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An Iowa winter
Enough? Terrible February turns into frigid March

SIOUX CITY --  At 7:30 a.m. Monday, Amy Peters pumped gas into her Chevrolet, and then quickly ran with young daughter, Abby, into the Casey's General Store on Gordon Drive.

With the temperature 4 degrees below zero, with a wind chill of 22 below,  Peters picked up a few items while bound for her job at Loess Hills Elementary School.

Peters and others were making the morning commute in the midst of a wind chill advisory. The bitter cold was a far cry from a normal March 4, with an average high of 40 degrees.

"I chose to live in Iowa...But yes, I'm ready for warmer weather," said Peters.

Five minutes later, Christine Shamblin, of Sioux City, was exiting the Hy-Vee store on Gordon Drive. Bundled up for yet another bracing winter day when the high eventually reached 13 degrees, Shamblin said it has been unpleasant to navigate the combination of snow and extreme cold temperatures in the Sioux City area.

"This is enough, come on," Shamblin said. "I hate cold, frigid."

There are many, many ways to quantify the abnormally cold last month. The final days of January were frigid, with morning lows bottoming out at 15 and 18 degrees below zero on Jan. 29 and 30, causing many Siouxland schools to cancel classes due to severe wind chills readings.

That was followed by three days when Sioux City temperatures moved into the upper 40s to low 50s, through Feb. 3. In the 30 days since that time, not one day has had a daily temperature than reached the historic normal high for those February and March days, and moreover, not once has the Sioux City temperature reached the 32-degree mark to allow the accumulated snow to melt.

The warmest day since Feb. 3 was 31 degrees on Feb. 23, which was immediately followed by the worst blizzard of the year, an event that essentially shut down Siouxland for two days.

Lastly, for many February days, the daily high has been perhaps one-fourth as warm as normal.  For instance, on Feb. 25-27 the Sioux City daily highs were 6, 10 and 12 degrees, covering three days when the normal high temperature was 39 degrees.

Frank Brienzo, of Sioux City, was navigating the Monday cold by getting coffee at Hy-Vee. Nearby, a man and woman discussed the necessity of having a dependable car that starts in extreme cold weather.

"I don't like the cold. It is just limits what you can do," Brienzo said. But he also is fairly resigned to it, saying, "It is what it is. It is Sioux City and it is Iowa. You have to do your best, bundle up."

"I feel bad for people who work outside," Brienzo said, citing construction workers and firefighters he had seen over the weekend.

Peters said the recent cold snap has meant students at Loess Hills haven't been allowed outside for recess, which she said is beneficial to breaking up their instructional day.

"They haven't been outside for a long time," Peters said. "The kids need fresh air."

Peters said when 2018-19 winter conditions first arrived, she took them in stride. But now it has gone on too long, and many nights after work she doesn't venture out.

"It is hard, you want to stay in, because you don't want to go back out in the cold," Peters said.

Most recently, Sunday's bitter cold weather, with a high temperature of 2 degrees, officially broke the coldest high-temperature record for March 3 in Sioux City. The previous record was 6 degrees in 1891.

The Wednesday high temperature is forecast at 23 degrees, and the forecast for the week ahead holds the possibility of finally reaching the 32-degree mark on Sunday, or March 10. If that holds true, it will have been 35 days since the last time melting was possible.

Also, more snow is bound for Siouxland on Thursday, so the city of South Sioux City has already announced snow emergency rules governing street parking, so main routes can be cleared by plows.

Alex Trellinger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, on Tuesday attributed the bitter cold to a persistent Arctic air mass that has lingered in the region. Trellinger said such conditions haven't allowed warmer temperatures to move up from the south.

"People are getting very frustrated with the cold right now. They are over the snow and want spring to come," Trellinger said.

Judge orders couple to pay lawyer $2.1M share of settlement with city of Sioux City

SIOUX CITY -- A Hinton, Iowa, couple must pay a Sioux City lawyer more than $2.1 million for representing them in talks that resulted in a $7.5 million settlement with the city of Sioux City, a judge has ruled.

