January 28, 2015

Meskwaki man pleads guilty in murder case

A Meskwaki man has pleaded guilty to killing another man at his home on the Meskwaki settlement near Tama. Twenty-one-year-old Jonathan Youngbear faced a federal charge of first-degree murder, but agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Severn Jefferson.

Youngbear admitted he was under the influence of alcohol and meth at his house on February 24th of 2014 when he stabbed Jefferson twice in the neck and chest with a knife. He also admitted that Jefferson bled to death from the wounds.

Youngbear faces a maximum sentence of life and a $250,000 fine, but prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 25 to 35 years. He will be sentenced at a later date.


Brewery promises to give profits to Food Bank of Iowa


Finnegans Brewery promises to give profits from beer sales to the Food Bank of Iowa.

Iowa’s largest food bank is aligning with an unlikely new partner. A Minnesota-based brewery will start selling beer in Iowa next month with officials claiming 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the feeding the needy.

Christina Zink, spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Iowa, says Finnegans of Minneapolis has made a remarkable commitment to the Des Moines-based charity which serves 100,000 Iowans a year.

“Finnegans is now going to be selling their products here in Iowa and when people purchase the beer at local places, the Food Bank of Iowa wins,” Zink says. “The money that we receive is going to help buy fresh produce for people in need. It’s an expensive product to buy that’s important to get into people’s diets.”

Finnegans was founded 15 years ago on the premise of “turning beer into food,” according to the brewery’s website. It claims during 2012, Finnegans raised more than $100,000 from the sale of its Irish Amber and Blonde Ale, donations that went to purchase more than 140,000 pounds of locally grown produce for local food shelves.

Zink was asked how much money the Food Bank of Iowa could expect from the new agreement. “I have no idea but we’re really excited about the partnership and seeing where this goes,” Zink says. “It’s worked really well with the other states that they’ve been in and we’re looking forward to seeing the response of Finnegans and the consumer.”

An economic report out last week found wages nationwide aren’t keeping up with inflation as the median family income has been at $51,000 for 15 straight years. Zink says demand is rising every year at the food bank, which serves people in 55 of Iowa’s 99 counties. “The need is definitely going up, for a couple of reasons,” Zink says. “People are reaching out for help at the same time as…incomes do go up a little bit and SNAP benefits go away but people are still in need to make ends meet and we’ve definitely seen the need go up at our partner agencies.”

Iowa will be the fifth state with food banks sharing in Finnegans’ profits, joining Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.


Iowa poised to move back up in wind power production ranking

Wind turbines along Highway 20.

Wind turbines along Highway 20.

Iowa remains third in the country for the amount of electricity produced by wind power, but could move up as more projects are built this year.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released its annual report on wind production today and it shows Iowa in third place behind Texas and California.

AWEA analyst, Emily Williams says 2014 saw a record number of new wind turbines built as the industry saw a rebound.

“The top states for new additions during the fourth quarter, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Washington and Colorado were the top states there,” Williams says. There is more than 12,700 megawatts of wind power under construction across 98 projects in 23 states.

“Texas leads the way with over 7,500 megawatts under construction. New Mexico and Kansas are both over 650 megawatts under construction. Iowa is right around 550 and North Dakota at 535 are the top states,” Williams says.

All the construction in Iowa will have an impact on its future ranking when it comes to overall wind energy production. Williams says, “Iowa is on track to regain it’s number two ranking from California.” Iowa had moved into second place in wind power production in 2008 and held that until California surpassed the state in 2012. Williams says technology is one of the reasons for the building boom in wind power. “And we’ve seen turbines coming out with much longer blades, so they are able to catch more of the wind. So, 80-percent of the turbines that were installed in 2014 had a wider diameter of 100 meters or greater — so from tip-to-tip 100 meters,” Williams says. “And this is really again opening up new areas of the country for development, and also allowing developers to get more energy out of the wind.”

AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan says sustaining the growth in the industry faces a challenge this year as the wind energy tax credit expired. He says it’s a top priority to get the credit reinstated. “We believe we need a stable, reasonable, predictable policy going forward in the production tax credit…when there has been uncertainty in the PTC, it’s led to between a 70 and 92-percent drop in the wind industry,” Kiernan says. He says the uncertainty in 2013 before the credit was extended led to cutbacks and some 50,000 people laid off.

Kiernan says they are not seeking a permanent tax credit, but do need a credit to help continue building the industry and bringing the price of wind energy down. “We have a near-record amount of wind energy under construction, approximately 12,000 megawatts under construction, so the industry is coming on strong as a result of this previous PTC extension. But what’s most important, we don’t want this industry to go off the cliff again,” Kiernan says.

John Weisgall, a vice president for Berkshire Hathaway, which owns MidAmerican energy company, joined AWEA leaders for the release of the wind numbers. MidAmerican is responsible for a large portion of the wind production in Iowa, and notes the state is at the top when you look at the percentage of state’s power generated from wind.

“Iowa by far is the leader and actually will be able to produce enough energy from wind to meet the equivalent of half the electricity needs of our retail customers by 2016,” Weisgall says. MidAmerican is about half-way through with a $1.9 billion wind facility that is called the biggest economic development project in Iowa’s history. Weisgall was asked about the factors that have driven MidAmerican’s investment in wind. He says wind energy gives them a projected 30-year cost of production they don’t get with other sources, and he says there’s an increasing demand for it.

“Our customers want wind, that’s really a key factor. We’ve got customers like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, they’ve built data centers in Iowa, and they’ve built them because they are committed to using green energy resources,” Weisgall explains. “The availability of so much wind gave Iowa a competitive advantage over other states when the state was competing to get those companies to invest.”

He says the benefits of wind energy extend well beyond those who use it. “It’s been very good for our rural communities, there are property tax benefits, there are lease benefits,” Weisgall says. ” That 1.9 billion project that you mentioned, that’s going to result in land-donor payments of $3 million a year. Farmers kind of see wind as you will as a second cash crop,” Weisgall says.

Iowa generates 5,688 megawats of wind power, just behind California’s 5,917 megawatts. Texas, the leader is well out in front of every other state with 14,094 megawatts of wind power.


Evansdale police seek more national help in murder of cousins

Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey went missing and were later found dead.

Oe of the posters used when Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey went missing. They were later found dead.

Officials investigating the 2012 kidnapping and murders of cousins Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey in Evansdale are hoping a group of national experts can help them solve the crime.

A representative from the Evansdale Police Department and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation are heading to Alexandria, Virginia, today to meet with a large panel of experienced investigators and psychologists.

Local officials are hoping a group put together by the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children will offer suggestions on additional testing or areas to be looked at in the unsolved case. Representatives with the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are on the panel that will review the high-profile Iowa case on Thursday and Friday.

It’s not the first time investigators from the National Center have visited the case. Four representatives met with local investigators last summer to review information, look for further evidence and offer their forensic assistance.

This week’s travel is a follow-up to that initial meeting and will now go to a full panel for review. According to Evansdale police, the National Center has provided forensic testing and intelligence gathering since the beginning of the case and will continue to offer its many resources as needed. The National Center is paying all expenses associated with this week’s trip to suburban Washington, D.C.

(Reporting by Elwin Huffman, KOEL, Oelwein)


Warm weather impacts gravel roads

SunlightThis may be the warmest January 28th on record for many Iowa cities as temperatures are expected to reach into the upper 50s and low 60s in some areas.

While it’s refreshing news for outdoor lovers, it’s more of a nightmare for road crews in rural parts the state. Dan Waid is the Hamilton County Engineer in Webster City and he warns motorists using gravel roads to be very careful.

“It is unusual for this time of the year to get the thawing that we’re seeing now,” Waid says. “With the recent moisture, there’s a lot of wet, muddy roads and they’re pretty sensitive to loading right now.” As the snow and ice melt, gravel may wash away, too, leaving rural roads slippery and unstable.

