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News Track: Linn County prepped for flooding

Background

CEDAR RAPIDS — In the fall of 2016, the Cedar River reached flood levels second only to the historic 2008 flood.

Damage caused by the nearly 22-foot crest in Cedar Rapids was relatively minimal compared to flooding that occurred eight years earlier. All told, Linn County was designated a little more than $731,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the 2016 event.

One of the more notable impacts of the flood was damage caused to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office on Second Avenue SW.

In 2016, the building took on water as groundwater seeped back into the storm sewers and eventually into the basement. County officials cut holes into the basement floor to install sump pumps to mitigate water damage.

The following year, in 2017, the Linn County Board of Supervisors approved a $464,000 contract for repairs and flood mitigation to the sheriff’s office. Work also included some accessibility updates to the parking lot and building to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What’s happened since

Garth Fagerbakke, Linn County facilities director, said work on the building has since been completed and still is awaiting its first official test.

Despite cresting at around 18 feet earlier this week, the Cedar River has not yet touched the county’s new protections, Fagerbakke said.

“Everything is dry and perfect. Really we didn’t have to test our mitigation efforts that we installed,” he said Wednesday.

He did note that it’s still very early in the year, so the county will remain prepared in case the river starts to rise again.

The National Weather Service earlier this year reported that Eastern Iowa has a higher-than-usual flood risk this spring.

Like many in Eastern Iowa, Fagerbakke said he will be ready.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Cedar Rapids assessor Beth Weeks retiring this month

CEDAR RAPIDS — After more than three decades as a community assessor, Beth Weeks, who has been the Cedar Rapids city assessor since 2015, has announced plans to retire.

“It’s time for me to move out of the way of the people that are enthusiastic and excited about the job and new technology,” Weeks, 66, said last week. Her final day will be at the end of March.

Changes in technology have been some of the biggest adjustments she’s had to make over the years, she recalled.

“When I stated, we did everything by hand. There weren’t computers ... everything was on property record cards,” she said. “Technology has been a wonderful tool for us.”

Weeks started in 1986 as the Poweshiek County Assessor. She also spent time as a county assessor in Iowa and Tama counties.

Looking forward toward retirement, Weeks said she hopes to become a master gardener, take on volunteer opportunities and stay involved in the community.

Weeks’s retirement kicks off the process of finding the next city assessor — a position that operates independently from city government.

To be eligible, a candidate must pass an Iowa Department of Revenue exam. He or she also need two years of property appraisal experience.

After satisfying those requirements, an applicant’s name is included in a state register. When there is an opening, a three-member examining board contacts those on the list to give them an opportunity to apply.

That board conducts interviews and ultimately makes a recommendation to, in this case, the Cedar Rapids City Conference Board, which is made up of a representative from the city, the county and area school boards. The conference board makes the final decision.

Weeks said it’s most likely whoever is chosen as assessor would complete the remainder of her term, which concludes later this year, and then take on the next six-year term.

Weeks’s current salary is about $130,000, but she said it’s uncertain what salary the next assessor would receive.

The department assesses all property within city limits to determine its value, and the position operates independently of the City Council, the county Board of Supervisors and the school boards within the district to avoid a conflict of interest.

The city assessor is responsible for determining the estimated market value of land, new construction, existing buildings and improvements for tax purposes. The process involves a few approaches; identifying comparable properties that have recently sold; an estimate of the cost of replacing the property; and determining value according to income produced by a property.

That valuation is used with tax levies set by the local governments and school boards to determine a resident’s property taxes.

Even if a city or county tax levy remains unchanged from one year to the next, a resident still could pay a higher property tax bill in the valuation increased.

“When I started doing the job as assessor in Tama County, if somebody appealed their value, I took it personally and I don’t anymore,” Weeks said.

It’s all just part of the process, she added.

“They’re just questioning their value and how I arrived at it. They’re not challenging me personally. They just have questions and people should ask questions. I encourage people to appeal to the board of review.”

The Iowa Department of Revenue reported 350 protested residential assessments for Cedar Rapids in 2017. Of those, 133 were upheld and the remainder were denied. For commercial property assessments that year, 393 were protested. Of those, 152 were upheld and 241 were denied.

Two years earlier in 2015, more than 680 residential assessments were protested, with more than 580 upheld. Meanwhile, about 90 commercial assessments were protested, with about half upheld.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

PuppyCow Goat Rescue in Riverside saves injured, special needs animals

 

RIVERSIDE — Duke the baby goat had trouble walking when he was born on Christmas Eve.

He has cerebellar hypoplasia, which means his cerebellum is not fully developed. That impacts his motor skills and development, so he can’t stand on his own.

When Shawna Riche heard about the little goat, she knew she could help. On her farm outside Riverside, she’s taken in several rescue goats, not to mention dogs, cats and one Instagram-famous cow known as Betsy the Puppy Cow.

“My happy place is just being able to be outside and sit here with the goats,” she said.

 

Betsy was Riche’s first farm animal rescue, two years ago. Riche’s neighbor, a cattle farmer, died suddenly when Betsy was a baby. She had been injured during her birth, and Riche had to prop her up against a fence — even then she weighed well over 100 pounds — to bottle feed her, because she couldn’t stand on her own.

“I just got into it because a baby needed help. I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” Riche said.

She had volunteered as a vet tech at a low income veterinary clinic in the Quad Cities, where she grew up, and that hooked her on helping animals. Still, she didn’t have experience with farm animals until taking in Betsy.

“I brought Betsy home the day after Jim (the neighbor) died,” she said. “And that was the first time I had ever touched a cow.”

These days, Betsy, who just turned 2, walks on her own and has the run of the farm. She can be mischievous, Riche said — she knows how to open latched doors and gets into places she shouldn’t. She plays fetch and comes up to the kitchen door to beg for treats.

“She grew up around the dogs, and she thinks she’s a dog,” Riche said.

That’s how Betsy got her name, PuppyCow. After The Dodo, a website that makes and promotes animal videos, featured her, she gained more than 23,000 followers on Instagram, where her handle is @Puppycow.

“It’s crazy to have a cow that’s famous,” Riche said with a laugh.

After taking in Betsy, the other animals started finding their way to Riche, slowly at first, and now she has 14 goats living on her farm, three of which she is boarding for another farm. She also has three indoor cats, three dogs and a few barn cats.

PuppyCow is also the name of the newly formed nonprofit Riche has set up. Her goal is to make her rescue efforts official and help offset the costs of food and veterinarian bills, which have been extensive. She filed for 501(c)3 status in December, but approval was delayed because of the government shutdown. It arrived at the end of February, and now PuppyCow Farm Goat Rescue is officially up and running.

   

She has a website, puppycowfarm.com, where people can make donations, and supporters can follow the farm on Facebook as well. She hopes to have public events this summer, such as goat yoga and movie nights where people can cuddle with the goats.

She also hopes, in time, to expand her capacity in order to take in more animals, and to find adoptive homes for some of the goats. She plans to be very selective about those homes to be sure they don’t end up being slaughtered for meat.

She said she’s not vegan and understands the role of raising animals for that purpose, but her goats feel less like farm animals than family.

“Goats have such personalities. They’re almost better, funnier than dogs,” she said. “Goats are herd animals. They form lifelong friendships, really unique friendships.”

Another goat rescue farm, Ruby Slipper Goat Rescue in Kansas, called her about Duke. They didn’t have capacity to take him in, but Riche did. She found a cart on Amazon to help him move around, and bottle feeds him three times a day.

Other goats on the farm have had traumatic pasts, including Burrly, an Angora goat whose coat was dramatically overgrown and matted when she got him, and Miss, who was listed for sale on Craigslist with an injured leg. Her leg had been splinted with two pieces of wood, with exposed bone underneath, and one of her horns had been broken off.

Though she now lets Riche hand-feed her treats, she’s still skittish and scared of most humans. The other goats in Riche’s small herd are generally friendly, and many run up to investigate visitors. Several are fainting goats and are prone to falling over if they get too excited or are startled.

