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49 killed in anti-immigrant terrorist attack at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand

Forty-nine people are dead and more than 20 are seriously injured after a heavily armed gunman clad in military-style gear opened fire during prayers at a mosque in the center of Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday. A second mosque was also targeted in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a well-planned “terrorist attack” making for “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

Authorities said they had four people in custody — three men and one women — but later clarified that only three were believed to have been involved in the violence. One man in his late 20s, whom the authorities declined to name, was charged with murder and was expected to appear in court on Saturday morning. The suspects had not been on security watch lists, officials said.

Police had deactivated an improvised explosive device, and were working to disarm a second, that had been attached to a vehicle used by the suspects. Counterterrorism forces were activated across New Zealand and Australia, as New Zealand elevated its national security threat level to “high” for the first time.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 41 people had been killed at Al Noor mosque on Deans Road, opposite a large downtown park. Seven more were fatally shot about three miles away at a mosque in Linwood, an inner suburb of Christchurch, and another person died at the hospital.

Health officials said 48 patients, including both young children and adults, were being treated for gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital, while additional victims were seeking medical treatment elsewhere. Around 200 family members were at the hospital awaiting news about loved ones.

Portions of the ghastly attack at the downtown mosque were broadcast live on social media, highlighting a distinctly 21st-century dimension of mass gun violence — one sure to put more pressure on social media companies already under scrutiny about how they police their platforms.

Schools and public buildings, as well as the Christchurch Hospital, were on lockdown for hours on Friday afternoon as the police commissioner advised residents of Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, to stay off the streets.

Bush appealed to Muslims nationwide, asking them to stay away from mosques while the security risk remained grave.

“I want to ask anyone that was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand today not to go, to close your doors until you hear from us again,” he said at a news conference.

In a country of nearly 5 million, more than 46,000 residents are Muslim, according to data from the 2013 census, up 28 percent from 2006.

The prime minister said New Zealand had suffered “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” lamenting in particular that a target had been placed on the country’s migrant population. “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand. They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.”

“They are us,” Ardern intoned.

The “extremist views” that she said had motivated the alleged attackers, “have absolutely no place in New Zealand, and, in fact, have no place in the world.”

She said the suspects had chosen New Zealand “because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values.” Addressing the suspects directly, she said, “You may have chosen us. But we utterly reject and condemn you.”

Before the attack, someone with apparently advance knowledge of unfolding events posted links on Twitter and the message board 8chan to a manifesto, as well as to a Facebook page where the individual promised that the attack would be streamed live. The Twitter posts included images of weapons and ammunition, as well as the names of perpetrators of past mass-casualty shootings.

In the manifesto, the purported shooter identified himself as a 28-year-old white man born in Australia. He described his motivation, which he said involved defending “our lands” from “invaders” and ensuring “a future for white children.” He aimed to “directly reduce immigration rates,” he said, explaining that he chose to target New Zealand to illustrate that there was nowhere “left to go that was safe and free from mass immigration.”

The 17-minute video, apparently filmed from a helmet camera, captures the man’s drive to the mosque. Once there, he pulled a weapon from the trunk of the car and walked a short distance to the entrance, where he began to shoot. In the final minutes of the video, he can be seen spraying bullets through the corridors and into the rooms of the house of worship.

Twitter said it had suspended the account where the links had first appeared and was “proactively working to remove the video content from the service,” according to a spokesperson. Facebook “quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video” as soon as the social media company was alerted by police, a spokeswoman, Mia Garlick, said in a statement. “We’re also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.”

The aggregation and discussion website Reddit was also “actively monitoring the situation” and removing “content containing links to the video stream,” a spokesperson told The Post.

In the manifesto, the man identifying himself as one of the perpetrators also said he intended to deepen strife in the United States over gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

Gun laws in New Zealand are more stringent than American regulations, but not as strict as those in Australia and much of Europe. In 2017, more than 1.2 million guns were held by civilians, according to a tracking website maintained by the University of Sydney School of Public Health.

New restrictions came into effect, including on military style semi-automatic weapons, after what had previously been deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s modern history. In 1990, 13 people were killed in the seaside town of Aramoana when a resident, David Gray, went on a shooting spree after an argument with a neighbor.

Violent crime is rare in New Zealand, compared to the rest of the world. The country’s murder rate fell to a 40-year low of 35 in 2017, police said, seven deaths for every 1 million people.

The sense of tranquillity reflected in those figures was replaced by mayhem and desperation on Friday, as residents appeared on local television pleading for information about family members who had been at the targeted mosques.

Recalling the scene inside the downtown mosque, where several hundred had been present for afternoon prayer, an eyewitness told Radio New Zealand, “There was blood everywhere.” Others described to local television how they heard fellow worshippers crying out for help and saw bullet shells strewn across the floor.

Jill Keats, 66, told Newshub she was on her way to lunch when she heard noises that she thought at first were firecrackers. Then, she saw victims come streaming out of the mosque, some of whom she helped find medical aide. “I never thought in my life I would see something like this,” she said. “Not in New Zealand.”

Among those inside the mosque in downtown Christchurch were members of Bangladesh’s national cricket team, according to a Bangladeshi journalist, Mohammad Isam. The ESPNcricinfo correspondent posted a video on Twitter of the cricket players hurrying through nearby Hagley Park as sirens wailed in the background.

The mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel, addressed residents in a Facebook video on Friday, asking them to remain calm. “It looks as though the worst has happened,” she said.

Government ministers voiced shock and outrage. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, speaking on Checkpoint, said the country had been robbed of its “innocence,” while Andrew Little, the justice minister, affirmed, “There is no place for hate in New Zealand.”

Officials in Australia, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, expressed solidarity. Morrison, speaking to reporters Friday evening, confirmed that one of the individuals taken into custody was an Australian-born citizen. Morrison called the suspect “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”

Marise Payne, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, said, “Targeting people in a place of worship is abhorrent and an affront to all.”

World leaders joined in condemning the attack and expressing support for New Zealand. British Prime Minister Theresa May offered her condolences, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he would increase security at London mosques.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed a message “to the Islamic world and the people of New Zealand, who have been targeted by this deplorable act,” which he described as “the latest example of rising racism and Islamophobia.”

European Council President Donald Tusk predicted that the attack would not “diminish the tolerance and decency that New Zealand is famous for,” and sad, “Our thoughts in Europe are with the victims and their families.”

