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Cleanup efforts continue from Sunday train derailment near Alton, Iowa

ALTON, Iowa -- Cleanup efforts are continuing following a Sunday train derailment around Third and River streets in this Sioux County town.

A bridge beneath a 95-car Union Pacific train collapsed, derailing 37 cars at 4:30 a.m. Sunday. Twenty of those cars carrying soybean oil and sand went into the flooded Floyd River.

Justin E. Jacobs, a spokesman for the Union Pacific Railroad, said sand and soybean oil were released into the river as a result of the accident. He added that no hazardous chemicals were released into the Floyd. 

Also, no injuries were reported in the accident.

Recent flooding and heavy rain were likely the cause of the derailment of the train that was traveling from Mankato, Minnesota, to North Platte, Nebraska.

A containment boom was deployed downstream of the derailment on Sunday. Boats, additional containment booms, a vacuum truck, a skimmer and other response equipment and personnel are also available for use if required.

Union Pacific Environmental Management Group specialists are also coordinating efforts with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in the soybean oil cleanup. Jacobs said they've been working with local authorities from the very beginning.

"We were alerted by Union Pacific, first thing on Sunday, that there were no injuries and no hazardous material leaking into the river," Alton Fire Chief Quinton Van Es said Monday. "The situation could have been much worse."

Still he recommended that travel should be avoided to Alton if possible.

"There are contractors who have been working around the clock on cleanup efforts and there will be more on the way," Van Es said. "We have barricades around town since so much activity is going on. I urge everybody to abide by the barricades that are out there."

Alton City Administrator Dale Oltmans agreed, adding that traffic into the Sioux County town was already restricted due to flooding.

"The road from Third Avenue to Minneapolis Street has been closed since Sept. 20," he said. "With the increase of contractors and heavy equipment coming into town it means things will be pretty hectic."

Luckily, they won't have much added precipitation coming their way.

"Other than a 60 percent for light precipitation on Tuesday, Alton will be looking at a fairly non-rainy forecast," said Jim Murray, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls. "The new rain amounts will be in the vicinity of one-tenth of an inch, so we're not in danger of any more flooding."

Indeed, Alton's forecast calls for dry conditions and high temperatures in the 50s and 60s.

This will continue to be the case until Sunday, Murray said, when Alton has a 40 percent for rain.

The cleanup is likely to continue long after that.

Van Es estimated that cleaning up the Floyd will continue at least until Wednesday while Oltmans said Union Pacific may be on site much longer.

"The entire bridge was destroyed," Oltmans said. "I'm sure this will take additional time to repair." 

A new educational space for Sioux City
Art Center's new Gilchrist Learning Center to open for classes

SIOUX CITY -- After much anticipation, the Sioux City Art Center's new, 11,000-square-foot Gilchrist Learning Center will be hosting a limited number of classes, starting this week.

"People kept asking when will it be open?" executive director Al Harris-Fernandez said while giving a tour of the sleek 220 Pierce St. facility that boasts space for classrooms, four studios, a ceramics area and a gallery. "We're moving the four classes currently housed at the Art Center to the Learning Center."

Photos: Gilchrist Learning Center

Sioux City's PLaN Architecture designed the facility, which was named after the foundation that contributed $1 million to kick-start the project. 

Over time, he said, more classes will be added to the Learning Center's schedule, including free workshops for budding artists of all ages.

A ceremonial opening is slated for late October.

"At the Art Center, we were very cramped when it came to classroom space," Harris-Fernandez said. "We can concentrate on our education in the Learning Center, which means the Art Center will have increased exhibition and storage space for our permanent collection while maintaining the capacity to host new exhibitions."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Al Harris-Fernandez, executive director of the Sioux City Art Center, stands in a ceramics studio at the art center's new Gilchrist Learning Center on Monday. The Learning Center, 220 Pierce St., is adjacent to the Art Center and has six large studios plus exhibition space for student work.

In addition, the Junior League Hands On! Gallery and portions of the Art Center's second floor will be remodeled inside the Art Center.

The exterior of the Art Center will also be getting a bit of a makeover.

"We'll be replacing the decorative panels on the outside of the facility," Harris-Fernandez explained, noting that the work should be completed by mid-October.

Such visible makeovers are important to the viability of art in Siouxland, he said.

"Art appreciation and art education should be accessible for people of all ages and from all walks of life," Harris-Fernandez said. "When people look into the Learning Center's big windows, they'll see open sight lines and plenty of activity going on inside."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

The Sioux City Art Center's new Gilchrist Learning Center is shown.