     

Riche’s daughter Kalie Nebel, 13, helps care for the animals. They’ve started taking one of the goats, Barney, to visit local nursing homes as a therapy goat, and Shawna is looking into getting him officially certified. She hopes Duke can be a therapy goat in the future.

“I just let him love on them all,” she said of Barney. “So many people don’t have visitors. I figured doing stuff like that could make a world of difference in their day.”

Duke isn’t the only animal with special needs Riche cares for. A kitten, Saki, has megaesophagus, meaning she has trouble swallowing and has to eat slowly or risk choking.

Saki and Duke have a special bond. The first night they brought Duke home, Saki curled up with him, the two baby animals snuggling and comforting each other.

“Just being able to help him is the best feeling, because otherwise he’d be put down,” Riche said. “But he’s special. There’s no reason for him to have to die because he’s not perfect. Just because people have scars — or aren’t people — doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be loved the same way.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

 

Time Machine: Cedar Rapids Fire Station No. 2

The new west-side fire station that opened in January 1909 was the first permanent building to be built and owned by the city of Cedar Rapids. Every other structure had been built by private businesses.

It still stands on the odd triangular lot where E Avenue, C Avenue and Fifth Street NW intersect.

At the time the new fire station was being planned, city officials warned the public treasury was “pretty lean,” and plans might have to be scaled back, but the “plan of the committee will work out.” It had to. The old west-side station at First Street and Third Avenue was in such bad shape its occupants feared it “would fall down every time the wind blew a little harder than usual.”

$5,000 building

The new west side station cost $5,000 to build, according to a 1908 accounting of city finances.

As the new year rolled around, the dim picture of the Fire Department’s financial condition had improved substantially.

“The department is on a better footing, has more men and better equipment than ever before,” the 1909 report stated, with enough money to complete the new station and put the firefighting apparatus “in the best possible condition.”

In addition to the new station, the department also could afford six new horses, “making it the best equipped in the way of horses of any city in the state.”

‘pleasing to eye’

The new station’s exterior “is pleasing to the eye,” the Jan. 10, 1909, Evening Gazette reported.

“The walls are of vitrified Boone brick, burned to a pleasing dark red color, giving a rather attractive rustic effect, and the walls have been treated with an acid and then oiled so as to bring out the most desirable tone.

“The roof is of shingles, stained green. The windows and the trimmings are all white. …

“The rear is almost as pleasing as the front. If you were seeing it for the first time, you might hastily form the conclusion that it was the front.”

The crew at the new station was Capt. James Horan, R.J. Powers, W.F. Vrba, J.J. McLaughlin and F.F. McDermott.

“Instead of having the poorest quarters in the city, the west-side firemen will now have the best,” The Gazette noted.

The station’s location also corrected the bad intersection at E Avenue and Fifth Street NW. The street was straightened and a small park with shrubs and flowers was added at the front and rear of the fire station.

horse stalls

Stalls for the horses that pulled the fire engines were on the first floor, at the rear of the station. The stalls had cement floors and plank decking that could be stood on end so the stalls could be flushed out into a floor drain.

Waste from the stalls went into a brick bin at the rear of the building.

The stalls were kept between 45 and 50 degrees for the horses’ comfort.

Food for the horses was sent down chutes from the upper floor, one for straw, one for hay and one for oats. The food bins were lined with tin to keep out vermin.

The first floor had a steel ceiling, and hayracks for the horses were made of steel as well. A device connected to the racks slowly folded them next to the wall as they were emptied.

A small room behind the stairway on the first floor had a work bench and could be used for exercise, or as an extra stall for the horses.

brass poles

The station, which had hot and cold running water, was heated by steam, with a boiler in the basement.

A brick tower ran from the basement to the top of the building, where up to a thousand feet of fire hoses could be hung and dried.

The second floor had a large dormitory with maple floors and large windows. The firemen climbed stairs to get to the living area but left by sliding down two brass poles.

When an alarm was sounded, an automatic switch turned on the lights, and the front doors and the doors in front of the horses opened automatically.

The station had a large linen closet, a bathroom with a shower and a gas water heater.

The horses were replaced with a fire engine in the 1920s.

1985 closing

In 1973, the city considered replacing the station, either through a bond vote or revenue sharing. But it remained in service until 1985 when the new Central Fire Station opened at Third Street and B Avenue NW.

Mayor Donald Canney headed a committee that considered turning the old station into a firefighting museum.

In 1993, a federal grant to Five Seasons Transportation included $120,000 to renovate the old station as storage for the city bus department.

After the 2008 flood, the station was put on a list of commercial buildings being considered for possible relocation. But in 2013, the city asked for proposals to renovate the old station, noting it was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building was sold and refurbished. It now houses the Head-2-Toe Hair Salon and Barber Shop on the lower level and has an apartment upstairs.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; diane.fannonlangton@gmail.com

In IPO, Lyft notes why ridesharing could fail

Lyft is due to be the first giant tech start-up to list its shares on the stock market this year — and it has laid out all the roadblocks that could derail not only its own business, but the ridesharing industry itself.

From dockless scooters and bicycles to self-driving cars, any number of transport modes Lyft has bet on could upend the ride-hailing business that it helped pioneer, according to documents Lyft filed as part of its initial public offering process.

To the extent that Lyft is dependent on drivers, they also are a source of risk to the company, as well as potential regulation stemming from concern over increasingly crowded streets and curb space.

Analysts said it was among the most candid assessments yet of the challenges facing the ride-hailing industry, which has historically employed as few as possible in its pursuit of the transportation market — instead depending on thousands of independent “driver-contractors” to support its business.

The risks, which are mandatory for companies to detail as part of a stock market listing, are a kind of worst-case scenario for the business.

The IPO of Lyft — and competitor Uber’s anticipated stock listing later this year — is a turning point for one of the most popular innovations to come out of Silicon Valley in recent years.

The discount, door-to-door ride business supplanted the taxi industry, aggravating city regulators in the process and ushering a new class of workers under the gig economy.

Driverless cars

But many see the on-demand car and driver model as only a steppingstone on the way to a broader revolution in transportation spurred by driverless technology.

Lyft and Uber both have placed their bets on a driverless future, pouring millions into research and development for autonomous systems that could be less costly than splitting fares with drivers.

But they’re also competing with other Silicon Valley giants, such as Waymo, which belongs to Google’s parent company Alphabet, and Detroit-based automakers to be the first to launch autonomous ride-hail services.

And there’s plenty of competition just in the ride-hailing space. Beyond Uber, it competes with less popular services such as Gett and Via.

Many other ride-hailing start-ups such as Split and Sidecar already have flamed out, and on-demand commuter shuttles such as Chariot and Bridj floundered after failing to attract a sustainable market.

Questions about the future of the ride-hailing model aren’t only about driverless technology — scooters, bikes and urban mobility investments Lyft has made also could pose a threat to the company’s business.

Lyft recently poured millions into its acquisition of Motivate, becoming the country’s biggest bike share operator, in a deal that was believed to be valued around $250 million.

In its disclosure, Lyft called the bikes and scooters “new and unproven” and said “it is uncertain whether demand for bike and scooter sharing will continue to grow and achieve wide market acceptance.”

Uber made a similar bet on urban mobility last year, acquiring e-bike start-up Jump in a deal valued at nearly $200 million, according to TechCrunch.

Dockless scooter companies Bird and Lime have taken cities by storm in the past year, and Uber and Alphabet both invested in Lime.

Ford Motor made its own push into the dockless scooter market by purchasing Spin late last year.

Lyft is going public at a time when it has a relatively strong market position, on the heels of the #DeleteUber movement that saw hundreds of thousands of riders flock instead to what they saw as a friendlier, more socially conscious alternative.

It aims to raise $2.1 billion in the coming weeks, giving it a potential value of more than $20 billion.

New reports have said Uber is seeking a valuation of $120 billion. Uber declined to comment for this article.