‘A wait-and-see game’ with the river as Iowans brace for flooding

ELKADER — “Sometimes you live with the river, and sometimes the river lives with us,” David Bahls said as he boarded up his business Thursday.

Bahls’ business, Bahls Insurance Agency on Main Street, sits in a downtown building on the bank of the Turkey River, which is expected to crest well above the town’s 12-foot flood stage on Friday morning.

Thursday afternoon, when the river was just below 18 feet, Bahls and his son, Jason, were boarding up their basement to protect from oncoming floodwaters.

“When the gets to be about 18 feet, we’ll start to get some water sloshing in,” Bahls said. 

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings this week for much of Eastern Iowa, including Elkader, that are expected to remain in effect well into the weekend.

“Melting snow combined with periods of rain will raise the risk for flooding into late week,” the warning said. “Those residing near waterways are encouraged to closely monitor conditions and be prepared to act if flooding develops.”

In response, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation Thursday afternoon for 21 Iowa counties and activated Iowa’s State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the response to Iowa’s flooding.

Counties included in her proclamation are Butler, Cerro Gordo, Clayton, Hancock, Harrison, Humboldt, Ida, Iowa, Kossuth, Mills, Monona, Montgomery, O’Brien, Pottawattamie, Sioux, Webster, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, Worth and Wright.

Elkader is the county seat of Clayton County.

The proclamation clears the path for state resources to be used in response to severe weather and activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program for qualifying residents.

A flood warning is in effect for Cedar Rapids, but only moderate flooding is forecast. The river was just above 11 feet Thursday night and is predicted to crest at 15.8 feet by Monday, just below the major flood stage of 16 feet. Only low-lying areas and roads are affected, and the city is taking steps to mitigate flooding and closing roads as needed.

“Residents may see precautionary measures taking place in the Czech Village/Kingston Village Districts, as well as in the northwest Time Check neighborhood,” the city announced in a Thursday news release. “These measures include plugging underground storm sewer drains, and positioning concrete cones to cover low-lying stormwater inlets as needed. Impacts to homes/businesses are not anticipated.”

City boat ramps also will be closed starting at 7 a.m. Saturday as a safety measure an will reopen when the river falls below 13 feet, the city said.

Some low-lying areas in Johnson County also are seeing flooding, but there’s no threat to residents.

In Maquoketa, the Maquoketa River was just above 31 feet by Thursday afternoon and was expected to crest Friday morning at 32 feet.

“We can take flooding up to 36 feet before we have to worry about it affecting the city,” said Frank Ellenz, director of the city’s public works department.

Between the city and the river is an earthen barrier Ellenz described as a levy, which keeps the water from flowing over the riverbank and into the town.

“In the past we’ve had the river flood up to just over 35 feet and we were fine,” he said. “So at the flooding level we’re at now, we should be OK.”

In addition to the levy, the public works team closed the city’s two underground floodgates that keep floodwater from back-flowing into the city’s pipes and sewer lines, and deployed a few portable, aboveground pumps to clear pooling water.

“I think the fact that we didn’t get much rain saved us this time,” Ellenz said. “We got a little bit of rain (Thursday) morning and then it just stopped, and the rest of the weekend’s forecast looks like it should work in our favor.”

In Elkader, the river is expected to crest Friday afternoon at 21.6 feet, just above the city’s 20-foot major flood stage.

“This is something we’ve been dealing with just about every year,” said Elkader Mayor Josh Pope. “And at this point, we’re expecting the flooding to affect low-impact places, mostly fields and parks.”

The city’s mayor since 2016, Pope said much of the town is built on high ground out of harm’s way.

“We’ll see some flooding likely on the town’s lower end, where there’s a football field and the city park is down there,” he said. “And some of the businesses that sit with their backs along the river might see some water flooding in their basement levels. But much of the city is built higher up, out of reach.”

In preparation, Pope said he’s met with Clayton County Emergency Management, the sheriff’s office and Iowa State Patrol to coordinate responses and make sure everything is place. Additionally, he said, city workers are readying sandbags and other equipment so they are ready for rapid deployment if the time comes.

“Between the public works and the volunteer fire department, we work closely with them to address different aspects of preparation — getting the sand in place, getting the pieces of equipment that we might need in place, making sure we have enough sandbags, and making sure we have the things that we might need in place,” Pope said. “And a lot of our city workers have been through this before, many times, so I am confident that if conditions stay as expected, we will be able to weather this situation without any major problems.”

“Right now it’s kind of a wait-and-see game,” he said. “We’re watching the river levels here and upstream and the weather conditions very closely, and when we need to, we’ll be ready to respond.”

For Bahls, Friday’s crest is the third potentially big flood his business has endured since 2008.

Before 2008’s “Flood of Record,” Bahls said the building’s basement was complete with rooms, pool tables and even a hot tub.

“When the water came in, it filled the basement practically up to the ceiling,” roughly 16 feet, he said. “It lifted the hot tub off the ground and pushed it right up to the rafters.”

Bahls has since gutted the basement, leaving bare its concrete floors and walls and its metal support beams, and over the years, he said he has developed some protections that seem to hold up against the flooding he typically sees year to year.

On Thursday afternoon, Bahls and his son were installing ¾-inch wooden planks in front of the building’s basement-level folding garage door.

Stacked on top of each other, the planks reached about 4.5 feet in height and they were anchored to the building’s outside walls on either side of the door with heavy bolts. The men then used spray-foam insulation to seal the cracks between the planks. Once closed, he said, the garage door is lined with sandbags to stop any seepage that sneaks past the boards.

It’s a method he said he employed in 2016 when the river crested at 22.57 feet, slightly above the anticipated Friday crest.

“It held up pretty good then,” he said. “That year the water came up about 4 feet on the building and we didn’t get much water leaking into the basement.”

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

Johnson County approves 2020 budget, but not unanimously

IOWA CITY — For the second year in a row, the Johnson County budget did not receive unanimous approval.

Johnson County supervisors this week adopted a $138.3 million spending plan for fiscal 2020 on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Janelle Rettig voting no.

Rettig cited concerns about spending too much money to grow the board’s staff and the use of the Johnson County conservation bond money.

The 2020 fiscal budget funds almost 12 new full-time positions.