That can be beneficial for Sioux Cityans as well as people passing through town. 

"I've always thought art can draw people to a city," Harris-Fernandez said. "A building as beautiful as the Gilchrist Learning Center definitely calls attention to itself."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Al Harris-Fernandez, executive director of the Sioux City Art Center, stands in a hallway/exhibit space at the art center's new Gilchrist Learning Center on Monday. The art center's classes are moving to the new 11,000-square-foot building.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

The Sioux City Art Center's new Gilchrist Learning Center is shown.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Workers use cranes to clear rail cars Monday from the scene of a derailment in Alton, Iowa. A bridge beneath a 95-car Union Pacific train collapsed early Sunday morning, knocking 37 cars off the tracks.

Trump leads aggressive, all-out GOP drive to save Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON — Republicans mounted a combative, coordinated drive Monday to salvage Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination as they fought to keep a second woman's allegation of long-ago sexual misconduct from derailing his confirmation. President Donald Trump leapt to his defense, the top Senate Republican accused Democrats of a "smear campaign" and an emotional Kavanaugh pledged to fight for his nomination and proclaimed, "I've never sexually assaulted anyone."

That declaration, remarkable for a nominee to the nation's highest court, came as Republicans embraced their newly aggressive stance and Kavanaugh's prospects dangled precariously. The similar tones and wording they used in defending him suggested a concerted effort to undermine the women's claims and portray an image of unity among GOP senators while pressing toward a confirmation vote.

In the run-up to an appearance by Kavanaugh and his main accuser at a dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Trump called the accusations "totally political" and among "the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate for anything." On Twitter Monday night, Trump accused Democrats of "working hard to destroy a wonderful man ... with an array of False Accusations the likes of which have never been seen before!"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., angrily accused Democrats of slinging "all the mud they could manufacture" and promised a full Senate vote soon, but specified no date.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., retorted that if McConnell believed the allegations were a smear, "Why don't you call for an FBI investigation?" Schumer accused Republicans of "a rush job to avoid the truth."

Trump has made clear he won't order an FBI probe. McConnell said Thursday's Judiciary Committee hearing would proceed, and No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Cornyn of Texas, said the panel could vote on sending Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate as early as Friday.

In a letter to the committee, which plans the climactic hearing featuring Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, the nominee accused his opponents of launching "smears, pure and simple."

Later, Kavanaugh and his wife sat for an interview on the conservative-friendly Fox News Channel, an extraordinary step for a Supreme Court nominee.

Kavanaugh said he wasn't questioning "that perhaps Dr. Ford at some point in her life was sexually assaulted by someone at some place, but what I know is I've never sexually assaulted anyone."

Kavanaugh said while there were high school parties with beer and he wasn't perfect, "I'm a good person. I've led a good life." He said he never did anything like the episodes his accusers described and that he didn't have sexual intercourse until "many years" after high school.

"I'm not going to let false accusations drive me out of this process. I have faith in God, and I have faith in the fairness of the American people," he said.

On Sunday, The New Yorker magazine reported that Deborah Ramirez described a 1980s, alcohol-heavy Yale dormitory party at which she said Kavanaugh exposed himself, placed his penis in her face and caused her to touch it without her consent. Ford has said Kavanaugh tried removing her clothes and covered her mouth to prevent screams after he pinned her on a bed during a high school party.

Despite the forceful rhetoric by Kavanaugh and his GOP supporters, it remained unclear how three moderate Republican senators — Maine's Susan Collins, Arizona's Jeff Flake and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski — would react to the latest accusation. With the GOP's Senate control hanging on a razor-thin 51-49 margin, defections by any two Republican senators would seal his fate if all Democrats vote "no."

Collins said Monday she remained undecided about Kavanaugh.

Proceeding with Kavanaugh seems to give Republicans their best shot at filling the Supreme Court vacancy — and giving the court an increasingly conservative tilt — before November's elections, when GOP Senate control is in play.

Even if Republicans lose their Senate majority, they could still have time to confirm a nominee in a post-election lame duck session, but the GOP hasn't indicated that is under consideration. Delaying Kavanaugh's confirmation could allow time for doubts about him to take root or any fresh accusations to emerge.

Pushing forward with Kavanaugh has its own risks, besides an embarrassing defeat for Trump and the GOP. His nomination and the claims of sexual misconduct have stirred up women and liberal voters whose antipathy to Republicans has already been heightened by Trump's policies and his own fraught history of alleged sexual transgressions.

