July 31, 2014

Two casinos in eastern Iowa pay penalties for gambling violations

Casinos in Burlington and Dubuque received fines today from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission for violations. Commission administrator, Brian Ohorilko, says a minor was challenged, but still allowed to enter and remain on the gambling floor of the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington for 11 hours.

The commission approved an agreement where the casino would pay $15,000 for the violation. Catfish Bend manager, Rob Higgins, says they’ve taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. “We’ve met with DCI, we’ve gone over I-D’s and so forth. Between the disciplinary action and the continued training, I think we’ve got everything under control,” Higgins says.

Higgins apologized for the violation. “We do take it seriously and I think our track record speaks for itself, but it is still inexcusable,” Higgins says. “And I am here to say that we are going to continue trying to improve that and make sure everybody is following the policy and that everybody is responsible. That is the key to the whole thing that we’ve trained the staff to make sure that everybody is responsible, not just security.”

The Mystic Casino in Dubuque agreed to a penalty of $5,000 after a man who had excluded himself from gambling entered the casino in March and tried to redeem a promotional coupon. Upon investigation, the casino determined they had used a mailing list and sent out promotional items to five people who had banned themselves from gambling after the list was not properly cross-checked.

Casino chief operating officer Tom Wiedmayer says they reported the information as soon as they found out. “The actual patron that came in was a local barment, not a statewide self-exclusion patron,” Wiedmayer says. “We notified through confidential communication the five customers that were impact that were mailed to let them know that that was sent in error. None of them came to the casino.”

Wiedmayer says they have changed the way they send out the material. “We’ve implemented procedures that we will not be purchasing lists anymore and if we do procedures against the statewide self-exclusion list,” Wiedmayer says. It was the second offense in the last 12 months of this type for the casino. The casino paid a $3,000 penalty for the last offense.

Glenwood facility fined $2000 after resident swallows batteries

A state facility that cares for Iowans with significant intellectual disabilities is being fined $2000 after a resident swalled three batteries.

The incident happened June 2 at the Glenwood Resource Center. According to a statement from the Iowa Department of Human Services, the resident “received treatment at a nearby medical center” and “a few days later” was discharged back to the care of the state facility in Glenwood. No other details have been provided by state officials, such as where the resident found the batteries.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals levied the $2000 fine against the facility for “failing to provide required supervision” of the resident. The superintendent of the Glenwood Resource Center promises “furhter corrective action” to prevent something like this from happening again.

The Glenwood Resource Center cares for about 250 residents who have significant behavior challenges or medical issues due to an intellectual disability.

State’s largest solar farm open for business near Kalona

The state's largest solar farm is located south of Iowa City and north of Kalona.

The state’s largest solar farm is located south of Iowa City and north of Kalona.

State, local and national officials celebrated the opening of Iowa’s largest solar farm today. The farm is located in eastern Iowa about 11 miles south of Iowa City and six miles north of Kalona.

Farmers Electric Cooperative built the facility and general manager Warren McKenna says it will produce 800 kilowatts. “With 2,900 solar modules on four-and-a-half acres. It’ll generate enough for about 123 homes annually, and over a million kilowatt hours a year.

McKenna says they partnered with an eastern Iowa company to build the farm.”This project is financed through a PPA, a purchase point power agreement, with Eagle Point Solar out of Dubuque. And it will have a 10-year ownership for the Co-op. After 10 years of purchasing the power, we will then assume ownership of the project,” McKenna explains.

Information from the company says it will give the co-op the highest per-capita solar generation of any utility in the country. “It’ll generate even on cloudy days — of course that’s going to impact production — overall the average is four-point-seven hours a day times 365 days a year,” McKenna says. “It’ll output about 80 percent of the rated capacity. Sometimes more, sometimes less.”

McKenna says the solar farm adds another dimension to the renewable energy the co-op produces. He says solar power has some different requirements from wind power.

“It does take up some acreage, it’s a little larger footprint than wind. But, we don’t have to climb a tower to do maintenance, it’s all right there at eye level,” McKenna says. He says the cost of solar power has become more afforable than it was in the past. “They’re squeezing more power out of the same size module and the price has dropped probably about 50 percent over the last five years,” McKenna explains.

McKenna says they have four more acres of land available if they want to expand the solar farm in the future. The Frytown-based co-op has around 650 members.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Mauk.

Northwest Iowa man charged with mother’s murder

Jonathan Neunaber

Jonathan Neunaber

A northwest Iowa man who’s been held as a material witness in the deaths of his parents is now charged with his mother’s murder.

Jonathon Neunaber of Akron has been charged with first-degree murder. Neunaber is accused of killing his mother, Esther Neunaber. Esther and her husband, Donald, were both found dead in their rural Akron home on July 9. The state medical examiner determined the cause of death as homicide.

According to a news release from the Plymouth County Sheriff, Jonathon Neunaber admitted to investigators that he willfully, deliberatley and with premeditation caused the death of his mother. Authorities found Jonathon Neunaber in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a day after the discovery of the dead bodies. Neunaber’s bond has been set at $100,000.

The court documents filed today only refer to Esther Neunaber’s death and make no reference to her husband’s. His body was also found in the home where mother, father and son lived.

Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars

July temperatures average 4.5 degrees below normal in Iowa

State Climatologist Harry Hillaker says this month has been unusually cool for Iowa.

“Not all the numbers are in yet, but it looks like it will probably finish up the fifth coolest July on record in Iowa and that’s among the last 142 years of data,” Hillaker says. “So fifth out of 142 is obviously pretty unusual.”

Average temperatures in July have been about 4.5 degrees cooler than normal, “which isn’t really a lot, I’d guess you’d say when you first look at it, but during the summer months we just typically don’t really have that much variability from year to year as far as summer temperatures go, so that’s pretty unusual,” Hillaker says. “Oddly enough, though, 2009 ranks as our coolest July on record, so you only have to go back five years to find a cooler one than this one.”

Hillaker says so far, the summer of 2014 has been a “rather mild” one.

“There’s still quite a number of places over in northern and eastern Iowa that have yet to reach 90 degrees this year,” Hillaker says. “Still plenty of time for that to happen, but it hasn’t occured yet in places like Burlington and Cedar Rapids, Mason City, Dubuque and probably a number of other places as well.”

After a fairly wet June, rainfall has been sporadic and Hillaker says it’s been relatively dry for the past three to four weeks.

“Crops, for the most part, are progressing pretty well as far as seasonality, not really behind in development, so not any big negatives, I guess, on the cooler temperatures,” Hillaker says. “…We’d just like to see some more rainfall than what we’ve been getting.”

Far northern Iowa is “quite a bit dry” according to Hillaker, who says the statewide average for rainfall is more than an inch below what’s normal for July.

Omaha fundraiser helps Pilger, Nebraska

Pilger-can-coozieResidents of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska gathered at a bar in Omaha last night to support a benefit concert for the tornado-ravaged town of Pilger, Nebraska. Four bands, all featuring members with ties to the small town, performed at The Waiting Room.

Many residents of Pilger were in attendance, including 61-year-old Keenan Meyer, who’s astounded with all the donations and volunteer efforts to help the community of roughly 350 people recover from the disaster on June 16.

“It’s just amazing the people who came in, even that night, an hour later there were people with trucks and big equipment. “Of course, they couldn’t do anything because they were evacuating the town, but it’s really amazing what they’ve gotten done in a month,” Meyer said. “I’ve talked to people from Illinois and Texas who have given up their vacation to come (to Pilger to) pick up sticks and bricks.”

An EF-4 tornado ripped through Pilger, while another EF-2 twister passed just outside of town. Two people were killed, including a 5-year-old girl, while 16 more were critically injured.

Omaha band “Clarence Tilton” performs at the benefit concert.

The Omaha band “Clarence Tilton” performs at the benefit concert.

Meyer believes things could’ve turned out much worse had the storm not passed through in the afternoon. “You know, if it would’ve been two in the morning and people wouldn’t have heard a siren or got to shelter, we could’ve had two dozen deaths,” Meyer said. “So, in that respect, you hate to lose anybody, but it saved a lot of people that it was in the daytime.”

Over half of the buildings and homes in Pilger were destroyed or severely damaged.

Meyer said his home, located four blocks away from where the tornado made a direct hit, sustained about $20,000 in damage. A large tree fell in his yard, but missed hitting his house.

Last night’s concert raised $1,040 for the Pilger Rebuild & Relief Fund.



Harkin frustrated with lack of progress on unaccompanied children illegally entering country

Many members of Congress are reportedly ready to bolt from Washington D.C. to begin their month-long August recess. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin expects both chambers will be adjourning today or tomorrow at the latest. Harkin says he’s frustrated at the lack of progress in dealing with the recent flood of undocumented children from Central America who’ve entered the U.S. illegally.

“One thing I think should be done is that the House should put up for a vote the immigration bill that we passed on a bipartisan vote here in the Senate last year,” Harkin says. “It has been said many times that if the House voted on it, it would pass and go to the president for his signature.”

The Obama Administration is proposing a package that would cost $3.7 billion, but it’s meeting with much resistance. Harkin, a Democrat, says he’d like to see passage of what’s known as a supplemental appropriations bill — before Congress vacates the Capitol Building until early September. “And that includes funds for both border security,” Harkin says, “and for Health and Human Services to house and feed and give protection to a lot of the young people who have come across the border.”

Nearly 60,000 children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have come into the U.S. illegally since October, with about 140 undocumented children coming to Iowa. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is quoted as saying the cost to taxpayers to care for the children could be as much as $1,000 per day. Harkin says there’s been public outcry on both sides of the issue and the proposed spending bill would remedy some of the urgent demands.

Harkin says, “This is desperately needed and I’m hopeful that we’ll get this done before we leave here, whenever we leave here.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers is scheduled to leave Friday on a fact-finding trip to the southern border. Harkin is not among them. Iowa Congressman Steve King, a Republican, was at the border recently and says he learned things that “shocked him deeply” about the children who’ve walked across the border, like how up to 70 percent of the female children were sexually assaulted. King says once those children reach American soil, they’re being treated “humanely” by federal agents and private groups that stepped forward to house them.