It also calls for spending $2.47 million the $20 million conservation bond for more land acquisition and part of the Hoover Trail project.

The budget includes a slight decrease in the countywide property tax levy rate for the second year in a row.

The countywide levy dropped 5 cents to $6.49 per $1,000 of taxable value. For rural areas, the levy will increase 16 cents to $10.18 per $1,000 of taxable value.

“I find it unfortunate that a significant percentage of the conservation bond initiative is being spent on an events center and associate buildings,” Rettig said.

“As this budget reflects, that is a money trap, and it will always be a money trap, and cost the taxpayers of Johnson County significant money forever to maintain those buildings,” she said.

Rettig also voted against the budget last year, citing concerns that conservation bond money was going to purchase developed property instead of just land with natural landscapes.

Last year, the county announced it would use conservation bond money to buy 132 acres of wooded area and buildings that include the events venue, Celebration Barn and other barns, a railroad museum and a sawmill.

Dick Schwab and Katherine Burford sold their seven parcels for $3.89 million.

Rettig at the time said because some of the property features woodlands that she wouldn’t mind using conservation bond money to buy.

But “spending our limited resources on buildings is not what I voted for and campaigned for in 2008,” she said.

Other budget highlights include $630,000 for affordable housing.

For major secondary road projects, the budget includes $2.5 million for work on Herbert Hoover Highway near Wapsi Road and another $3.7 million for IWV Road from Hebl Avenue to Highway 218.

The budget can be found on the johnson-county.com finance page.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Wells Fargo CEO gets raise to $18.4 million

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, lawmakers scolded Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan for hours, telling him the bank had not done enough to rehabilitate itself after years of scandals about its practices toward customers. Some called for Sloan to be fired.

The next day, the bank’s board of directors gave Sloan a 5 percent raise, increasing his total compensation to $18.4 million.

Of that, $2 million is an “annual incentive award” — a bonus.

Sloan’s pay is now 283 times the median pay of the bank’s more than 200,000 employees.

The bonus was based on Wells Fargo’s “financial performance” and Sloan’s “continued leadership on the Company’s top priority of rebuilding trust,” the company said in its annual letter to shareholders.

The company’s stock price fell 27 percent last year in a tough market, but its yearly profit rose to $22.4 billion compared with $22.2 billion in 2017, and the company’s board noted that Sloan had led a massive stock buyback program.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Rep. Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee before whom Sloan testified on Tuesday, said in a written statement Thursday afternoon, “Mr. Sloan shouldn’t be getting a bonus, he should be shown the door.”

She joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a Democratic presidential candidate, in calling for Sloan’s removal.

Boeing’s problems jeopardize billions in orders

Boeing’s $600 billion-plus order book for its 737 MAX began shaking after several big customers threatened to reconsider their purchases in the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday, the second deadly accident involving the plane since October.

VietJet Aviation, which doubled its order to about $25 billion only last month, said it will decide on its plans once the cause of the tragedy has been found.

Kenya Airways is reviewing proposals to buy the MAX and could switch to Airbus’ rival A320. Russia’s Utair Aviation PJSC is seeking guarantees before taking delivery of the first of 30 planes.

That’s as Indonesia’s Lion Air firms up moves to drop a $22 billion order for the 737 in favor of the Airbus jet, according to a person with knowledge of the plan.

Separately, Garuda Indonesia plans to cut orders of the Boeing plane, and a $5.9 billion order from a unit of Saudi Arabian Airlines hangs in the balance.

The 737, which first entered service in the late 1960s, is the aviation industry’s best-selling model and Boeing’s top earner.

The re-engineered MAX version has racked up more than 5,000 orders worth in excess of $600 billion, including planes that have already been delivered.

Boeing faces escalating financial risk after two disasters involving its newest narrow-body jet in the past five months.

Boeing’s stock since the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday has lost more than 10 percent of its value, CNN reported on its website Wednesday. That would cut more than $25 billion from the company’s market value.

The deadly crash in Ethiopia comes just about five months after the Oct. 29 crash of another Boeing 737 MAX plane, operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air.

The relationship between the carrier and Boeing soured after the manufacturer pointed to maintenance issues and human error at Lion as the underlying cause, even though the planes pilots had been battling a computerized system that took control following a sensor malfunction.

Sunday’s loss of an Ethiopian Airlines 737, in which 157 people died, bore similarities to the Asian tragedy, stoking concern that a feature meant to make the upgraded MAX safer than earlier planes has actually made it harder to fly.

Toyota to invest $749 million in 5 plants

Toyota Motor said on Thursday it will invest $749 million in five U.S. plants and add 586 jobs as it boosts engine production capacity and adds new hybrid models to its lineup.

President Donald Trump has prodded Japanese automakers to add more jobs in the United States as the White House has threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported vehicles, on the grounds of national security.

“All this activity I hope shows that we’re a plus factor to the economic national security of the United States,” Toyota North America Chief Executive Jim Lentz told reporters on a conference call.

“We believe in America.”

Toyota and other automakers have been lobbying heavily to block any new tariffs on imported vehicles.

Toyota said it will invest $288 million in Alabama to increase annual engine capacity from 670,000 to 900,000 by the end of 2021 and will add new four-cylinder and V6-engine lines.

It also will invest $238 million in a Kentucky plant to build hybrid versions of the Toyota RAV4 and Lexus ES 300h.

Toyota announced last year it would jointly build a new $1.6 billion plant with Mazda Motor in Alabama.

Toyota said it will exceed a 2017 pledge to invest $10 billion over five years with a new commitment to reach nearly $13 billion over the same period, including Thursday’s announcement.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda will be in Washington, D.C., Friday to deliver a speech in which he is expected to tout the new investments.

Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department sent a Section 232 national security report to Trump with recommendations that auto industry officials expect to include at least some tariffs on fully assembled vehicles or on technologies and components related to electric, automated, connected and shared vehicles.

Lentz told reporters the automaker is eager to learn the findings, including for the 137,000 Americans he said design, build or sell Toyota vehicles in the United States.

“They deserve to know if they’re a security threat,” he said. “Consumers need to know because they need to understand if their costs for every vehicle they purchase ... is going to go up.”

Lentz said the new trade deal the Trump administration has negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement had played a role in the new investment decisions, but he did not elaborate on how significant that role was.

