May 27, 2015

Judges rules rezoning around ‘Field of Dreams’ was reasonable


“Field of Dreams” farmstead near Dyersville.

A district court judge has ruled the Dyersville City Council acted reasonably when it rezoned the area around the “Field of Dreams” as commercial rather than agricultural property. Jim Heavens was Dyersville’s mayor at the time the council made that decision.

“This has been something that’s really been weighing on all of us here,” Heavens says. “And I think what it proves or it shows — I’m not a lawyer, but I think the judge got it right — is that what we did here was make a quality decision on the Field of Dreams project from the city’s standpoint.”

A Chicago developer has plans to build a youth sports complex around the iconic baseball field featured in the 1989 movie, but a coalition that includes neighbors around the “Field of Dreams” filed a lawsuit nearly three years ago protesting the Dyersville City Council’s decision. Susan Hess is the attorney who represents the “Residential and Agricultural Advisory Committee”.

“I really felt very strongly that the city did not follow the correct process,” Hess says.

Hess says the group will “most likely appeal” today’s ruling. Hess says farmers in the area who joined the lawsuit are concerned about the increased traffic around the proposed sports complex, which would have 24 baseball and softball diamonds.

“They’re farming different properties and so they’re moving around and hauling a lot of heavy equipment,” Hess says. “Their concern, obviously, was that it would not be safe for a large facility to be put there in the middle of an area that’s largely agricultural.”

Former Mayor Heavens says the judge’s decision “vindicates” the action he and the rest of the city council took.

“We were called corrupt and all kinds of names in public, but what happened here was that they took all the documents that were related to this thing, seven days of trial, hours of city council tapes and planning and zoning tapes,” Heavens says, “essentially put that decision under a microscope and found out after all was said and done that, yes, we did everything according to the rules.”

The district court judge ruled the decision to rezone the property was “made reasonably.” The “Field of Dreams’ is about 3 miles northeast of Dyersville.

Official confirms black bear sighting in Dubuque

A state conservation officer says paw prints found behind a home in Dubuque are likely those of a black bear.

The yard where the bear was spotted is in the city of Dubuque, but near a heavily wooded state recreation area known as the Mines of Spain. Nate Johnson — a conservation officer for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources — got a call from the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office this morning.

“Somebody had a bear walk into their back yard and walk back out,” Johnson told Radio Iowa this afternoon.

Because of recent rains, the bear tracks were easy to see in the mud.

“I was able to get a front paw print measurement of the pad of the front paw there,” Johnson said. “It was approximately four inches wide, so not a tiny bear, but not a giant bear by any means.”

Johnson estimates the bear weighs up to 200 pounds and is probably one or two years old. There were a couple of other black bear sightings reported in Dubuque.

“Somebody witnessed a bear run across the street in front of them,” Johnson said. “…About an hour after that there were some other people that called in and they witnessed a bear going through their backyard and then they ended up reporting to me that there were actually two bears in their backyard, one a little bit bigger than the other. If that information was correct, then we’re probably looking at a mother with a like a year or two-year-old juvenile with it.”

Johnson believes the bear or bears probably made their way down to the woods near Dubuque from Minnesota or Wisconsin.

“Right now we’re just really hoping that they find their way back out-of-town and live their lives wild,” Johnson said, “and not have conflicts with people.”

Experts say black bears are “opportunistic eaters” that consume all sorts of things like grass, berries and fish, but can easily develop a taste for human food. Johnson said the bears may have been attracted to a compost pile in the backyard of the Dubuque home where they were first spotted.

“We want to make sure these bears aren’t associating people and residences with food,” Johnson said.

Black bear cubs are born blind and will stay with their mothers for up to two years. Black bear sightings are rare in Iowa.

“Occasionally we’ll have a bear wander down into Clayton and Allamakee County,” Johnson said. “There was one found dead in Fayette County earlier this spring.”

Johnson believes this is the first confirmed black bear sighting within the city limits of Dubuque, however. If you encounter a bear, Johnson offers this advice: “Don’t turn around and run. Just slowly back away and leave it alone.”

According to Johnson, humans should give any wildlife you happen upon “plenty of space” because even a small baby animal may have a rather large and dangerous parent nearby. Black bears can weigh up to 600 pounds and be up to five-and-a-half feet long. Despite their name, a black bear can be brown, a blueish gray or even look like the color of cinnamon.

Ernst traveling to Vietnam & Singapore this week

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst is traveling to Vietnam with a U.S. delegation led by Arizona Senator John McCain, a former Prisoner of War in Vietnam.