Both companies lose money on each ride they provide.

‘Net losses’

Lyft may never become a profitable company, the company said in disclosures that are mandatory in the IPO process.

It lost $911 million last year on revenue of $2.2 billion.

“We have a history of net losses and we may not be able to achieve or maintain profitability in the future,” Lyft disclosed in a required Securities and Exchange Commission document before launching its IPO “road show” this month, where it will tout the company to investors.

“Here, just like with Uber and AirBnB, you’ve got a money-losing business that’s growing rapidly but potentially can be worth an enormous amount of money in the future,” said University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter, who specializes in IPOs.

“It makes it incredibly difficult to come up with an objective evaluation on the company because you’ve got to make so many assumptions about things that are just inherently difficult to quantify.”

In its disclosure, Lyft outlined upward of 70 potential downsides for investors related to its business and the ride-hailing market, laying bare the uncertainty facing one of the most anticipated public offerings in years.

Perhaps its rapid expansion into bikes and scooters could backfire if those modes fail to create a sustainable market, causing the company’s growth to stall.

Or self-driving cars might not take off as anticipated.

A court ruling could force Lyft to classify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors.

There also are concerns about whether Lyft could maintain the massive number of drivers needed to provide rides at the tap of an icon, and whether city regulators would continue to surrender increasingly crowded streets and curb space to an investor-funded Silicon Valley tech powerhouse in its pursuit of profitability.

“Given the quiet period, we are declining to comment,” said Lyft spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna, referring to companies’ typically tight-lipped run-up to an IPO.

Positive news

Some, however, cautioned against reading too much into the risks, which Lyft revealed ahead of its rival as a consequence of its decision to go public before Uber.

There was some positive news tucked in Lyft’s disclosure. Its revenue and marketshare had both jumped substantially in the wake of Uber’s repeated public relations disasters, which culminated in the departure of the ride-hailing giant’s founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

Lyft said its market share was nearly 40 percent in December, almost double its share two years earlier.

Revenues, meanwhile, had jumped more than sixfold from $343 million 2016 to $2.2 billion in 2018, though yearly losses also grew by more than $200 million over that period.

Santosh Rao, the head of research for Manhattan Venture Partners, said such disclosures are routine for large companies ahead of their public offerings, and said few rise to the level of an “existential” threat.

He likened the disclosures to the warnings on a Tylenol label.

“You should not taking it lightly but if you balance it with the reward, the risk-reward is fairly balanced,” he said.

“The risks are there but I think the rewards are much better,” said Rao, whose firm includes Lyft in one of the funds it manages.

But Ritter said it’s not likely a coincidence that the potential lack of profitability is listed so prominently. The disclosure highlights the numerous uncertainties around the business model, which is unproven to say the least.

“You know, that’s certainly a very salient risk,” he said. “There’s no guarantee that Lyft will not collapse.”

The ride-hailing model requires a type of suspension of disbelief, analysts said.

Not only must investors accept that that Lyft is able to maintain drivers and riders — and growth in both segments — but also that it’ll beat out or remain competitive with Uber.

Finally, it requires the belief that regulators won’t step in if Lyft is tied to road congestion or adverse impacts on cities, and the autonomous future it lays out does indeed come to fruition.

“The endgame you need to be believe is so implausible in my mind — it’s definitely at the ‘hypiest’ end of the unicorns,” said Nicholas Farhi, a partner at OC&C strategy consultants who focuses on ride-hailing apps.

“It’s hard for me to think of a rational reason why people would invest in this.”

Swollen Mississippi adds headaches for grain farmers

High water and strong currents on the lower Mississippi River are squeezing barge traffic and driving up the cost of agricultural shipping.

As the snow melts in the Upper Midwest and flows into the waterway, barge traffic has been expected to slow even more, further limiting the movement of grain south and fertilizer north.

“High water is slowing transit, it’s limiting tow sizes, speeds are reduced. It creates some safety risks,” said John Griffith, senior vice president of global grain at Minnesota-based CHS Inc.

“When everything’s slower and everything’s more dangerous, it consumes more resources, and frankly we haven’t gotten to the real spring thaw that’s going to come and pump a bunch more water into the Mississippi River basin.”

A towboat moving six barges crashed into a shipyard 60 miles upriver from New Orleans two weeks ago, and the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Mississippi River to all traffic near Baton Rouge for several hours on March 14 after a towboat sank in the swollen river.

No one was injured.

Barge companies, which usually can tow 40 barges at a time on the southern stretch of the Mississippi River, have reduced tow sizes to 25 to 30 barges.

Also, the Coast Guard was allowing only southbound barge traffic during daylight hours this past week at Memphis, Tenn.; Vicksburg, Miss.; and Baton Rouge.

This may persist for the rest of March, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly Grain Transportation Report, released late last week.

Earlier this month, grain movement by barge was down 58 percent compared with the same week in 2018, and the “less than ideal conditions” have driven up freight rates by more than 50 percent over the past three weeks, according to the report.

Sediment and headaches

Though the Upper Mississippi still was closed for the winter as far south as Dubuque as of midweek, the higher cost of shipping is driving down local grain prices for farmers.

“When it becomes more and more difficult to move grain out your back door, grain handlers are less and less willing to accept grain through their front door,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

“The delivery locations will offer farmers less for their soybeans.”

The deluge of water hitting the southern Mississippi also has been carrying with it huge amounts of sediment, Steenhoek said — so even though the water is high, the depth of the river is shallower in places, which further restricts how much grain can move down river.

“Normally you have about a 45-foot depth, but now we’re at 41 feet because of all this sediment,” Steenhoek said of the lower Mississippi. “Every foot amounts to about 71,000 bushels of soybeans.”

Griffith, the CHS executive, said he was in New Orleans this past week and saw water from the Mississippi rushing into Lake Pontchartrain through the gates designed to release excess water.

“This isn’t going to be cured by the end of March. I think we’ve got a crest estimated for early April,” Griffith said. “We’ve got another month of these conditions to navigate, no pun intended.”

The backup is a headache for farmers because many planned to sell grain before they start preparing their fields and planting.

Grain handlers lowering the price they offer to farmers is only one potential problem.

“Worse yet, they may even go no bid because they’re plugged up,” Griffith said. “We’ve been struggling to sell grain to China and you add some of these frustrations on top of it, you know, it’s just a challenging time in the industry.”

While the Ohio River reopened for traffic on Monday, several locks there had been closed after the river between Cincinnati and Evansville, Ind., reached its highest level since 1997.

On March 15, the Coast Guard closed a portion of the Missouri River from just south of Omaha to St. Joseph, Mo., because of high water and dangerous currents. The Coast Guard also requested shippers create “as minimal wake as possible” between St. Joseph and Kansas City to minimize levee damage.

‘A real crunch’

Spring conditions on the Mississippi River tend to always be complicated for shipping, but this spring is worse than normal, said Al Kluis, a commodity broker in Wayzata, Minn.

“I think it’s extreme this year,” he said.

Some grain is starting to be routed to the Pacific Northwest by rail or to ports near Houston, Kluis said.

After they’re unloaded in New Orleans, barges full of grain are typically filled with fertilizer in the spring for the trip back north to the Midwest.

Fertilizer shipping likely will be restricted by river conditions, too.

“There’s already potential for a real crunch in fertilizer prices and delivery this spring because there wasn’t much fall field work done and there wasn’t much fertilizer put on,” Kluis said.

Record and near-record February snowfall in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is just now thawing, should keep river levels high, and another thing farmers will have to deal with this spring is severely damaged gravel roads, said Steenhoek of the Soy Transportation Council.

“With the rain and the melt, gravel roads don’t co-exist well,” he said. “It’s just the fact that you need to replace it.”

Heated roads in winter? They’re on it

The Iowa Department of Transportation works with Iowa State University in search of projects that could help the future of roads. Their latest: looking into technology for heated pavement.