Facebook: Widespread outage is over

An apologetic Facebook said Thursday it has resolved the issues that contributed to a widespread outage Wednesday, although users continued to report having trouble using the service.

“Yesterday, we made a server configuration change that triggered a cascading series of issues,” a Facebook spokesman said in an email.

“As a result, many people had difficulty accessing our apps and services. We have resolved the issues, and our systems have been recovering over the last few hours.”

A Facebook status page for developers continued to show a partial outage since 9 a.m. Pacific Time, though, and the spokesman said people might continue to “experience intermittent issues” as the system recovers.

The outage affected Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, which the company has said have about 2.7 billion users worldwide altogether.

Instagram said on its Twitter account Wednesday night that it was back up. WhatsApp and Messenger appeared to be working normally Thursday.

On Wednesday, Facebook said on Twitter — where its users went to complain about the outage and deliberate about its cause — that “we can confirm that the issue is not related to a DDoS attack.”

Distributed denial-of-service attacks flood a system’s servers with traffic to try to bring it down.

Multiple reports Wednesday said Facebook was considering issuing refunds to advertisers because of the outage.

A Facebook spokesman would not confirm those reports Thursday, saying the company still is “investigating the overall impact of this issue.”

Fox News courts advertisers after some brands flee

Facing mounting pressure from boycotts, Fox News took the unusual step of assuring advertisers that they should not pull their commercials out of its opinion programs that have been targeted by media watchdog groups.

“We know there is a lot of noise out there, but the voice of a few shouldn’t prevent you from marketing your brands to millions of consumers who actually buy your products and services,” Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising sales for Fox News said Wednesday at a presentation held in the network’s midtown Manhattan studios.

The top-rated cable news network invited sponsors and media buyers to its headquarters to tout its ratings success ahead of the upfront buying period when the bulk of ad time for the next TV season is sold.

Fox News finished 2018 as the most-watched cable network for the third consecutive year.

In previous years, Fox News sales execs would meet privately with ad buyers and companies before the selling season.

Executives said the presentation, planned several months ago, was part of an effort by the network to be more transparent under the new management team led by Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott, who took the reins of the network in May 2018.

The network also wanted to showcase its new state-of-the-art studio.

The scene on the sidewalk outside reflected the highly publicized anger that the political left has toward the conservative channel that critics and competitors call a propaganda arm of the White House. About 60 protesters led by the watchdog group Media Matters brandished signs that said “Fox News Is Toxic” and urged companies to take their business elsewhere.

The efforts to pressure advertisers to abandon Fox News over inflammatory comments by Tucker Carlson and other hosts has yet to have any significant financial effect as the network has shifted prime-time advertisers into programs in other time periods.

In 2018, Fox News took in a record $1.09 billion in ad revenue, an increase of 7.2 percent over the previous year according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

It long has been one of the most profitable units of parent company 21st Century Fox, which is about to sell most of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney.

Fox will retain ownership of Fox News, Fox Sports and the Fox Broadcasting network.

But the boycotts pose a threat to further revenue growth over the long term. According to Kantar Media data, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” saw its 2018 fourth quarter ad revenue total drop to $13.6 million — a 45 percent decline from the previous year.

The first organized effort to get sponsors to drop Carlson began in December after he said immigrants make the United States “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”

Many blue chip companies such as Lexus, Jaguar, Pacific Life and Pfizer have pulled out of Carlson’s program, which now relies heavily on commercials from advertisers with 1-800 numbers who tend to seek out lower-priced ad time.

Carlson has been under fire for making what have been seen as misogynistic, homophobic and racially insensitive remarks on Florida radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge’s program. Media Matters has been posting audio clips of the remarks from 2006 to 2011 on social media during the last week, leading to two more advertisers — pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and bedding maker Sheex — dropping the program and a call from the Washington Post opinion page that he be fired.

But with an audience of 2.9 million viewers a night, his show is often among the most watched programs on cable.

Iowa farmland values continue to decline

The value of an average acre of unimproved farmland in Iowa declined 1 percent from Sept. 1, 2018, to March 1 of this year, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

The Iowa Chapter of the Realtors Land Institute reported the value of an average acre of Iowa farmland was $9,157 on March 1, down from $9,239 on Sept. 1 of the year before.

Combined with a 1.7 percent decrease reported in September 2018 indicates a statewide average decline of 2.7 percent from March 1, 2018, to March 1, 2019.

The RLI survey follows an Iowa State University farmland values survey that reported a 0.8 percent decline in the value of an average acre of unimproved land from Nov. 1, 2017, to Nov. 1, 2018.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago recorded a 1 percent dip from Jan. 1, 2018, to Jan. 1 of this year.

The value of an acre of east-central Iowa farmland slipped 1.3 percent to $10,041 on March 1 from $10,057 on Sept. 1.

Troy Louwagie of Hertz Real Estate Services in Mount Vernon said the continued decline is attributed to trade uncertainty, decreasing levels of working capital and slightly higher interest rates.

“Interest rates are starting to affect us,” Louwagie said. “We are starting to see deposits paying 2 percent to 2.5 percent. We have not had an alternative in recent years.”

The RLI survey found 77 percent of farmland buyers are farmers, 18 percent are investors and the remaining 5 percent are other purchasers.

That compares with the ISU survey in November that found farmers were 72 percent of land buyers and investors accounted for 21 percent.

Farmland sellers are estates and trusts, farmers with an increase in land leased back for farming, investors trading assets and current operators selling to generate operating capital.

A survey of rural Midwest bankers by Creighton University released earlier this month found bankers are restructuring loans for farmers to shore up working capital.

Almost two-thirds of the rural bankers indicated that collateral requirements have been raised on farm loans.

That represents an increase from 45.2 percent of the bankers who were raising collateral requirements in a February survey.

Tama County man struck daughter’s boyfriend with shovel, complaint shows

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Tama County man was charged Thursday in connection with hitting his daughter’s boyfriend in the head with a “metal blade” garden shovel, causing a large cut that required 15 staples.

Lucius A. Bear, 41, a member of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, was charged in U.S. District Court with assault with a dangerous weapon within maritime and jurisdictional territory. He is accused of hitting the boyfriend, who was not identified by name or age in court documents, on Feb. 17 at a home on the Meskwaki Settlement.

