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Local landowners dismissed from Missouri River flooding lawsuit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | Local landowners along the Missouri River who had joined in a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not collect damages sustained in the historic 2011 flood.

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that 2011 flooding occurred because runoff exceeded the amount of storage in the river's six reservoirs, not because of changes the corps had made in how it managed river flows. The ruling leaves claims made by Siouxland landowners subject to dismissal.

Senior Judge Nancy Firestone did rule that the corps' practices that added an emphasis on wildlife habitat protection and restoration rather than flood control were responsible for damages to thousands of acres south of Sioux City caused by five flooding events since 2007. Those landowners could receive government compensation for damage estimated to exceed $300 million.

Paul Dailey, of rural Jefferson, South Dakota, said he was happy that those landowners might see monetary relief, but disappointed that Firestone ruled that landowners had failed to prove that corps practices caused the 2011 flooding.

"I'm not happy with the ruling," said Dailey, who saw approximately 1,200 acres of his crop and pasture land four miles upriver from Dakota Dunes sit under water for more than three months in the summer of 2011, forcing him to sell his 130-head cattle herd.

Attorneys for the landowners hailed the overall ruling that backed their claims that the corps had deprioritized flood control in 2004 and was essentially taking farmland along the river to establish wildlife habitat and not paying the landowners for it, a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

"Although we do not concur with the Court's conclusions regarding the 2011 flood event, we are very pleased with the Court's conclusions regarding the corps' changes to the river causing flooding, and we are certainly pleased with an outcome that will provide substantial compensation to plaintiffs living along the river who have suffered significant flood damage and losses throughout the past decade," the landowners' lead attorney, Dan Boulware, of the Kansas City-based Polsinelli Law firm, said in a news release.

Boulware told the Journal in a phone interview that he planned to file a motion asking Firestone to reconsider her ruling pertaining to the 2011 flood.

"We believe she is absolutely wrong," he said.

The case will now move into a second phase, in which Firestone will decide the extent of landowner losses and determine compensation. Arguments are scheduled to begin in October, Boulware said.

Filed in March 2014 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., the lawsuit challenged the corps' management practices along the river, claiming that it could have foreseen that changes in how river flows were managed would lead to flooding. The list of plaintiffs grew to 372, and 44 of them -- six from Siouxland, including Dailey, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and other farm owners -- were selected as representative plaintiffs. They were among the more than 90 witnesses who testified during the 63-day trial that ran from March until July in Kansas City and Washington, D.C. Closing arguments were heard in November.

In her 259-page ruling, Firestone said higher water surface elevations caused by the corps' system changes led to flooding and that "was a foreseeable consequence of the corps' actions."

Those actions have resulted in a changed river, she said, and recurring flooding along the river will continue into the future.

A corps spokesman referred questions to the U.S. Justice Department. Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department public affairs officer, said the department is reviewing the ruling and he had no further comment.

In the midst of calving season, Dailey said he has rebuilt his cattle herd to 65 head. Though he suffered a "substantial" monetary loss as a result of the 2011 flood, he said he didn't join the lawsuit for a potential pay day. He hopes it will ultimately lead to changes in how the corps manages the river.

"It wasn't a monetary deal," Dailey said. "My thing is they need to put flood control back at number one on the corps' list of priorities."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Bob Hallberg, Saint Xavier head coach, talks to his team during a time-out in the semifinals of the 2018 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship on Monday at the Tyson Events Center. Dakota Wesleyan defeated the Cougars, 81-66.

GALLAGHER: Despite losing, Saint Xavier coach ends on high note

SIOUX CITY | Bob Hallberg's national title quest runs its course as Dakota Wesleyan dispatches Saint Xavier in the national semifinals of the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship on Monday at the Tyson Events Center.

As Hallberg's team, the 52nd of his coaching career, gathers to shake hands as the only coach this program has known glances up, giving a last look at the scoreboard which reads, Dakota Weselyan 81, Saint Xavier 66. The game was much closer than 15 points, a competitive treat for 2,600 loud fans.

Hallberg, clad in red dress shirt and neck tie, sighs and claps his hands twice, softly. His body language suggests, "Shucks. We were close."

Eleven Cougar players shake hands with the Tigers from Dakota Wesleyan. The Cougars file into the locker room only to be summoned to come accept a national semifinal trophy from tourney co-organizer Mike Skaggs, who stands at center court, beneath the bright lights.

It strikes me that not one of the players sheds a tear. They march from their locker, seconds removed from the most gut-wrenching loss of the season, the end of the line for three seniors, and nary a tear is seen. They stand tall for a group photo.

I've seen more despair during a game in my back yard, and maybe that says something about my "coaching" approach. Here's a team exiting stage left on its sport's biggest stage -- the "Fab Four" -- and nobody sobs or stomps their feet.

Perhaps these Cougars reflect Coach Hallberg, the 74-year-old who speaks softly and carries a quiet clap.

"I tell our players to not let the last game of a season define you," Hallberg says. "It does you no good to cry after a game. You can't change the outcome. And I never rant and rave at the end of a season. You want to end on a high note."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Coach Bob Hallberg, 74, shouts directions to his St. Xavier squad during the semifinals of the 2018 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Championship on Monday at the Tyson Events Center. Dakota Wesleyan defeated St. Xavier, 81-66.