The trip is timed to mark the 20th anniversary of normalized relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. Ernst and the rest of the group will visit with top government and civic leaders in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This is the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

Later this week Ernst, McCain and four other U.S. senators will visit Singapore for the annual meeting of defense ministers and policy makers from the Asia-Pacific.

‘People & pets’ urged to avoid diesel spill on Storm Lake

Swimmers, boaters and fishermen are being warned to stay away from a diesel fuel spill in a northwest Iowa lake.

Staff for the City of Storm Lake are trying to contain the diesel fuel spill on Storm Lake, but winds have carried some of the diesel to the lake’s east shoreline. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is urging “people and pets” to avoid areas of the lake where there’s a “visible sheen on the water” — indicating there’s diesel fuel there.

Officials don’t know how much diesel was spilled. It happened when city staff were fueling up a pump that dredges silt off the lake bed.

Up to $13 million in state incentives approved for Sioux City pork plant

The Iowa Economic Development Authority has approved state incentives for projects in six cities that officials say will lead to the creation of more than 1,300 new jobs.

The biggest project is in Sioux City. That’s where a new pork processing plant will be built. Officials say more than 1,100 will be employed there once the plant is up and running. The state is providing tax incentives for the project worth up to $13 million.

The other projects getting state awards today are in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Fort Dodge, Colfax, Urbandale and Des Moines.

ConAgra is getting a package of state tax incentives worth up to $3.9 million for expansion of its facility in Waterloo and Red Star Yeast is getting $25,000 from the state, plus state tax breaks for expanding its operations in Cedar Rapids.

State officials have also awarded a half million dollar state loan for a plant in Fort Dodge where prescription drugs for animals will be made. Beck’s Hybrids is getting $200,000 from the state, along with tax breaks, for construction of a sales and distribution center along Interstate 80, near Colfax. A company called BirdDogHR that has outgrown its headquarters in Urbandale and is getting a $215,000 state grant for relocating in the same suburb rather than move out-of-state.

Finally, the City of Des Moines is getting $36.5 million from the Iowa Reinvestment District Program. The money is to be used on development of the entertainment district in the capital city’s downtown. The centerpiece: a new convention hotel that would connect to the Iowa Events Center.

Is a vaccine the answer to bird flu epidemic?

The executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association says it’s unclear whether vaccination is the answer to prevent another outbreak of bird flu.

“There’s a debate, a very active debate about that currently and the USDA is taking that up and will be determining whether that would be a viable option,” says Iowa Poultry Association executive director Randy Olson

Olson took over as the Iowa Poultry Association’s executive director this spring — just a few weeks before the avian flu was discovered in Iowa. He says there is not a consensus on the issue within the industry.

“Some are certainly concerned that vaccinating birds would create a situation where we always have a certain amount of avian influenza,” Olson says. “Others would say that it’s the only way to stop the spread and so we’re thankful the USDA is devoting the resources they are to understand this and to try to make a decision.”

Olson expects that USDA decision about vaccinating birds in poultry operations sometime this summer. In addition to an 85 percent jump in the price of eggs, Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey warns there’s likely to be a reduction in output from the turkey processing plant in West Liberty.

“I think as we lose capacity from the farms going to that plant, I think we are likely to see shortened hours there,” Northey says. “We’ve seen that in Minnesota already and certainly many of our eggs as well go through processing plants..and we’re starting to see some shortened hours in that as well.”

Northey predicts shortages in products like liquid eggs and powdered eggs that are used in processed foods, like cake mixes and mayonnaise.

“There’s going to be an availability issue here as well,” Northey says, “so we’re going to lose sales because we don’t have product and then some of these companies in time will look at how they can engineer that recipe with less eggs in it and we’re going to have to build that back.”

Northey and Olson made their comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.

Iowa’s governor honors slain Omaha policewoman

Officer  Kerrie Orozco was shot to death while on duty Wednesday.

Officer Kerrie Orozco was shot to death while on duty Wednesday.

Iowa’s governor has ordered that flags be flown at half-staff Tuesday in honor of the Omaha police officer who was killed in the line of duty this week.

Twenty-nine-year-old Kerrie Orozco was shot and killed Wednesday while serving an arrest warrant on a known gang member in Omaha. Orozco was a native of Walnut, Iowa, and she lived in Council Bluffs.

The governor’s order to lower flags in honor of Orozco applies to all state and U.S. flags at state facilities, but cities, counties and individual Iowans are encouraged to lower their flags as well on Tuesday as a show of respect for the slain policewoman.

Orozco is survived by her husband, two step-children and a baby girl. Baby Olivia was born prematurely on February 7 and Orozco was due to go on maternity leave Thursday as her baby was being released from the hospital.

Governor Branstad plans to attend Orozco’s funeral on Tuesday.