Bear was charged in federal court because the assault happened on the settlement, where federal authorities have jurisdiction.

The complaint shows the boyfriend misled the Meskwaki police when they first arrived at the scene. He first told police Bear was “drunk and frustrated” because nobody would help him dig his car out of the snow and that Bear kicked a shovel, which hit him in the head causing the injury.

Later, the boy told police Bear was intoxicated and angry because his daughter wouldn’t help him shovel snow. Bear first smashed the television with the shovel while yelling at his daughter, according to the complaint.

The boy tried to stop Bear but Bear hit him in the chest with the butt of the shovel handle. Bear then raised the shovel above his head and “swung” it, hitting him in the head, according to the complaint.

Medical records showed the boy had an over 2-inch cut to his scalp, which required 15 staples, the complaint shows.

Bear initially wouldn’t come out of a bedroom for an hour after police arrived at the home, the complaint shows. He then knocked a flashlight out of an officer’s hand and attempted to punch another officer, but the officers got him down on the floor. Officers then used a stun gun twice on Bear, but it was ineffective, according to the complaint.

He bit one officer on the forearm after being handcuffed and spit blood on one of the officers before being taken out of the house, according to the complaint.

Officers recovered the garden shovel from the scene, according to the complaint.

If convicted, Bear faces 10 years in federal prison.

He waived his right to a detention hearing at this time and remains in jail pending trial.

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

Iowa House speaker cool to inheritance tax repeal proposal

DES MOINES — House Speaker Linda Upmeyer is taking a cautious approach to a Senate plan to repeal the state inheritance tax.

Her concern with Senate File 307 is that repealing the inheritance tax could jeopardize the $2.86 billion tax relief plan the Legislature approved in 2018, the Clear Lake Republican said Thursday.

“I want to make very sure that we don’t put that ahead of the tax bill we did last year that addresses middle-class income tax,” Upmeyer said. “If we do something that gets ahead of that and doesn’t allow the triggers to go into effect, that would be the wrong thing to do. I want to make sure we are enacting what we did last year before we do something new.”

The 2018 tax bill uses triggers to protect budget sustainability in future years, ensures full repayment of the cash reserve fund this year and does not reduce the property tax backfill to cities and counties. The triggers are based on reaching or exceeding an annual net general fund tax receipts of 4 percent. The plan included an example of tax receipts valued at $8.314 billion for fiscal 2022.

“I would have to be pretty confident that the triggers were going to kick in before I get very excited about” repealing the inheritance tax, Upmeyer said.

The inheritance tax is a “plunder tax ... death tax ... one of the most abhorrent taxes we have,” according to Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, sponsor of SF 307.

According to him, the state is collecting about $90 million a year “from the grave.”

At a subcommittee hearing on SF 307, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, said the inheritance tax is a disincentive to economic growth, particularly in farming.

However, repealing the inheritance tax at this time could “jeopardize the income tax relief” and “that would not be something I would want to do,” Upmeyer said.

A House plan to allow voters to petition for a reverse referendum if city and county property taxes increase more than 2 percent a year “is on my wish list to get done this year,” she said, referring to House Study Bill 165.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

University of Northern Iowa Credit Union unveils its new name: UNITE

Just as the University of Iowa Community Credit Union last month unveiled a new name in response to a law barring credit unions from including state universities in their titles, the University of Northern Iowa Credit Union is announcing its new moniker: UNITE Credit Union.

Its board of directors chose the new name after inviting its 1,933 members to submit suggestions online.

“From the responses, the board of directors chose UNITE, believing this name best fits the credit union’s mission,” according to a news release. “The UNITE Credit Union wants to join all of its members together to celebrate the new name and the excellent customer service and member-owners’ benefits that are offered every day.”

The name change went into effect Jan. 1 — with estimated rollout completion by April 30. Its website already boasts the new UNITE name and purple-and-gold logo, both of which hint at the former UNI affiliation.

The new University of Iowa Community Credit Union name, GreenState Credit Union, was unveiled Feb. 27, with officials hoping to hear back on the patent application by the end of March.

The UICCU website has not yet been updated with the new name as officials don’t expect to hear back from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices until March 27 at the earliest, according to UICCU Chief Marketing Officer Jim Kelly.

Neither credit union today is affiliated with their namesake schools — although both started with connections.

The UICCU debuted in 1938 as the State University of Iowa Hospital Employees Credit Union, expanding in 1966 to serve all UI staff, students and alumni. In 1988, the credit union added “community” to its title and amended its charter to serve all residents.

Current estimates are that about 75 percent of UICCU members have no UI connection.

The UNI Credit Union was established in 1955 for UNI faculty, alumni and students, along with employees, students, faculty and alumni of the Cedar Falls School District. In 2012, Midwest Utilities Credit Union — including MidAmerican Energy, Greco Financial and Nagle Signs employees, retirees, and families — merged with the UNI Credit Union.

Even though both credit unions shed their university exclusivity years ago, the perception they are affiliated with the schools has persisted.

Board of Regents member Larry McKibben aired concerns about that last year. He suggested the reputations of Iowa’s public universities could be harmed by unapproved association with major financial institutions should the entities become ensnared in scandal.

The discussion spurred debate and eventually the new law and regents policy barring unassociated entities from using university trademarks in their names. The law gives affected credit unions until April 30 to rebrand — including their signage, documents and other materials.

The UICCU has estimated the cost of making the change at about $2.5 million — or about 1 percent of its projected annual revenue.

Reporting current assets of $5.2 billion, the UICCU is the largest credit union in Iowa.

The UNI Credit Union is much smaller in size and membership, reporting $22 million in assets as of Dec. 31, 2017.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Beto O’Rourke calls for unity during first Iowa visit as 2020 presidential candidate

BURLINGTON — As he drove along the Mississippi River between campaign stops, Beto O’Rourke pined to pull the vehicle over — yes, he was driving himself — so he could dip his toes in the water.

“I just don’t feel like you can come this close to it and not,” O’Rourke said.

When his staff told him there was not enough time to stop, O’Rourke groaned.

“All right, then,” he conceded. “Some future visit we’ll do that.”

That must have been one of the rare disappointing moments for O’Rourke during his trip to Iowa on Thursday, which came on the heels of his announcement he is running for president.