Halil Ceylan is the director of the Institute for Transportation’s program for sustainable pavement engineering and is a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at ISU. He is the principal investigator of the heated-pavement project, and said it started out as a class project.

“Given the harsh winter conditions we have here, we were thinking of a solution to provide safe traveling for the public,” Ceylan said.

They started doing lab tests and studies in August 2013, and received funding for the project from the Federal Aviation Administration to continue research.

That funding went toward the first test of the technology at the Des Moines International Airport. Ceylan said the research grabbed a lot of attention from others, and that’s how they brought the idea to the Iowa DOT. Now, the Iowa DOT and Iowa Highway Research Board are helping fund it.

“Winter can be tough in Iowa. If there’s something that can help increase mobility and public safety, we’re going to take a close look at it,” said Bob Younie, director of the office of maintenance at the Iowa DOT.

Younie said that what initially caught his eye about the project was the idea that the technology potentially could make the Iowa DOT’s rest areas safer. The state’s 38 rest areas see an average of 17 million people each year, he said, and that this project could help keep those sidewalk areas free of snow and ice.

The second aspect he believes could be a benefit are safer roads.

“There are road geometries that are problems like tight curves. Maybe this is a solution, maybe not, but until we do some tests, and figure out what’s involved in making it happen, we don’t know enough,” Younie said.

The process of putting the electrically charged concrete in isn’t that much different from installing regular concrete, Ceylan said.

They start by pouring regular concrete and spreading it out like they would do for any normal road. Then they place 3 inches of the electrically conductive concrete on top. That is the only layer that heats up.

Ceylan said that the pavement temperature stays about 40 degrees when it is turned on, enough to melt ice and snow melted without getting too hot.

Ceylan also said that with any new technology, the life of it depends on economics. He said the electrically conductive concrete is 50 percent more expensive than regular concrete per square yard. He also said the cost to heat the pavement is about 2.8 cents per hour.

“We may hopefully reduce that as we optimize our system,” Ceylan said.

With winter finally wrapping up, Ceylan said that they were able to test the concrete in a lot of different conditions. They put in a total of 10 concrete slabs, and each of the slabs has different sizes and diameters of electrodes. This allows the researchers to see which one worked the best in energy efficiency. But Ceylan said here is more testing to do.

“Every winter is unique and different,” Ceylan said. “The more we test it, the better understanding we’ll have of the long-term system.”

Distant relative learns her DNA led to arrest in Michelle Martinko slaying

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Vancouver, Wash., woman, trying to find out more about her father’s side of the family, never expected that her DNA would help catch an Iowa man accused of killing Michelle Martinko 40 years ago.

“I uploaded my DNA to GEDMatch,” a public database used to research family trees, “and forgot about it,” Brandy Jennings, 40, told The Gazette in a phone interview Friday.

Jennings is a second cousin twice removed, through her paternal great-grandparents, to Jerry Lynn Burns, 65, of Manchester, who was charged in December with fatally stabbing the 18-year-old in 1979.

Jennings was mentioned in a search warrant obtained last week by The Gazette, but Jennings only learned about the connection a few days ago after people on a Facebook group devoted to the Martinko case called or messaged her about it.

She remembered talking to her brother, who lives in California, when she decided to upload her DNA to a public database. He had concerns because that’s how the suspected Golden State killer, Joseph DeAngelo, was arrested last year.

Her brother told her he wasn’t sure he would want to be responsible getting a family member arrested.

“I don’t know … I feel OK about it,” Jennings said. “I want someone to have to do time if (he/she) did something like that. I don’t regret it now.”

Jennings, a home health care assistant, said her parents divorced when she was child and, when her father died in 2009, she realized she didn’t know much about his side of the family.

When her mother learned about the arrest of a distant relative in Iowa, she joked it was Jennings’ “claim to fame” — helping catch a murder suspect.

“I guess it’s not surprising because your family can be a whole range of people,” Jennings said. “Some do well, and others don’t. Some struggle with different things.”

Neither Jennings nor her mother know any of the Burns’ family members, and they have no ties to Iowa. Jennings was born in New Mexico and has lived in Arizona, California and Oregon. Jennings and her two daughters, ages 11 and 13, have lived in Washington since 2010.

Cedar Rapids police learned in May they could use genetic genealogy from Parabon-NanoLabs in Reston, Va., according to the warrant affidavit. Investigators then uploaded DNA taken the suspect’s DNA — from a blood stain on Martinko’s dress — to the site about the same time Jennings uploaded her DNA. Investigators received a report July 7 from Parabon saying DNA on the site — from Jennings — showed shared DNA with the suspect.

Parabon officials told Cedar Rapids police investigator Matthew Denlinger the lab had been able to create a family tree with four sets of great-great grandparents at the top, according to the warrant.

Denlinger collected DNA samples from living relatives of each set of grandparents, so Parabon could identify which branch of the family tree belonged to the suspect. Two branches were eliminated but, on the third branch, a first cousin was identified as sharing DNA with the suspect, the warrant shows.

Parabon officials concluded the suspect was likely was one of three brothers, which included Burns and his two brothers.

Investigators covertly collected DNA from items handled by the three brothers.

In October 2018, Denlinger watched Jerry Burns drink several sodas at a restaurant using a clear straw. He collected the straw after Burns left the restaurant.

Two brothers were eliminated as potential matches, but a Nov. 5 Parabon report showed Jerry Burns’ DNA matched the suspect’s.

The probability of finding Burns’ DNA profile among unrelated individuals would be less than one in 100 billion, according to the document.

Jennings said it’s hard to believe that someone could commit a murder and continue living a normal life. Since she found out about Burns, she said she’s read news articles about Martinko and her death.

The discovery, she said, has taught her to pay attention to the “fine print” before submitting something to a public site because she didn’t know law enforcement could access the DNA without her knowledge.

Martinko was found stabbed to death in her family’s Buick on Dec. 19, 1979, in the parking lot of Westdale Mall. The Kennedy High School senior had left a school choir banquet that night and driven to the mall to buy a new winter coat.

Burns, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, remains in jail on a $5 million, cash-only bail. His trial is set for Oct. 14 in Linn County District Court.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Helping the homeless find hope: Willis Dady case manager starts with respect

CEDAR RAPIDS — When Charlie Sanders, 42, walked into Willis Dady Homeless Services early in the winter, he was just looking for a place to sleep.

Then he met case manager Martha Carter and got much more.

From simply listening to clients to connecting them to services like mental health counseling to following up with things like finding furniture donations after they get their own apartment, Carter makes it her job to help those who end up at the homeless shelter get back on their feet.

“She’s like a mother figure,” Sanders said.

Carter, blushing, downplays that description. Her role, as she sees it, is to show her clients the same respect she would show anyone else. And that, she said, is the first step to helping them help themselves.

“It’s the simple things we forget to ask people in crisis — things like ‘How was your day?’ Just being human with those who are in crisis goes a long way,” she said. “I just try to be an everyday person. I don’t want anyone walking in the door and judging me, and that’s how I try to treat the clients — with respect.”

Clients meet with Carter, 67, soon after arriving at Willis Dady, which has beds for 16 single men and four families at its emergency shelter on Fourth Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids. It is a 30-day shelter, though will work with clients case-by-case on how long they stay.

Empathy is key, Carter said. Hearing the stories of her clients is a constant reminder that anyone could end up in a similar situation, given the right — or wrong — circumstances.

“At any time, we could lose our income, we could have some trauma that causes us to suffer from PTSD,” she said.

When Carter first meets clients, she asks them about themselves and to tell her how they ended up there.

“I have them identify their own barriers. They know themselves better than I do. I try to listen to their story,” she said.

Identifying mental health needs and substance abuse issues right away is paramount, she said, and two of the biggest factors that lead to homelessness. They are often connected, with people self-medicating their mental health problems with drugs or alcohol. She tries to connect people with services, as well as to encourage people to acknowledge and talk about mental health in the first place.