District Judge Nancy Whittenburg on Monday sustained Stan Munger's motion for summary judgment, ruling that his attorney fee contract with Chad and Rosanne Plante was "reasonable and valid" and he was entitled to receive 33 percent of the settlement the city paid to them to resolve claims from a bus crash that caused serious injuries to Chad Plante.

The Plantes had claimed that Munger's firm, Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, was seeking to collect an unreasonable fee and expenses and had sought to have the contract declared void an unenforceable.

"Obviously, we're really pleased with the court's decision," said Munger, who declined to comment further because of the potential for an appeal of the ruling. The case had been scheduled to go to trial next week in Woodbury County District Court.

Rosanne Plante did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Plantes in August reached their settlement with the city over claims from a 2016 crash in which a city bus struck Chad Plante's vehicle at the intersection of Lewis Boulevard and Outer Drive.

Munger sued the Plantes in September, saying that the couple had breached their contract in which they agreed to a one-third contingency fee that would entitle his firm to receive a third of the gross settlement amount if their claims against the city were settled without filing a lawsuit. The settlement was reached through mediation.

Under terms of the agreement, Munger said, his firm was owed more than $2.5 million for its share of the settlement, plus fees and interest.

The Plantes had argued that Munger was entitled to only a fraction of that amount and authorized him to withdraw $380,000 from a trust account holding the settlement funds, exceeding the total of $37,353 that the firm had tallied for legal work.

In an answer to Munger's lawsuit, the Plantes' attorney said that the amounts the city paid were not covered under the fee agreement because the contract was void and unenforceable.

Whittenburg ruled otherwise, saying in her 11-page ruling that the attorney fee contract was reasonable and valid "at the time it was entered into, based on the skill and expertise brought to the table by Mr. Munger, as well as the risks and uncertainty involved in cases of this nature."

Whittenburg entered a judgment of $2,179,456 -- Munger's share of the settlement, minus the $380,000 the Plantes have already paid.

The $7.5 million settlement was one of the largest individual settlements in the city's history and was in addition to approximately $180,000 the city had paid the Plantes in January 2017 to cover out-of-pocket expenses, health insurance premiums, lost wages and other requested expenses.

Ian Richardson, Sioux City Journal file 

Rosanne and Chad Plante speak to the media on Aug. 6 after the Sioux City Council approved a $7.5 million settlement with them for injuries Chad Plante sustained in a 2016 crash involving a city transit bus. The couple is appealing a judge's ruling that they owe a Sioux City lawyer more than $2.1 million for representing them during mediation with the city.

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Study to explore construction of new regional wastewater plant in Sioux City

SIOUX CITY -- Metro governmental bodies plan to hire a consultant to study whether Sioux City should build a larger regional wastewater treatment plant.

The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously signed off on a memorandum of understanding with the cities of Sioux City, South Sioux City, North Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff and the Dakota Dunes Community Improvement District on a feasibility study performed by HDR Engineering of Omaha.

Woodbury County would pay 5 percent of the $92,450 cost, or $4,623, while each of the cities would pay a percentage based on their population. Sioux City would cover 62 percent of the cost, and South Sioux City would pay 26 percent.

The study, which would evaluate the cost of a new or expanded plant, is expected to be finished by September.

In November, South Sioux City, North Sioux City and Sergeant Bluff received a letter signed by Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott warning of the possible termination of contracts governing the amount of waste each community can send to the regional plant, at 3100 S. Lewis Blvd. The Sioux City City Council was scheduled to vote on termination notices in December but was delayed for the last three months. The issue is scheduled to return to the council agenda on Monday.

Local officials have already started negotiations on a new treatment plant, which Scott and other proponents argue is needed to handle an expected increase in sewer discharges from new and expanding industries.

The push to undertake the regional study also comes while South Sioux City is studying whether to build its own treatment plant.

Last month, South Sioux City Administrator Lance Hedquist said the city is exploring the siting of a plant on the city's south side, next to the Missouri River and north of the Tyson Fresh Meats lagoons. 