O’Rourke, the 46-year-old Democrat and former congressman from Texas, made a spin through southeast Iowa — making stops Thursday in Keokuk, Fort Madison, Burlington and Muscatine — on the first day of his campaign. He has public events scheduled Friday in Mount Pleasant and Cedar Rapids.

O’Rourke received a warm welcome from Iowans who greeted him at a local sandwich shop in Fort Madison and a local coffee house in Burlington.

The latter was packed by a crowd that would make a fire marshal squirm, and O’Rourke stood on the coffee shop’s bar so everyone could see and hear him.

Roughly 80 people came to Sub Arena in Fort Madison for an event that was not publicly announced.

“I’m pumped. More pumped than when I first met Barack Obama,” said Ernie Schiller of Donnellson after the Fort Madison event.

O’Rourke already had won over Stephanie Brownlee, a 20-year-old Fort Madison woman who came to see him at Sub Arena. Brownlee grew up with Republican parents and was a registered Republican until four years ago. She said she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Brownlee said she likes O’Rourke because he talks about wanting to fight for all Americans, not just Democrats, and he reminds her of former U.S. Sen John McCain from Arizona in the way he shows respect instead of disdain for his political rivals.

“I think he’s amazing,” Brownlee said, adding she believes O’Rourke is a candidate “who can relate to both sides of the aisle.”

The southeast Iowa region where O’Rourke campaigned Thursday contains many swing voters, the kind who voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but swung to Republican Donald Trump in 2016.

The state Senate districts that contain Des Moines and Lee counties, where O’Rourke campaigned Thursday, swung 25 and 30 percentage points respectively from Obama’s 2012 victory margin to Trump’s 2016 victory margin.

“I’ll work with anyone, anytime, anywhere to deliver for Lee County, to deliver for this country. That’s what I want out of our government. I want us to be able to put our differences aside, find the common ground and just to get it done. And the only way you have any hope of doing that is showing up and listening to and learning from the people you want to serve,” O’Rourke said during an interview between the Fort Madison and Burlington campaign stops.

“So I don’t pretend to know the answers for that significant shift between ’08 and ’16. And I don’t even know how important it is, other than to be able to focus on 2020 and beyond, how are we going to truly deliver for these communities. Not to make them solidly Democratic or blue — their partisan color doesn’t really matter to me — but to invite everyone into the conversation and the partnership to get these things done,” he said. “And it begins by showing up and, as many people in there reminded me, it continues by coming back.”

While answering questions in Fort Madison, regardless of the topic, O’Rourke regularly made calls for unity. O’Rourke said during the interview he thinks the country is more divided than at any time in his lifetime.

“And the answer to that is not more divisiveness; it’s a concerted effort to unify this country. It doesn’t mean that we won’t still have our differences. ... But it does mean that we can’t see our opponents as our enemies,” O’Rourke said. “If we’re going to get any of these big things done that we all want to do, we’re going to have to find that common ground and we’re going to have to unify.”

Cedar Rapids feature airs on C-SPAN this weekend

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids will be featured on C-SPAN this weekend as part of the network’s Cities Tour series.

The national, commercial free public affairs channel will air Cedar Rapids Weekend on Saturday and Sunday on Book TV and American History TV. The different interviews and pieces will air as a block each day.

11 a.m. Saturday on Book TV (C-SPAN2, Mediacom channel 87):

• Czech and Slovak Collection at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library with library Director Dave Muhlena.

• Author LaTanya McQueen discusses her book “And it Begins Like This.”

• Origins of the Quran with Imam Taha Tawil at the Mother Mosque of America.

• Tour Cedar Rapids with author and historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.

• Iowa caucuses and politics from The Gazette’s political writer James Lynch.

1 p.m. Sunday on American History TV (C-SPAN3, Mediacom channel 88):

• Grant Wood Studio, where the famous artist painted his most celebrated work, American Gothic, with Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s Katherine Kunau.

• Discover the history of the Mother Mosque of America and the origins of the Quran from Imam Taha Tawil.

• Iowa caucuses and politics from The Gazette’s political writer James Lynch.

• “Faces of Freedom: The Czech and Slovak Journey” exhibit at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library with curator Stefanie Kohn.

• African American Museum of Iowa with curator Felicite Wolfe as she highlights the “Driven by Hope” exhibit.

• Tour Cedar Rapids with author and historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.

• U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, Democratic representative of Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.

The shows also will air as segments throughout the weekend.

A segment featuring Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart will kick off the programming on Friday on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program (Mediacom channel 97) between 6 and 9 a.m. The segment also will be available online at c-span.org/citiestour after it airs. C-SPAN also has created a Cedar Rapids website where each segment will be available to view after it airs.

All video segments will be available indefinitely on the C-SPAN Video Library site at c-span.org.

Producers from the network visited Cedar Rapids for a week last month to capture footage of Cedar Rapids’ history and literary life as part of a series that focuses on small- and mid-sized cities.

Mediacom helped select Cedar Rapids to be featured, said Phyllis Peters, a spokesperson for Mediacom. She said the rich Czech-Slovak history, vibrancy from Mount Mercy University and Coe College, and ties to Grant Wood were among the lures. Plus, cities such as Cedar Rapids are often overlooked in the national spotlight, she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Sandy Hook families can sue gun maker for U.S. school massacre: court

Families of schoolchildren gunned down in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre can sue Remington Outdoor Co Inc, a Connecticut court ruled on Thursday, in a setback for gun makers long shielded from liability in mass shootings.

In a 4-3 ruling widely expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Connecticut’s highest court found the lawsuit could proceed based on a state law protecting consumers against fraudulent marketing.

“The Connecticut Supreme Court has blown a very large hole into the federal immunity for firearms manufacturers in lawsuits alleging criminal misuse of the products they sell,” said Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University and author of a book on gun litigation.

Remington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a mass shooting that rocked the United States shortly before Christmas of 2012, a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 school children aged 6 and 7 in addition to six adult staff, using a Remington AR-15 Bushmaster rifle, a semi-automatic civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-16.

The families of nine of the victims and one survivor have said Remington, along with a gun wholesaler and local retailer, are partially responsible for the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, because they marketed the weapon based on its militaristic appeal.

Josh Koskoff, one of the lawyers for the victims’ families, said in a statement the families were grateful for the court’s rejection of the gun industry’s bid for complete immunity.

“The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety. Today’s decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal,” Koskoff said.