“I talk to them about their mental health, to learn how to embrace it and manage it,” she said.

By that she means she doesn’t want people to feel ashamed, but rather to see such things as comparable to any other health issue that can be addressed by treatment.

She’s an advocate for more resources to address mental health in the Iowa. She said she works with clients who previously have been incarcerated but not had their mental health addressed while in prison. She also has worked with clients who have aged out of the foster care system with no safety net and unaddressed trauma.

“Sometimes people are not diagnosed until later in life,” she said. “When you have mental health compounded by homelessness, that’s really difficult stuff.”

She holds a focus group with the men in the shelter twice a month, where they can talk, share their struggles and successes and hear lessons on topics like credit repair and civil rights. They also do journaling and art therapy.

Sanders said the focus groups and the discussions that happened in them were helpful.

“They gave you the chance to say what you had to say, with nobody getting judged,” he said. “Whether you get negative feedback or positive feedback, it’s all OK. It means somebody was listening.”

He said he struggled with drinking in the past and is trying to get back on his feet. His two children, ages 5 and 2, are his motivation. They didn’t stay with him at the shelter, but now with his apartment his daughter stays with him.

“I’ve had some ups and downs,” he said.

He found a job as a packer at General Mills and moved into a northeast-side apartment in January, with help from Willis Dady’s Rapid Rehousing program. He credits Carter with helping find a path forward.

“If you need Willis Dady, you can’t just go there for a bed. They’re there to help,” he said. “Miss Martha helped me. She stayed on me, and I love it. I worked, and I was pushed. ... When I have problems, I go and talk to her.”

Carter said, ultimately, it’s up to her clients to help themselves.

“I’m not tracking anybody down. I’m not trying to be the police. They can call me — I try to be colleagues with them. I want people to participate,” she said.

After all, she added, “Being with me is temporary. What are you going to do when you leave me? I want them to learn how to stand up. This is a place where you can learn to stand up.”

She can’t, and won’t, force anyone to do anything he or she isn’t ready to do.

“Some people are ready to change when they get in the door. Some are not ready to change. That’s something I had to come to,” she said.

She grew up in Cedar Rapids, studied literature at the University of Iowa and later got her master’s degree in public administration while living in Washington state with her daughter. She moved back to Iowa eight years ago when she got the job at Willis Dady.

When it’s warm, she likes to leave her desk and walk around the neighborhood, stopping to say hello to people she passes.

“I walk the community because I live in the community, and I want to understand some of the problems in the community to better understand my clients,” she said.

Some recognize and greet her by name. Others accidentally greet her by her sister’s name — her twin sister, Betty Daniels, has a very similar job, as a housing specialist at Waypoint. Sometimes, they team up to help clients.

“Willis Dady is only in their life temporarily. It’s our hope the men and families that enter the shelter can latch on to hope,” Carter said. “Encouragement and affirmation goes a long way in someone’s life. People just want someone to witness their life.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

Doctor involved in uncovering Flint water crisis to speak in Iowa City

IOWA CITY — A Michigan physician who played a major role in uncovering the water crisis in Flint, Mich., will be at the University of Iowa next week.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrician and founder of a public health initiative to address the effects of elevated lead levels in Flint, will be in Iowa City to give a public lecture Monday.

Hanna-Attisha will speak at 7 p.m. in the Callaghan Auditorium in the UI’s College of Public Health building at 145 N. Riverside Drive.

Hanna-Attisha was among the scientists, parents, community leaders and other whistleblowers who shed light on poor water conditions in Flint that resulted in elevated lead levels in its youngest residents — leading to increased risk factors for long-term cognitive and behavioral problems.

The Flint-based pediatrician first heard of problems with the city’s water in 2015. The year before, city officials changed the drinking water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. However, according to news outlets and reports that have been released since, insufficient water treatment procedures exposed residents to elevated lead levels.

Hanna-Attisha began reviewing her patients’ medical records and noted the percentage of children with elevated lead levels increased since the water source switch in 2014, according to a report by NPR.

She revealed her findings during a 2015 news conference, and they were later confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016. She went on to testify twice before Congress on the crisis.

She details her experience uncovering the Flint water crisis, as well as the backlash for her findings, in a book titled “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.”

Hanna-Attisha also established the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a program formed to address the widespread lead exposure and reverse its effects on Flint’s children, according to biographical information provided by the University of Iowa.

Hanna-Attisha received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health from the University of Michigan. She completed her medical training at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and her residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, according to her biography.

Hanna-Attisha also will participate in a spotlight lecture for UI College of Public Health faculty, staff and students on Monday.

For more information on Hanna-Attisha’s lecture, visit the College of Public Health’s website at public-health.uiowa.edu.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Midwest floods sap ethanol production

Massive flooding in the Midwest has knocked out roughly 13 percent of the country’s ethanol production capacity, as plants in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota have been forced to shut down or scale back production by the devastation.

Production facilities owned by large companies like Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Green Plains Inc. were still operating despite days of snowstorms followed by rains that sent record floods into the Farm Belt.

However, with rail lines washed out, and corn in storage flooded, production is dropping off, sending prices spiking in markets that buy the corn-based fuel.

The United States has some 200 ethanol plants capable of producing 1.06 million barrels per day. About 100,000 to 140,000 barrels per day of capacity has been taken offline due to the floods, according to three traders who track operations.

The disruption comes as the ethanol industry is in the midst of a historic downswing due to the trade conflict with China and sluggish domestic demand growth that has led to high inventories and weak margins.

The industry has pinned high hopes on increasing demand when the government approves regulations for year-round sales of E15, a higher blend of ethanol.

For now, the floods will boost margins for those plants still operating, but could be punishing for firms recovering.

Among the plants that have scaled back is ADM’s plant in Columbus, Neb., the largest in the United States, due to flooding of a small rail line serving the plant, said Chris Cuddy, president of carbohydrate solutions at ADM.

The company said Thursday that production is limited, without providing specific details. The plant usually can produce 413 million gallons annually, according to the Nebraska Energy Office.

“We haven’t been able to get (corn) to them for at least for a week because of the flooding and the roads washed out,” said Justin Mensik, 19, of Morse Bluff, Neb., who grows corn that supplies ADM’s Columbus plant.

In Arlington, Neb., a rail line was overrun by water, forcing its closure; contractors in the town said the line transports agricultural products like corn to other facilities. Roads to that line were also closed, and workers using diggers could be seen pulling out debris and using heavy rocks to fill holes.

“Transportation is definitely affected. All rail cars were put on hold since last Friday and they were not allowed to be sent out. We are not sure when it will be back to normal operations,” said Scott Tingelhoff, general manager at AltEn, an ethanol processor in Mead, Neb., which produces about 24 million gallons a year.

Mike Jerke, chief executive of Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, which runs a 120-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant in Council Bluffs, said he has had to cut production.

Corn farmers who provide feedstock still are digging out from the flooding, and some already have determined some of their supplies are unsuitable.

Omaha-based Green Plains, which has a market value of $700 million, said its five Nebraska plants are dry, but nonetheless face rail transportation challenges. The company is looking for ways to work around the flooding, such as unusual trucking routes, said spokesman Jim Stark.

“It may take a couple of weeks to understand the total impact of the flooding,” Stark said.

Iowa’s Luka Garza is a rising star, and Lefty Driesell has been saying it for years

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Chuck Driesell was walking out of his fourth grade PE class on Friday afternoon at the Maret School when the texts started. Then came the phone calls.

“They were all the same,” he said, laughing. “‘Your guy just scored 20 for Iowa and they WON.’ I only wish I could have watched the game.”

Driesell’s guy is Iowa sophomore Luka Garza, who played for him for two years at Maret. Iowa, a 10th-seed, upset seventh-seeded Cincinnati, 79-72, in a first round South regional game here and Garza had as much to do with the comeback victory as any of the Hawkeyes.

