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Lee-wire
Trump declares Jerusalem Israeli capital, smashing US policy

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump shattered decades of unwavering U.S. neutrality on Jerusalem on Wednesday, declaring the sorely divided holy city as Israel's capital and sparking frustrated Palestinians to cry out that he had destroyed already-fragile Mideast hopes for peace.

Defying dire, worldwide warnings, Trump insisted that after repeated peace failures it was past time for a new approach, starting with what he said was his decision merely based on reality to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel's government. He also said the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though he set no timetable.

"We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past," Trump said, brushing aside the appeals for caution from around the world.

Trump made no reference to signing a waiver that officially delays any move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the White House confirmed he signed the waiver Wednesday. It means there will be no embassy move for at least another six months.

Harsh objections came from a wide array of presidents and prime ministers. From the Middle East to Europe and beyond, leaders cautioned Trump that any sudden change on an issue as sensitive as Jerusalem not only risks blowing up the new Arab-Israeli peace initiative led by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but could lead to new violence in the region.

Indeed, Muslims across the Middle East warned Wednesday of disastrous consequences after Trump's action, but in a region more divided than ever, many asked what leaders can do beyond the vehement rhetoric.

Arab powerhouses are mired in their own internal troubles, their populations tired of wars, and the days when Arab leaders could challenge the United States in a meaningful way are long gone.

No government beyond Israel spoke up in praise of Trump or suggested it would follow his lead.

Israelis and Palestinians reacted in starkly different terms. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump's announcement as an "important step toward peace," and Israeli opposition leaders echoed his praise. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Trump's shift serves extremist groups that want religious war and signals U.S. withdrawal from being a peace mediator. Protesters in Gaza burned American and Israeli flags.

Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is a powerfully symbolic statement about a city that houses many of the world's holiest sites. Trump cited several: the Western Wall that surrounded the Jews' ancient Temple, the Stations of the Cross that depict Jesus along his crucifixion path, the al-Asqa Mosque where Muslims say their Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

And there are major ramifications over who should control the territory. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state's claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has seen the city's future as indelibly linked to the "deal of the century" between Israel and the Palestinians that Trump believes he can reach. Beyond Kushner, Trump has dispatched other top emissaries to the region in recent months in hopes of advancing new negotiations.

Trump said he wasn't delivering any verdict about where an Israeli-Palestinian border should lie. Instead, he described his Jerusalem declaration as recognizing the reality that most of Israel's government already operates from the city, and he suggested the U.S. ally should be rewarded for creating a successful democracy where "people of all faiths are free to live and worship."

"Today we finally acknowledge the obvious," he said, emphasizing that he wouldn't follow past presidents who tiptoed around Jerusalem out of diplomatic caution.

U.S. embassies and consulates around the world were put on high alert. Across the Middle East and Europe, they issued warnings to Americans to watch out for violent protests. In Jordan, the U.S. said it would close its embassy to the public on Thursday and urged children of diplomats there to stay home from school.

Later Wednesday, the State Department issued an updated "Worldwide Caution" to U.S. citizens abroad, advising travelers to "be alert to the possibility of political unrest, violence, demonstrations, and criminal activities."

Egypt denounced Trump's decision, describing it in a Foreign Ministry statement as a violation of international resolutions on the city's status. The statement said Egypt is worried about the impact of the U.S. move on the stability of the region and about its "extremely negative" impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose country like Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, said he had expressed his concerns to Trump in a phone call Tuesday, saying that ignoring Palestinian, Muslim and Christian rights in Jerusalem would only fuel further extremism.

In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags and waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as "our eternal capital" and calling recognition of it as Israel's capital a "red line." Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, called for more protests over the coming days.

Hamas official Salah Bardawil said the Palestinians were "on a dangerous crossroad today; we either remain or perish."


Education
Heelan new school one month from opening in Sioux City

SIOUX CITY | The days are ticking down, with a new Bishop Heelan High School set to open in a month, right after the holiday break.

Enthusiasm is running high for a $10 million academic wing, which is nearing completion.

Natalie Callaghan, a Heelan senior, said there is considerable excitement over the addition.

"I've heard the science labs will be amazing. I think I will most like the modern amenities," Callaghan said as local media members toured the new addition Wednesday.

The academic wing opens for classes on Jan. 5, which Heelan spokeswoman Janet Flanagan said "is a major transformation from the current school." Heelan officials are planning a special procession for that day.

Flanagan, Callaghan and Heelan Principal Chris Bork spoke as they walked through the new portion, for which construction started 15 months ago. The design features wide hallways and spaces illuminated by 977 light fixtures. The scent of fresh paint lingered in the air.

Rows of hallway lockers -- 629 units for the 500-pupil school -- shone with a blue sheen, as a host of nearby workers put down flooring or handled electrical tasks.

"This will be a really neat, clean, distinctly Catholic environment for our students to learn," Bork said.

Sioux City general contractor "W.A. Klinger has been great to work with and all the subcontractors, most of which are from Sioux City," Bork said.

Bork also joked with Callaghan, "Your job is to see this and go back and tell every student how great it is."

It has been a bountiful construction era at Heelan. A new fine arts wing, opened in 2014, connects to the academic wing. A temporary wall between the two wings will be torn down in upcoming days.