Dozens of people protesting Kavanaugh were arrested outside Collins' Capitol Hill office. Many wore black "Be A Hero" shirts and chanted slogans including "We will not be silenced." Away from Washington, there were walkouts in support of Ford and Ramirez by dozens of liberal groups.

Also jumping into the fray was the attorney who represents porn actress Stormy Daniels in her legal fight with Trump. Lawyer Michael Avenatti said he was representing a woman with information about high school-era parties attended by Kavanaugh and urged the Senate to investigate.

Avenatti, who has said he's considering a 2020 Democratic presidential bid, told the AP that he will disclose his client's identity in the coming days and that she is prepared to testify before the committee, as well as provide names of corroborating witnesses.

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City approves $16.5M tax credit guarantee for Warrior project

SIOUX CITY -- The City Council gave the Warrior Hotel and Davidson Building renovation project the green light Monday by voting to amend an existing agreement with the developer.

The council voted 3-1 to amend the agreement and guarantee $16.5 million in historic tax credits, bringing the city's total financial commitment to the project to nearly $30 million in assistance. Councilman Pete Groetken cast the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Dan Moore, who has abstained from past votes on the project because his law firm represents the developer, Lew Weinberg, was absent.

In March, the City Council approved an economic development agreement package for the Warrior project that offered more than $12 million in assistance in the form of a loan, grant and property tax rebates. Then, Weinberg requested that the city consider additional support for the project in the form of a $16.5 million historic tax credit guarantee until the project receives the anticipated funding from the state. The exact amount of tax credits the project will receive remains unknown.

If the $65 million project fails to receive the historic tax credits, the city could be required to make up the difference to Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust Co. and would be liable for repayment if the developer defaults on the bridge loan.

Before the vote, Groetken said he thinks the proposed Warrior Hotel and Davidson Building renovation is a "terrific project" conceptually that would be "great for downtown Sioux City," but he expressed concern over the city guaranteeing payment if something were to happen that would lead the developer to default.


"We don't know what the state is going to do in terms of awarding the tax credits. I know that there is a conditional approval for $14.5 million, but the amount requested now is $16.5 million. It seems to me that we've got the cart in front of the horse," he said. "It would be more appropriate to approve the development agreement when we know what the tax credits will be, as opposed to not knowing."

Weinberg needs the guarantee to help the project secure a bridge loan to complete its construction financing process in time. According to documents filed with the city, Weinberg has arranged for a bridge loan between the Aminell Anne Harris Gill and Amrit Bir Singh Gill Joint Revocable Trust and Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust Co.

"The project has been put up for bid. We put a lot of money and time up front to make sure we were ready to do this project and ready to roll as soon as possible," Weinberg told the council.

Councilwoman Rhonda Capron said Weinberg needs the money and the city needs the Warrior Hotel renovated.


"The way I look at it, this is a last chance. It's been sitting there for 40 years. I think we need to jump on it and get it moving," she said.

If the state awards the project $14.5 million in November, as the developer anticipates, City Attorney Nicole DuBois told Groetken the city's obligation would be reduced by that amount and potentially $2 million would be left for the city to guarantee. Come spring, if the state awards the project an additional $2 million, DuBois said the city's obligation would be complete. Weinberg said he plans to modify his application for historic tax credits and resubmit it to the state in October.

"There hasn't been a set number, as you had stated. As of now, we don't know," DuBois said of the historic tax credits. "For example, if the state were to award something less, like $5 million, and there's a default down the road, the city's obligation would be up to the $11.5 million."

Sioux City businessman Dave Bernstein, who sits on the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board, told the council that in the case of historic tax credits, generally, the amount applied for is what's awarded.

"It's a question of when you're awarded the allocation. Ultimately, you don't get the credits to use until the project's completed. The program has always, in general, funded the amount that the developers ask for and that amount continues to advance as time goes on," he said. "The project should be up for award coming up here in November, seemingly, therefore, this is just to bridge these guys' obligation with the banks until they're awarded the allocation from the state. Once they are, it would relieve the city."

City Finance Director Donna Forker said the guarantee won't impact the city's debt capacity, as long as the state allocates all of the $16.5 million to the project before the city goes out for bonding in April.

"If we have any portion of that, I do have to include that as committed debt and use that in my calculations, so it could affect bonding capacity," she said. "Whatever action you take tonight doing the guarantee, I have to set aside $16.5 million in bond capacity. As the allocation of the credits happen, it will reduce that liability."