In addition to his 20 points and seven rebounds, Garza hit two of the more critical baskets of the game. The first came early. Cincinnati was on a 14-0 run and had jumped to an 18-5 lead. Nationwide Arena was almost deafening, the overwhelmingly pro-Cincinnati crowd starting to make plans for a Sunday game against second-seeded Tennessee.

Out of a TV timeout, Iowa went inside to the 6-foot-11-inch Garza and he squeezed between two Bearcats to score. That stopped the bleeding. By halftime, the margin was down to 36-31.

In the second half, with the size of the deficit the same — 52-47 — Coach Fran McCaffery called an inbounds play for Garza that required him to catch the inbounds pass and shoot from the corner.

“Normally I call that play for somebody else,” McCaffery said. “But I called it for Luka this time.”

Why?

McCaffery grinned. “Because I knew he’d make it.”

He did, cutting the margin to 52-50. A moment later, Connor McCaffery, the coach’s son, hit a three to make it 53-52, Iowa’s first lead since 5-4.

“We knew he could shoot,” Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin said of Garza. “I think we were more concerned about him in the low post because he’s very tough to guard down there. But we’d seen that he could make 3s, too.”

It was Garza’s ability to shoot that first got McCaffery’s attention. Garza was playing in an AAU Tournament in Atlanta in the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Maret. McCaffery was there even though it was a dead period for recruiting, because Connor’s team was playing and, as a father, he was allowed to attend the event.

“Right away you could see he could shoot,” McCaffery said. “Back then, he was kind of a wide body — he’s really changed since then, slimmed down a lot — but the shooting caught my eye.”

Soon after, McCaffery saw him again, at an event in St. Louis, and told his coaches, “I want him.”

There wasn’t that much competition at that point. In December, Lefty Driesell, father of Chuck, came to watch Maret in a Christmas tournament played in Lewes, Delaware.

“He sat in the front row,” Chuck remembered. “When the game was over, he said, ‘that kid’s a pro. He’s almost 7-feet tall and he can shoot.’”

Lefty Driesell contacted the coach at his alma mater — Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — and the coach at the school where he coached for 17 seasons — Maryland’s Mark Turgeon — to tell them to take a look at Garza.

Both did. Neither made an offer.

Garza lost about 25 pounds as a high school senior and averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds for Maret. He began to draw a lot of attention, mostly from mid-majors. It didn’t matter.

“As soon as Coach Fran offered me, I knew that was where I was going to play,” Garza said. “I was sold from the start.”

Which is good news for Iowa.

“I told them he could play,” Driesell said Thursday afternoon. “I mean, I wasn’t tryin’ to tell them he was great, that he was a one-and-done or anything, but he can play. And he just keeps getting better.”

Garza became a starter this season and was averaging 12.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game entering Friday. He has all the requisite big man skills: good hands, quick feet and the ability to score around the basket. And, as the Driesells and McCaffery will tell you, he can shoot.

“We’ve got complete confidence in him when he has the ball in his hands,” said Iowa senior Nicholas Baer. “He never takes a bad shot, but he’s a confident shooter. You saw that today.”

Garza grew up in Reston, Virginia, although his family moved to Arlington, Virginia, his senior year to make the commute to Maret a little less taxing. He’s an upbeat kid, which isn’t surprising given that his father Frank — who played in college at Idaho — is a motivational speaker.

“Even when we got down early, we were still all communicating,” he said with a wide smile. “We knew there was plenty of time left and we’d start making shots. We had to make some adjustments, especially on defense, and we did. We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball, so we knew the ball was going to start going in sooner or later.”

In fact, Iowa shot 11 of 22 from three-point range (Garza was two of three), with six players making at least one.

“We knew they could hurt us from the three-point line, so we wanted to get to them out there,” Cronin said. “But Garza was consistently tough for us to guard inside.”

Garza laughed when the subject of the Lefty came up.

“I love him,” he said. “I learned so much from him. Chuck would get him on video-chat with me all the time and he’d tell me what I needed to work on or give me drills to work on. He encouraged me constantly. Without actually playing for him, I could see why he was a Hall of Fame coach.”

The affection between Garza and the Driesells is mutual.

“I love that kid and not just because he’s talented,” Chuck said. “I have never worked with a player with a better work ethic than he has. He’s relentless. In our championship game against Gonzaga two years ago, he took a fall and had to get 12 stitches. Came right back in and ended up with 32 points. We lost the game. Monday, he was in the gym working. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

Garza is not yet a great passer (“That’s my fault,” Chuck Driesell said. “I told him, you touch the ball, you shoot.”), but he will no doubt improve as he faces more and more double-teams inside the next two years. With only Baer graduating among Iowa’s top nine players, his team could spend a fair amount of time in the spotlight next season.

For now, the Hawkeyes are 23-11 and on to play Tennessee on Sunday.

“This whole experience is so cool,” Garza said as a half-dozen microphones were thrust in his face in the Iowa locker room “I’m so proud of everyone in this room.”

And they’re proud of him. So are the Driesells. “I told everyone he could play,” Lefty said. “Maybe now, they’ll know I was right.”

Mueller sends Russia probe report to U.S. Attorney General

WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday handed in a long-awaited report on his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and any potential wrongdoing by U.S. President Donald Trump, setting off a clamor from lawmakers in both parties for the document’s release.

Mueller submitted the report to Attorney General William Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, the department said. The report was not immediately made public — Barr will have to decide how much to disclose — and it was not known if Mueller found criminal conduct by Trump or his campaign, beyond the charges already brought against several aides.

Mueller, a former FBI director, had been examining since May 2017 whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow to try to influence the election and whether the Republican president later unlawfully tried to obstruct his investigation.

Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference.

The Russia investigation has cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency and ensnared key figures including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn and personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who already have either been convicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller.

The big question now is whether the report contains allegations of wrongdoing by Trump himself.

Barr, a Trump appointee who took up his post in February, told lawmakers in a letter that he may be able to provide information to Congress on the report’s findings as soon as this weekend. Barr in his letter said he did not find any proposed actions by Mueller that were inappropriate or unwarranted.

Lawmakers from both parties, including the Democratic chairman and the top Republican member of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, called for prompt release of the report to key congressional committees and to the American public.

“I fully expect the Justice Department to release the special counsel’s report to this committee and to the public without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law,” said Doug Collins, the committee’s senior Republican, in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer — the two top Democrats in Congress — said it was “imperative” that the full report be made public and that the White House play no role in determining what is released.

“The American people have a right to the truth. The watchword is transparency,” they said in a joint statement.

Under the regulations governing special counsel investigations, the attorney general must share an outline of Mueller’s report with Democratic and Republican leaders of the judiciary committees in Congress but it is largely up to him what to make public.

When the Justice Department announced the arrival of Mueller’s report, Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida.

“The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the Special Counsel’s report,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

ELECTION MEDDLING

Trump has sought to discredit the investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” and accusing Mueller of conflicts of interest.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow meddled in the election with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in the United States, hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Trump.

Mueller’s investigators have looked into a large number of contacts between people associated with Trump’s campaign and Russia such as a meeting in New York’s Trump Tower between members of the president’s inner circle including his eldest son and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer five months before the election.

Mueller sought to determine whether the campaign coordinated with Moscow, though it was not immediately clear whether the special counsel found evidence of a conspiracy.

Mueller also examined whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by trying to hinder the investigation, looking into acts such as urging FBI Director James Comey to drop a probe of Flynn’s contacts with Russia, the subsequent firing of Comey, his attacks on the special counsel, dangling of pardons for former aides and the ouster of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Mueller has brought charges against 34 people, including Russian intelligence officers, and three Russian companies, including one described as a “troll farm.”

Regardless of whether the report is released, Mueller’s team already has signaled the direction of the investigation through indictments and hundreds of related court filings that have offered extensive details about Russian interference in the election.

Trump fired Flynn in February 2017 after it emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about his dealings with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. In May 2017, he ousted Comey, whose agency had been leading the Russia investigation. Comey’s firing led the Justice Department to appoint Mueller to take over the probe.

