us log mileage on the roads will be the state we move to first.”

He says Iowa is ready to make that happen. “Current state law does not have any restrictions against this. And so, we’ve had some great conversations with the Iowa Department of Transportation and the State Patrol and the safety folks and the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the governor’s office. There’s nothing legislatively that we need to change to allow this to happen right now,” Nolte says.

He says the I-CAD Group will continue to set meetings with companies and organizations from the Automated Vehicle Symposium and they are working on establishing dates with local city councils for future proclamations to welcome driverless vehicles.


U.S. Attorney seeks information from victims in DeCoster egg case

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa is looking for people who may’ve been impacted in the Quality Egg case in Wright County. Spokesman Peter Deegan explains what they are seeking. “We’re looking to contact anyone who believes they were sickened from eggs that were distributed by Quality Egg, LLC from about the beginning of 2010 to August of 2010, due to eggs that were contaminated with Salmonella,” Deegan says.

Deegan says they are looking for information to use in the sentencing of the two owners of the egg company. Seventy-nine-year-old Austin “Jack” DeCoster of Turner, Maine, and 51-year-old Peter DeCoster of Clarion each pled guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into into interstate commerce in federal court in Sioux City.

Deegan asks anyone who believes they ate some of the bad eggs should contact them.”Visit our website at the U.S. Attorney’s office that’s at: www.justice.gov/usao/ian, or contact our victim witness coordinator, Shari Konarske at 319-363-6333,” Deegan says.

He says they will take the needed information when you contact them. “Right now we are asking anyone who believes they were sickened to go ahead contact us, and we’ll gather the information and take the process forward from there,” according to Deegan. The information provided by victims will be used to help determine the sentences given the DeCosters.