Forecasters say the warm-up won’t last long, as a cold front is predicted to arrive Thursday night, with snow possible by the weekend.

(Reporting Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Osceola murder victims identified

Osceola-policeThe victims of a double homicide in south central Iowa have been identified.

Investigators say 22-year-old Erick Reyna and 27-year-old Noe Flores Rascon, both of Osceola, were found shot to death in a car located in a rural area of northern Clarke County over the weekend. The pair had gone missing Friday night.

The State Medical Examiner has ruled both deaths as homicides. Police have charged 38-year-old Richard Carson of Osceola with two counts of first-degree murder. Three other people are facing charges of accessory after the fact in connection with the case. Investigators have not revealed what may’ve led to the shootings.

Iowa DCI Special Agent in Charge Michael Motsinger says double homicides are rare in Iowa, but it is certainly not something they can’t handle.

Richard Carson, Christopher Elbon (top l-R). Lynn Sutton, Tracy Johnson (bottom L-R).

Richard Carson, Christopher Elbon (top l-R). Lynn Sutton, Tracy Johnson (bottom L-R).


‘Overall consensus’ toward 10-cent hike in state gas tax (AUDIO)


Representative Josh Byrnes and Senator Tod Bowman.

Key legislators say a 10-cent increase in the state gas tax has a good chance of passing the legislature in February and going into effect as early as March.

“I think the overall consensus is to go 10 cents now…We’re so far behind that we need to implement it right away,” Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said this morning.

Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has been in the same private negotiating sessions with Bowman, Governor Branstad and legislative leaders.

“We’re trying to keep things as simple as possible,” Byrnes said. “The less complexity on this, the better.”

According to Byrnes, that’s why negotiators at this point are favoring an increase in the already-existing per-gallon tax rather than trying to pass some new way to finance road and bridge projects in Iowa. Senator Bowman said the need is great — an estimated $215 million yearly shortfall to address critical needs in the state’s transportation infrastructure.

“I’ve never felt more optimistic about moving forward with the gas tax,” Bowman said.

The two committee leaders met early this morning with a large group of city and county officials as well as road builders who are in Des Moines to lobby legislators to boost the amount of money available to expand and maintain the state’s transportation network.

AUDIO of committee chairmen speaking at “Transportation Day” 2015

Byrnes cautioned against over-confidence.

“It’s moving forward and looking good and looking promising. That doesn’t mean that we rest, though,” Byrnes said. “I would tell you guys that since you’re down here today, make sure that you’re pulling out your representatives, your senators. I mean, you still have to apply the pressure, O.K.? This bill has not moved forward. It hasn’t been signed yet. Things can fall apart very quickly down here.”

Iowa Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino also spoke this morning at the “Transportation Day” event. He offered a point-by-point response to critics of a gas tax hike. Trombino said the state can’t cut in other places or shift things around to find enough money to meet the “critical needs” of Iowa’s transportation network, plus Trombino warned Iowa’s manufacturers will become less competitive if the system isn’t updated to reduce congestion in key areas.

AUDIO of Trombino’s speech

“If we choose to allow the system to continue to deteriorate, it will impede business and it will detract from quality of life,” Trombino said, “and ultimately it does not attract and maintain the workforce that we need for today and tomorrow.”

David Rose

David Rose

And David Rose of Clinton, the chairman of the Iowa Transportation Commission, dismissed the idea of closing some of the state’s little-used roads and bridges.

“We can’t do that because we are a unique state,” Rose said during his remarks at the “Transportation Day” event. “Every county in this state produces something that the world wants. (It’s) called food.”

The state’s per-gallon tax on motor fuel is deposited in the “Road Use Tax Fund” and, according to the state’s constitution, that money must be spent on the state’s road system. Key legislators say that’s one reason raising the gas tax is emerging as a favored option, since other means of raising money are not constitutionally protected and, in the future, might be diverted to other uses.