The combined space covering two floors will replace the current high school, just to the east at 1021 Douglas St. Bork said the aging school, where more than 10,000 students have been educated since opening in 1949, likely will be razed.

In 2015, Heelan also opened the Father Patrick Walsh Administration Offices at 50 13th St. The new administrative offices were named for a longtime retired Heelan president.

Heelan supporters privately raised funds for the new high school campus, with a total price of $25 million.

School officials also hope to raise an additional $3 to $4 million for a new gymnasium that will adjoin the southwest side of the new school. The new gym is expected to open by the 2018-19 year winter sports season, Bork said. It will replace Heelan's aging, smaller gym, which Crusader fans affectionately call "The Pit."

The high school academic wing gives news classrooms, administration offices, a counseling center and chaplain offices more than 55,000 square feet. In addition, it contains significant upgrades in technology connections, plus lecture and science labs and learning centers in which students can conduct group work.

There are 29 classrooms, 15 upstairs and 14 on the main level. In some places, large crosses have been prominently placed into the architecture.

Some of the moving of classroom materials will begin on Dec. 26, shortly after the holiday break begins. On Jan. 2, Heelan will start moving furniture, books and "70 years of stuff" from one building to the other, Bork said. The school will have three days to complete the move before students return to classes.

Callaghan, a Dakota Dunes resident, said some of the best changes involve the impact of weather on schooling. She said it will be nice to no longer have to walk from the old school to the fine arts wing on cold days. She also looks forward to having air conditioned classrooms during warm days in the spring.


Crime-and-courts
3 South Sioux City homeowners sue Big Ox over odors

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Three South Sioux City homeowners have sued the city and Big Ox Energy for more than $2.2 million in damages, claiming odors and hazardous gases from the bioenergy plant have made their property worthless and damaged their health.

Jonathan and Betty Goodier, David and Maria DeLeon and Michael and Jacqueline Klassen all filed suits within the past week in Dakota County District Court, saying that their homes near the plant have been "reduced to waste because of fowl, offensive and deleterious and dangerous chemicals and chemical odors pervading it and permanently destroying it."

All three lawsuits said that Big Ox and the city failed to maintain, operate and modify wastewater treatment facilities and sewer systems to handle waste from the plant and prevent the release of hydrogen sulfate and other toxic gases.

All three families said that as a result of those gases and odors, they suffer from health problems including respiratory illnesses, headaches, nausea, sleep disturbances, anxiety and emotional distress.

The lawsuits allege that Big Ox and the city knew or should have known after initial tests of the plant's operations in August 2016 that the municipal sewer system "would be overwhelmed and unable to handle the pressures and substances forced into it." As a result, the lawsuits say, gases escaped through manholes and into residences near the plant.

Big Ox denies the allegations and will defend itself against the claims, the company said in a released statement.

"Big Ox Energy has proactively worked with all interrelated federal, state and local agencies and with the residents and leadership of South Sioux City to ensure that its highly regulated operations have not and will not cause any adverse impacts to the safety or health of the local community," the company said in the statement.

The company complies with all regulations included in its air and water permits and said the lawsuits' claims that it concealed the contents of the released gases are "unequivocally false."

The three owners are seeking damages to reimburse for loss of use of their homes, demolition and reconstruction of their houses and loss of furnishings ruined by odors.

The Goodiers estimate property damages at $800,000, the Klassens list damages at $799,500 and the DeLeons' damages total $658,250. Costs continue to accrue, the lawsuits said.

Big Ox Energy's more than $30 million plant uses an anaerobic digestion process to extract organic nutrients from animal, grain and other waste to create methane, which is then sold into the natural gas pipeline. The plant went online Sept. 2, 2016, in the Roth Industrial Park.

Residents began reporting putrid odors from the plant in mid-October, when sewer gas permeated some homes in a five-block area of Red Bird Lane and Le Mesa Way, along 39th Street, both indoors and outdoors.

Many residents blamed the plant for causing the issues in the line the residents and the plant, at the time, shared.

The families were displaced from their homes for months because of the odors, and some families have yet to return home. The city and Big Ox have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover displaced homeowners' relocation and living expenses while living in temporary housing. The city in August filed a federal lawsuit against two insurance companies that have not covered the claims filed by homeowners. That suit is pending.

Big Ox maintains that faulty plumbing, not wastewater, was the primary cause of the odor issues in South Sioux City, citing a study that showed hydrogen sulfide had generally not entered homes that had plumbing systems in compliance with building codes.

The city has since spent more than $1.5 million on sewer upgrades and modifications.

In May, 16 families and one business filed political subdivision tort claims against the city, detailing $35 million in alleged property damages and personal injuries resulting from exposure to the potentially deadly fumes. State law required them to wait at least six months to sue the city.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Big Ox will pay nearly $50,000 as part of a settlement for alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act. That action related to the release of chemical gases that led to the hospitalization of an employee who was injured at the plant in December.

The EPA on Tuesday said that hydrogen sulfide associated with the plant entered the city sewer system, leading to the displacement of 26 households last fall. A company representative said the EPA has not alleged in its settlement with the Denmark-Wisconsin-based company that hydrogen sulfide gas infiltrated the homes.

The company also was fined more than $60,000 earlier this year after settling three citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that detailed a lack of protection, education and safety practices for employees, which at times left employees vulnerable to hazardous gases inside the facility.