Leading gun control advocates such as Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign applauded the ruling. The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobby, did not immediately comment.

NOT A SECOND AMENDMENT ISSUE

Should the case go before the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-4 majority, it may not be affected by the constitutional protection for people to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.

Instead, it would depend on the justices’ interpretation of the broader legal question of whether federal courts should generally be allowed to interfere in state law, experts said.

The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, has provided the U.S. firearms industry an almost impenetrable defense against lawsuits by victims of mass shootings and gun violence, broadly shielding Remington and others such as American Outdoor Brands Corp, Sturm Ruger & Co and Vista Outdoor Inc from liability.

The families had tried to advance the case on a relatively novel argument in gun litigation based on the legal doctrine of negligent entrustment, an argument historically used when someone lends a car to a high-risk driver who then causes an accident.

The Connecticut court rejected that theory, instead saying the families could bring their claims under the consumer protection statute.

“Once we accept the premise that Congress did not intend to immunize firearms suppliers who engage in truly unethical and irresponsible marketing practices promoting criminal conduct ... it falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet,” the judges said.

Three dissenting judges argued that the federal gun maker shield law did not include such an exception.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry’s trade association, agreed with the dissenters, saying the ruling was “at odds with all other state and federal appellate courts that have interpreted the scope of the exception.”

Michael Moreland, a professor at Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania, said he expected gun victims to face a difficult legal battle given the broad federal protection for gun manufacturers.

The U.S. Supreme Court has trended toward rejecting state law claims that are barred by federal law, he said.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

12 Republican Senators defied Trump and voted to overturn his declaration of an emergency at the border

WASHINGTON — Twelve Republican senators defied President Donald Trump on Thursday, rebuffing his public and private pleas for GOP unity and voting for a resolution overturning his declaration of a national emergency at the border.

The vote marked congressional Republicans’ first significant defection from Trump in more than two years. Throughout his presidency, he has enjoyed almost universal support from his party save for a few GOP lawmakers who bucked him in big moments like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and some foreign policy issues.

But this was a rejection of Trump on his signature campaign promise. Since the day he announced his candidacy for president, Trump spoke about ending illegal immigration and building a wall along the southern border — that he originally said would be paid for by Mexico. It is the defining issue among his core supporters. “Build the wall” is a Trump rallying cry.

The Senate Republicans who voted to block Trump’s ability to unilaterally circumvent Congress and shift money to build his wall were swift to point out that they still supported the wall, but that they were voting to preserve the constitutional separation of powers.

“To make clear, a border fence, a border barrier is a policy that I support, wholeheartedly, unequivocally,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on the Senate floor, in announcing his support for the resolution.

Republicans had warned Trump not to declare an emergency under the National Emergencies Act to grab $3.6 billion appropriated by Congress for military construction projects nationwide to build barriers along the border.

They warned that a future Democratic president could take a policy priority like climate change and declare it a national emergency to work around the legislative branch, which holds the power to appropriate money.

“Declaring a national emergency to access different funds sets a dangerous, new precedent,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a floor speech. “No president has ever used what’s called the National Emergencies Act in this way. As a result, it opens the door for future presidents to implement just about any policy they want and to take funding from other areas Congress has already decided on without Congress’ approval.”

In addition to Lee and Portman, the Republicans voting for the resolution were: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Patrick Toomey of Pennesylvania, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Collins, Murkowski and Paul had made known their decision to oppose the president’s action a week or more before the vote, while others were noncommittal.

The GOP senators who ultimately decided to buck the president had previously noted their discomfort with what they saw as executive overreach.

“Well before the president declared this national emergency, I made clear that such a declaration was ill-advised,” Toomey said in a statement. “The president’s emergency declaration undermines the fundamental constitutional principle of the separation of powers, and it sets a dangerous precedent that future presidents could use to advance controversial policies.”

The most surprising was Blunt, the only member of GOP leadership to vote against Trump. He, like his colleagues, explained that it had nothing to do with the president or border security, but rather protecting the institution of Congress from future presidents.

Notably, of the GOP senators up for reelection in 2020 who could be vulnerable, just Collins voted against Trump. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Thom Tillis of North Carolina ended up siding with the president.

“It should never have come to this, but in the absence of congressional action, the President did what Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer refused to do,” Gardner said.

Tillis had previously stated he would support the resolution, but he flipped under intense pressure from the White House and fear of a primary challenge from the right.

In a commentary in The Washington Post on Feb. 25, Tillis had written: “As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress. As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

But in a floor speech explaining his reversal, Tillis said he would vote against the resolution in hopes of facilitating future debate around what constitutes an emergency actions.

“My main concern with this executive action is future potential abuses,” Tillis said. “I have a concern with the executive action that the president took, the emergency order, that’s why I voiced it. But I’m sympathetic to what he was trying to do.”

Also standing with Trump were GOP Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, and Ted Cruz of Texas, who had made a last-ditch effort to get Trump to work out a compromise in an unplanned visit to the White House Wednesday night.

Sasse, a self-described “constitutional conservative,” blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the “politically motivated resolution” and urged Senate leaders to change the law that allowed Trump to declare the emergency.

Xavier junior Hannah Hinkel grew up around St. Patrick’s Day parade

CEDAR RAPIDS — For 44 years, one celebration has been a mainstay for Cedar Rapids in March.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade — or SaPaDaPaSo (which consists of the first two letters of St. Patrick’s Day Parade Society) — will take place Sunday in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Junior Hannah Hinkel has participated in this parade every year since she was born.

“It has been a tradition in my family for 28 years, and we have so much fun doing it,” Hinkel said.

For Hinkel, preparations for the parade begin months in advance.

“We generally spend about two months coming up with a theme, song, costumes and decorations for the float,” Hinkel said.

Hinkel’s family has done a variety of themes in the past.

“We’ve done lots of crazy things, like Green Solo Cup (instead of Red Solo Cup), Willy McWonka and the Irish Oompa Loompas, and the Fighting Irish,” Hinkel said. “This year we’re actually having a wedding for our float. My uncle and his fiancee wanted a casual, but unique wedding, so they’re getting married on the float.”

This event is a source of many memories for Hinkel.

“My favorite memory from the parade was probably the year that we did Irish Gangnam Style, and we had to do that dance the entire time we were out there (about 6 or 7 blocks!)” Hinkel said.