Sioux City's treatment agreement with South Sioux City has been in place for 38 years, while the deals with Sergeant Bluff and North Sioux City were established 39 years ago. Under terms of the contracts, once the termination orders were issued, each city would have up to fours years to cease sending discharges to the plant.

"Part of our discussion with all of them is that we need another treatment plant in the area, and part of the ongoing discussion is: 'Will it be a regional one that we'll all work together on?'" Scott said last month. "Right now, we're allowing (South Sioux City) to take the lead if there's going to be another plant."

Woodbury County Board Chairman Keith Radig said the county is the first to vote on the memorandum, and others will take that step in meetings on and after Monday. Radig said potential new businesses in incorporated areas of the county could benefit from broadened capacity in a new regional treatment plant.

"It would probably be a second plant that would have to be built," Radig said.

According to the memo, the county and the four cities would agree the "regional area will need additional wastewater treatment capacity to meet anticipated future growth and demand in the region."

The memo also says that the cooperation will boost "continued growth of housing and industry," and will aim to project treatment needs over the next 25 to 50 years.

After problems with previous law, Iowa lawmakers try again with narrowly crafted ‘ag gag’ bill

DES MOINES -- Iowa’s controversial 2012 “ag gag” law was found unconstitutional by a federal court because it violates free speech rights, so the state’s agricultural interests were back at the Capitol on Tuesday with a proposal they say will not impinge on free speech while protecting farmers from people who intend to do harm.

A House Agriculture subcommittee of two pork producers and a former county agricultural extension agent signed off on House Study Bill 236, making it eligible for action later this week ahead of the Friday deadline for bills to win committee approval to be eligible for consideration by the full House.

The bill is necessary to prevent damage to “one of Iowa’s most important industries,” said Rep. Bruce Bearinger, D-Oelwein.

“It is important to recognize that dishonest access to those properties is a huge risk,” he said, referring to livestock facilities that are vulnerable to disease.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association supported the measure for that reason, too. The bill would safeguard pork producers “from those who would be deceitful in an effort to physically or economically cause harm to people or animals on our farms,” according to the association’s Drew Mogler.

He said Mercy for Animals, an international group with a mission statement to “prevent cruelty to farmed animals and promote compassionate food choices and policies” such as vegan eating, recently was advertising in Iowa for undercover investigators who agree with its principles.

“Deceitful reporting of good animal husbandry can cause economic harm to farmers,” Mogler said.

The subcommittee also heard from representatives of honey and soybean producers who shared concerns about “bad actors” who would cause harm to food production.

“I can’t imagine Coke and Pepsi not wanting the same” protection, Jill Altringer of the Iowa Soybean Association said.

However, it seemed like déjà vu to Daniel Zeno of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

“We’ve done this before,” he said.

Based on the group’s reading of the bill, “while it appears to be narrower, there still is an implication on free speech,” Zeno said.

Under the bill, anyone who lies to gain employment could be guilty of a crime.

“We are criminalizing speech,” Zeno said.

Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, who along with subcommittee member Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, served House colleagues tubs of bacon as their shared birthday treat Tuesday morning, said passage was necessary to ensure that the state doesn’t allow agriculture saboteurs.

“We have to emphasize that these are people who are being deceitful,” Klein said, adding “there has to be intent to cause harm.”

“We have to be diligent to make sure that people who want to cause harm, who want to lie, who want to deceive, we aren’t enabling that to happen,” he said.

The current law, which makes undercover investigations by journalists, food safety and labor advocates at slaughterhouses and factory farms illegal, is currently being appealed by the state. It was struck down in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in January.

Senior Judge James Gritzner said that when the state seeks to regulate speech, “it bears the heavy burden of showing that the prohibition satisfies constitutional scrutiny.” He ruled the state had not met that burden — and questioned the state’s rationale for justifying the law.”

That case was brought by the ACLU on behalf of several clients who said the law prevented them from documenting cruel and inhumane practices at facilities like farms, slaughterhouses and puppy mills.

Zeno urged the panel not to advance the bill “so there will not to be more litigation.”

If there is, the Iowa Attorney General will represent the state.

“We’re defending the state. We, of course, will defend the state on this statute,” said Eric Tabor of the Office of Attorney General.