Congressional Democrats, who took over control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, have said they plan to push for a release of the full Mueller report and said they would subpoena it and file suit if necessary.

A small number of House Democrats have pushed for Congress to impeach Trump and remove him from office but the party’s leadership including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution. No president has every been removed from office via impeachment.

Several House committees in the meantime are conducting aggressive investigations of Trump and people around him.

The last president to be impeached by the House, Democrat Bill Clinton, was acquitted by the Senate in 1999 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, meaning he was not removed from office.

In prosecuting Manafort, Mueller showed how the former campaign chairman made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, while also exposing his ties to a consultant who the special counsel said was connected to Russian intelligence. Manafort in the two cases prosecuted by Mueller’s team was sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison.

The special counsel’s case against Cohen revealed that Trump was negotiating to build a skyscraper in Moscow late into the 2016 campaign, contradicting statements from Trump at the time that he had nothing to do with the Russians.

The special counsel also indicted longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, a Republican operative and a self-proclaimed political “dirty trickster.” Stone is accused of telling members of Trump’s campaign that he knew in advance of plans by the WikiLeaks website to release emails damaging to Clinton that were stolen by Russia.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Podcast: On Iowa Politics talks the Democrat special election and Steve King

This week’s On Iowa Politics Podcast covers the special election results and more political incorrectness from Steven King.

On Iowa Politics is a weekly news and analysis podcast that aims to re-create the kinds of conversations that happen when you get political reporters from across Iowa together after the day’s deadlines have been met.

This week’s show features The Gazette’s James Lynch, Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Times, Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City times, and Thomas Nelson of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.

The show was produced by Stephen Colbert and music heard in the podcast is courtesy of Copperhead and Lipstick Homicide

Cedar Rapids man arrested in $3,200 check scheme in Linn County

A 24-year-old Cedar Rapids man faces a theft charge after police say he knowingly bounced several checks totaling more than $3,200.

According to the criminal complaint, Justin Robert Thede wrote five checks to Ginsberg Jewelry between Jan. 8 and Jan. 12, all of which bounced due to insufficient funds.

Police said Thede would open checking accounts with minimal money and then write checks from the accounts knowing he lacked the funds to cover the amounts being spent. Thede also allegedly wrote checks from closed accounts.

The complaint states Thede was seen on surveillance videos “cashing several checks that had insufficient funds at several of the Veridian Banks throughout Linn County.”

The checks totaled $3,246, police said, but the criminal complaint states Veridian Bank lost more than $5,000 as a result of the scheme.

Thede is charged with second-degree theft, a Class D felony.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Cedar Rapids man arrested after brief pursuit

A Cedar Rapids man is accused of theft after he allegedly stole a vehicle over the weekend and attempted to flee officers during a traffic stop.

According to the criminal complaint, officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop at about 1 p.m. Thursday in the area of Squaw Creek Trailer Court in Marion, but the driver — who was later identified as Skylar John Smith, 32 — refused to stop. The complaint states officers determined the vehicle was stolen.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office said a brief pursuit ensued and ended when Smith lost control of the vehicle and drove into a ditch near Hindmen and Secrist roads in Marion.

Smith was taken into custody and booked into Linn County Jail. He faces charges of second-degree theft, driving while barred and attempt to elude.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Betting on college sports pivotal to gambling debate

DES MOINES — Basketball tournament fever is gripping Iowa but the real madness may not set in until next March when adult residents could have the chance to legally place bets on their NCAA favorites.

Iowans should know by sometime in April whether a majority of state legislators in the House and Senate favor legalizing wagers on professional, college and Olympic sporting events and on daily fantasy sports, and if Gov. Kim Reynolds endorses their work product.

Elected officials in Iowa are looking to join a small but growing number of states that have legalized sports wagering since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a ban on the activity. Backers argue that American are wagering up to $150 billion annually on sporting events but much of it is bet illegally using bookies or offshore bookmakers.

“We are not approving an expansion of gambling,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who is leading an effort to legalize sports wagering in Iowa. “We are choosing to not ignore an expansion that is here. We’re choosing to police, regulate and tax something that is already here.”

Opponents see the move as a threat to the integrity of college athletics and an allure to vulnerable Iowans — especially young tech-savvy ones — using online and electronic transactions that bring new features to the state’s gambling environment.

“Once we regulate it, it’s going to be going on steroids and I think there are going to be people perfecting the art of sports betting,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “I just think it’s the wrong approach. This is going to make it a more marquee, front-and-center opportunity for people to gamble and, obviously, there will be people who will have problems with it. It might be going on now, but by institutionalizing it and putting it under state control you’re going to get a lot more participation in this kind of gambling,”

Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, said she would prefer to see college sports removed from the legislation being readied for debate in the Iowa House and she applauded a move last week to ban in-play bets on Iowa college players, teams and their opponents as restrictions on traditional collegiate wagering.

In-play bets would be allowed for games not involving Iowa teams, and gamblers still could bet on the outcomes of all games.

“Our concern was athletes are minors. They are playing for the sport of the game and not to be influenced by money or anything else that might change how they play the game,” said Lensing. “I’m not assuming that young athletes would be swayed, but we want to take away that temptation.”

Wes Ehrecke, president and chief executive of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents the state’s casinos, said college athletics like the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones is a sizable share of the sports-betting market and removing those teams from the bill would benefit illegal, unregulated gambling enterprises.

“The whole point of this is bringing sports betting out of the black market. Cutting out collegiate is just making a niche in the black market for bookies to continue to take advantage of,” said Kaufmann. “If anything corrupt is happening right now with a bookie, you’ve got no recourse. This allows the policing of sports betting which currently doesn’t exist.”

Officials at Iowa’s three regent universities have remained neutral on the legislation and kept a low profile as the sports-betting debate has unfolded at the Statehouse. But they applauded the move to bar bets on individual player performances.

“Maintaining the integrity of our student-athletes is of paramount importance to the board. This amendment is a positive step in that direction,” said Josh Lehman, communications director for the Board of Regents, which oversees operations of three public universities in Ames, Cedar Falls and Iowa City.

“We will continue to monitor the language of the bill as it moves through the legislative process. We want to ensure that the integrity of our student-athletes is preserved,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, a former Division I wide receiver at Iowa State University from 1999 to 2003, said the universities’ compliance officers to a good job educating players about the potential pitfalls of big-time college athletes they may encounter.

“The sports betting, that didn’t really ever come into the equation. You never even thought about it. You’re worried about winning games and the focus was always on winning a game by one point,” said Whitver.

“They certainly educated us as far as the possibilities of people doing illegal betting and the possibilities of them trying to corrupt the game,” he noted, “but the thought of any kind of sports betting when I was in college — it didn’t really cross your mind.

“Part of the reason for doing this sports gambling bill is to bring that sports wagering out of the darkness, out of the black market into a regulated atmosphere so that if something funny is happening with bets on certain games or certain players it can be identified by the (Iowa) Racing and Gaming Commission,” Whitver said.

Architects of Iowa’s sports-betting system envision one in which Iowa residents at least aged 21 who want to bet on sports are required to establish a sports betting account in-person at a casino within the first 18 months of the new law. After that period, remote sign-ups would be allowed. Initially, lawmakers are looking at a 6.75 percent tax rate on revenue, and annual licensing fees paid by the venue of $15,000 for sports betting and $5,000 for daily fantasy sports. But amendments likely will be offered during floor debate to push that tax rate higher, said Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville.

“I want to exercise extreme caution to those who think that this will be a cash cow. It will not,” Kaufmann noted during last week’s committee work.

Dan Kehl, chief executive officer of Elite Casino Resorts, which owns and operates state-licensed casinos in Riverside, Davenport and Lyon County, said his company doesn’t view sports betting as “a huge financial windfall” for gaming revenue “but we see it as a good opportunity to attract a new clientele to the property.”

Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, said there is a lot of work that remains for proponents to get a bill to the governor’s desk in the session’s remaining weeks, but added, “I feel good that it’s going to happen. I can’t obviously promise or guarantee that, but I think the chances are we will get it accomplished versus not getting it accomplished.”

Jacoby said Republicans, who hold a 54-46 majority in the House, lack the 51 votes needed to pass a sports-betting bill so it will require bipartisan support.

Kaufman was optimistic that will happen.

“I’m making changes as we go that are necessary to get the votes that I need and I think that we have the momentum,” he said in calling the chances for passage “very high.”

• Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

Vinton pushes forward with fiber-to-home

VINTON — Frustrated with current options for high-speed internet, Vinton and its roughly 5,100 residents decided to do it themselves.

Tom Richtsmeier, general manager of Vinton Municipal Electric Utility, said the Benton County community hopes to break ground this year on a municipal communications utility — which proposes fiber-to-the-home service.

The effort began years ago, he said, as concerns mounted over unacceptable service from the private sector.

“That’s where a municipal comes ... they’re there to provide the service that someone else won’t do,” Richtsmeier said. “We’ve already had businesses tell us they won’t come to Vinton without fiber, so we know we need to do it for our future.”

However, officials with New York-based Mediacom — the largest internet service company in the state and one of Vinton’s incumbent providers — not only question the potential success of the community’s proposed service, but officials also say they’ve been investing in high-speed internet in the area for years.

Bill Menner, with the consulting firm Bill Menner Group, which focuses on community development and rural partnerships, said the situation in Vinton is far from unique.

“Vinton is absolutely not alone in their decision to do it themselves. A growing number of smaller communities are frustrated with their primary providers,” Menner said.

Creating municipal internet

Richtsmeier said a city-operated internet service has been in the works for years and, in 2015, residents voted to create a communication utility.

The project has been estimated at $8.9 million, and finances still are being discussed. But Richtsmeier said it’s possible the city’s electric utility would put up a bond for the project.

While the city would install and own the fiber, Cedar Rapids-based ImOn Communications has been in talks to operate the system for a period of time, said David Fyffe, ImOn’s director for network systems and construction.

“I think there is pent-up demand, at this point, in what Vinton is looking to do, kind of a new model,” Fyffe said.

In 2017, FARR Technologies, a consulting company focused on the infrastructure, regulations and finances of communications networks, completed a fiber-to-the-premise feasibility study for Vinton Municipal Electric Utility.

According to the report, a Vinton high-speed data service is projected to have a take rate of 40 percent in the first year, which would grow to 62 percent in the fifth year. A take rate is the percentage of potential customers — used to measure success.

The report notes that the project could have a positive net income in the fifth year.

“We’re shooting for trying to get 60 percent of the town involved,” he said.

Mediacom officials, however, argue that such an expectation is unrealistic — especially with existing providers in the community, including Mediacom.

Tom Larsen, Mediacom’s senior vice president for government and public relations, said Mediacom, the largest provider in Iowa, has an internet take rate in the mid- to high-40s.

“The consultant has way oversold what’s achievable,” Larsen said. “A 62 percent take rate, that’s like the consultant saying let’s go run a two-minute-mile marathon. It cannot happen.”

What’s more, Larsen said Mediacom has been investing in its Iowa network — including in Vinton — where he said speeds up to 1 gigabit have been available since early 2017.

“They’re building this $8.9 million project on the basis that we can’t keep up with them. It’s just completely untrue,” he said.

“In order for this thing to even break even, a bunch of private businesses need to fail.”

Larsen added that Mediacom aims to begin testing next year on a 10 gigabit service.

He also noted that Mediacom’s service offers more redundancy than most systems, which creates more reliability.

A new kind of internet

Outside of Vinton, some industry officials expect to see other communities begin to weigh their options when it comes to municipal internet.

Curtis Dean, co-founder of Community Broadband Action Network, based in Indianola, Iowa, and which aims to help communities through that transition, said most Iowans have access to a high-speed internet provider, but they may only have one or two options.

“You have a very diverse situation in Iowa, where some people are very well taken care of ... and other Iowans are stuck with two large companies, neither of which can offer the kind of reliability that people need in this day and age,” Dean said.

“In the case of Vinton, they’re in the latter stage.”

In addition to Vinton, ImOn last year announced plans to expand residential broadband into Iowa City and Coralville later this year.

Fyffe said discussions are underway on possibly expanding the service outward into more communities.

Folience, The Gazette’s parent company, is an investor in ImOn.

Menner, a former state director of USDA Rural Development, said cities that create municipal internet manage it as they would another utility.

“If you just treat fiber like you treat streets or water — as a necessary public utility or an element of infrastructure, which is how it should be seen — these cities, what they’re doing makes absolute sense,” Menner said.

High-speed internet access ultimately provides many benefits to a community, Menner said.

“Whether it’s education, it’s health care, it’s an entrepreneurial community or it’s attracting new residents who have expectations, those are all elements that come into play, and rural communities especially have to be cognizant of that because they’re already operating from a position of a disadvantage because they have fewer people and a smaller tax base,” Menner said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Burlington police are looking for two men accused of murder

Burlington police are looking for two “armed and dangerous” men in connection with the death of 59-year-old Edward “Eddie” Breuer, who died on March 17.

The warrants, according to a news release from the Burlington Police Department, state that Markell “Kellz” Dishe, 25, and Majestic Alexander Malone, 26, each face charges of first-degree murder.

Area media outlets reported that Burlington police and fire officials responded to the 400 block of Acres Street at about 6:35 p.m. on Sunday. When they arrived, they found a Breuer with "life-threatening injuries." Police have not specified the nature of those injuries.

One suspect was arrested Sunday, according to local media reports. Burlington police said 49-year-old Stanley Baldwin, of Burlington, was arrested on a charge of willful injury, a felony.

Breuer was taken to Great River Medical Center and was pronounced dead a short time later. An autopsy was conducted Monday at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Decedent Care Center but the findings have not been released.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of Dishe and Malone is asked to contact the Burlington Police Department at 319-753-8375 or Crime Stoppers at 319-753-6835.

•Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Reynolds to Trump: Send flood aid to Iowa

Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking the federal government for help in covering nearly $1.6 billion in damages caused by widespread flooding — the worst in western Iowa — that has inundated farms, roads and businesses.

“I have determined this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and supplemental federal assistance is necessary to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster,” the governor wrote Thursday to President Donald Trump, citing a federal provision that could unlock the aid.

A “bomb cyclone” storm that struck the Midwest roughly 10 days ago triggered flooding that saw the Missouri River overflow its banks and breach levees — sending water spilling across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. At least four people have been killed and an untold number of livestock lost.

Other parts of Iowa experienced flash flooding as warmer temperatures caused snow to melt rapidly. Reynolds has declared more than half of Iowa’s counties — 52 of 99 — as states of disaster.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, who earlier this week joined Reynolds and Vice President Mike Pence in surveying damage, also wrote to Trump in support of Reynolds’ plea.

“I’ve spent much of this week on the ground in Iowa surveying the damage and meeting with constituents and local, state, and federal officials,” Ernst wrote Friday. “The devastation caused by the flooding is incomprehensible. I respectfully ask you to approve Governor Reynolds’ request as expeditiously as possible.”

Trump this week approved an expedited disaster declaration for parts of Nebraska, making federal aid available. Nebraska has estimated its losses at $1.5 billion.

In her letter to Trump, Reynolds estimated minor and major damage to homes at $481 million; to businesses at $300 million; and to agriculture at $214 million.

As of Thursday, she said, the state has spent $268,355 on items like lighting and bottled water for safety and public health concerns, and was spending about $25,000 a week on using resources from the Iowa National Guard for potable water systems for a hospital and for schools.

At the height of the flooding, she said there were 10 shelters operated by the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other volunteers. By Thursday night, that has lessened to four shelters, housing a total of 40 people, Reynolds wrote. Most of those remaining were driven from their homes in Fremont and Mills counties in southwest Iowa.

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