Thirty-one teams, he observes, leave this tournament with a loss. Only one emerges with the brass ring. The Cougars departed after the championship contest one year ago, earning a runner-up honor in the second of Hallberg's three "Final Four" efforts.

"Thirty-one coaches left here telling themselves they'd need to find a better shooter, a better rebounder, or simply just to recruit better," he says. "One team leaves with a title and that coach is quickly asking, 'How do we get back here?'"

Hallberg leaves Sioux City with his team at 9 a.m. Tuesday, heading east to Chicago with fond memories, few regrets. Sure, he'd cherish a national crown. Still, I don't get the impression it defines him.

"We won 33 times this season and lost only three games," he says. "Who wouldn't like to win 33 games and having the feeling that comes with winning?"

The parents and players I watch in the Tyson Events Center concourse match that attitude. Parents hug their daughters and friends. Everyone stands tall at the end of the trail, despite the fact the end comes with a loss.

Hallberg, instead, savors the experience. And while his team has a decided disadvantage in crowd size (several hundred Dakota Wesleyan fans, students and their cheerleaders make the trip from Mitchell, South Dakota, as compared to about 30 Saint Xavier University backers), Hallberg focuses on virtues of volume and crowd strength.

He's a coach who directed a men's basketball team to victory against legendary Coach Lou Henson at Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois. His men's teams at Chicago State, then Illinois-Chicago, won at Marquette, Illinois State and Wichita State. He knows hostile environments.

"It's wonderful for the women to be exposed to this kind of environment," he says. "I thought this was cool tonight. I wish we could play in front of crowds like this every night."

Our chat features the requisite question about his future. The athletic director/coach is well past retirement age.

"I'll keep coaching as long it's fun," he says. "I go to lunch with retired buddies of mine and they go home after we eat and take a nap. I go back to work because I enjoy it. Being around young people, I think, keeps me feeling young."

And so, on Tuesday morning, Bob Hallberg rises and boards the team bus, as he's done since he got into this wonderful profession in 1966. The man with 966 victories to his credit settles in for a long trip back to Chicago. Eleven Cougars take their seats behind him, napping or reflecting, some of them gearing up for the stretch run in their academic year. Three seniors on the Saint Xavier team, the coach boasts, own grade points of 4.0, 3.8 and 3.8.

He says they didn't plan on staying in Sioux City much longer after their elimination, as the players seek a return to research projects and papers. "These kids spend more time in the library than in the gym," Hallberg says.

Maybe that's another reason tears are hard to find after a riveting national semifinal. Perhaps, these Cougars, like their coach, find perspective on the bus, in the locker room and library. They aim to end on a high note, where it matters most.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file 

Missouri River floodwaters surround a home near Sloan, Iowa, in June 2011. A judge Tuesday dismissed local landowners from a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying they could not prove that the flood was caused by changes the corps made to operations along the river.

Woodbury County supervisors approve 2.75% raises for themselves, county office heads

Name: P.J. Jennings

Residence: Sergeant Bluff

Party: Democratic

Position sought: Woodbury County Attorney

SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County's five supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to give themselves, along with the four other elected county officials, a 2.75 percent pay raise next year.

That pay hike percentage had been recommended by the county compensation board. The vote came as the supervisors finalized the county's $54.7 million budget plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year. 

The supervisors' current annual pay is $39,469 for chairman Rocky De Witt and $33,151 each for Jeremy Taylor, Keith Raid, Marty Pottebaum and Matthew Ung. On July 1, the salaries will increase to $40,554 for De Witt and $34,063 for the four other supervisors.

County Attorney P.J. Jennings continues to be the highest paid elected official, with his annual salary increasing from $123,219 to $126,608.

Sheriff Dave Drew's pay will grow from $102,544 to $105,364, Auditor Pat Gill's salary will increase from $86,320 to $88,694, and Treasurer Mike Clayton's pay will go from $84,178 to $86,492.

No one from the public spoke for or against the raises at Tuesday's meeting.

The system in Iowa is that county supervisors vote on their own pay, after county compensation boards appointed by the elected officials make a recommendation.

Al Sturgeon, chairman of the board, noted the 2.75 percent raise was defensible, since it was equal to what the supervisors announced they planned to give department heads and non-union county workers. Union members who work for the county will receive raises in the range of 2.5 percent to 3 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

In less discussion on the raises than in many recent years, the supervisors quickly approved the comp board proposal Tuesday. Under state law, the county supervisors could have approved or rejected the recommendations, or reduced the increases by the same percentage.

Taylor noted that the key staff members of the county elected officials, categorized as deputies by Iowa law, have their raises tied to the same percentages as their bosses. Taylor said those deputies deserved ample raises of the 2.75 percent proposed.

Drew thanked the supervisors and said his command staff deserved a nice increase.

"The elected officials, I think, do a good job," Taylor added.

Last year, the compensation board recommended no raise for the five supervisors, 5 percent for Clayton and Drew, and 4 percent for Jennings and Gill. The supervisors a month later approved no raises for themselves, then halved the recommended other raises, dropping them in the range from 2 percent to 2.5 percent.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 


Name: P.J. Jennings

Residence: Sergeant Bluff

Party: Democratic

Position sought: Woodbury County Attorney