Along with Hinkel and her family, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is an important event for other members of the Cedar Rapids community.

For St. Patrick’s Church parishioners, the event is an important celebration of their heritage.

“The Irish people who came to Cedar Rapids, for the most part, lived in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Patrick’s Church,” Father Ivan Nienhaus, the priest of St. Patrick’s Church, said. “They are the ones who built the church, and I think the parade is a special event because we’re keeping their memory alive.”

The parade will take place March 17 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids bike share program slated to start in May

CEDAR RAPIDS — A bike-share program is slated to launch May 13 in Cedar Rapids with a fleet of 150 electric-assist bikes, 30 e-scooters and 90 docking stations in downtown Cedar Rapids.

This summer, 20 fat tire bikes will be added to the fleet and stationed near Mount Trashmore, which added biking and hiking trails last year. Local officials are working on education and rules to ensure safety for users as well as pedestrians in advance of the launch.

“Our goal is to prevent bike and scooter conflicts with pedestrians, especially in busy areas,” said Bill Micheel, the city’s assistant community development director.

The Cedar Rapids launch coincides with the start of Bike to Work Week, a national movement that promotes cycling to work.

Meanwhile, in Iowa City, officials are in process of amending its ordinances to treat electric bicycles the same as regular bicycles. Staff are negotiating with a company to provide them in the spring.

Coralville has a small bike-share program at the Iowa River Landing, with three standard bikes available for rent.

Cedar Rapids has an agreement with VeoRide, which has offices in Chicago and West Lafayette, Ind., to provide the equipment and operate the bike-share program at no cost to the city, Micheel said. Users would be able to rent the bikes through an app on their phones.

Micheel said several people have encouraged the city to include scooters, but there is some resistance among City Council members. Scooters have drawn backlash in some communities where pedestrian-scooter conflicts occur and the devices are often left scattered around the community.

“E-scooters were cool in Nashville until you get hit by the third or fourth one,” Council member Marty Hoeger said during a development committee meeting on Tuesday. “I am not a fan of them. They are laid all across the community. I get it’s a pilot program. But, you see on the news about brain injuries. Bikes are one thing, but I can’t imagine being on a scooter going down a bike lane on one of these. It’s an accident waiting to happen. I am not in favor of the e-scooter.”

Micheel acknowledged the concern but noted given all of the calls to try it in Cedar Rapids, a pilot program could at the very least answer the question of whether it would work. He said the pilot program would ideally go until October, or one riding season, but if problems arise it could be ended earlier.

The bike-share program would be a hybrid system allowing people to return bikes to a dock, which can store up to six bikes, or pay an additional fee to leave bikes free-standing within a geo-fenced area — a virtual perimeter set for the bikes. Earlier cost estimates included $1 to unlock the bike and 5 cents per minute — so a 30-minute ride would cost $2.50 — 15 cents a minute for e-scooters, and $26 per month or $100 per year for membership. In other cities with the program, an additional fee of about $1 has led to a 90 percent success rate in getting bikes returned to the docks, Micheel has said. The bikes have built in locks, so they can’t be ridden unless a user rents the bike through the app.

The city is partnering with Iowa BIG — an alternative, experience-based high school based in Cedar Rapids — to create instructional videos on how to use the bike-share program, he said.

City staff are working on revisions to ordinances in advance of the launch. These include expanding the definition of bikes to include e-bikes, defining electric standup scooters largely the same as bikes and creating a “dooring” policy — if a person in a parked vehicle opens a door into a cyclist, the driver would be liable, Micheel said.

The policy changes are scheduled to come before council at the March 26 meeting, he said.

The city is also expanding its “Walk your Wheels” campaign to discourage riding bikes and scooters on sidewalks in the core area, which is banned. Riding bikes and scooters on sidewalks is allowed away from the downtown area.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Gazette reporter Madison Arnold contributed to this report.

Elkader expecting major flooding of Turkey River starting this evening

The National Weather Service is predicting a historic crest of 22.7 feet Friday morning for the Turkey River at Elkader.

A 22.7-foot crest would rank the flooding as the fourth worst on record for the Clayton County town of approximately 1,400 residents. The river crested at above 25 feet in 2004, and above 27 feet in 1991 and 2008, when it reached a record 27.77 feet. The Turkey River crested at 22.57 feet in 2016.

Minor flooding began today when the river exceeded a depth of 12 feet, with major flooding predicted by this evening, cresting by Friday morning and the river falling below flood stage Sunday morning.

Gazette journalists are en route to the area. Check back at TheGazette.com for new details and photos.

Bowling Street in Cedar Rapids closed due to flooding

Prairie Creek flooding has caused a segment of Bowling Street SW in Cedar Rapids to be closed.

The city announced Wednesday the closure of J Street SW between Hawkeye Downs Road SW and 50th Avenue SW. Today, the Cedar Rapids Police Department advised that Bowling Street is also closed between 33rd Avenue SW and 41st Avenue SW, while recommending that drivers use C Street SW, Interstate 380 or Sixth Street SW until the water recedes.

In Marion, Thomas Park and Boyson Trail are closed due to recent rains, melting snow and flooding of Indian Creek. Marion Fire Marshal Wade Markley reminded residents to avoid area floodwaters, stating “the best course of action is to avoid entering any flood-prone areas or flash flood zones. It takes very little water to sweep you off your feet or move a vehicle. Turn around; don’t drown.”

Other Cedar Rapids streets closed due to flooding:

• First Street NW closed between Penn Avenue NW and E Avenue NW

• Hawkeye Downs Road SW closed between Sixth Street SW and J Street SW

• Otis Road

Linn County roads closed due to flooding:

• Old Bridge Road 68th Ave & Tissel Hollow Road are CLOSED due to water over the road from Nursery Rd to 76th Avenue until further notice

• Otter Road is CLOSED due to water over the road from Midway Road to Toddville Road until further notice

• Red School Road is CLOSED due to water over the road until further notice

• Red Bridge Road & Whitney Road are CLOSED due to water over the road from Ammeter Road on Red Bridge Road through the intersection of Red Bridge Road and Whitney Road and Whitney Road is CLOSED to Heatons Valley Road

• Linn Jones Road is CLOSED due to water over the road from Old Church Road to 4690 Linn Jones Road until further notice

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