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Woodbury County faces costly repairs for roads damaged by flooding

SIOUX CITY -- Frozen ground has played a key role in extensive Siouxland flooding over the last week, first as being one reason waters spread over land and roads rather than soaking in, and now being both beneficial and hampering as road repairs are attempted.

Woodbury County Engineer Mark Nahra on Tuesday said 29 county road sections were closed at the height of the flooding last week, and seven roads are still closed to traffic. Two will require costly long-term repairs, as the floodwaters eroded part of the pavement on Highway 982 near Holly Springs and County Road L-37 near Danbury.

"We are asking folks' patience. We are going to get them repaired and replaced as fast as we can," said Nahra, who leads the team of Secondary Roads Department workers who work on the county's system of 1,400 miles of roads.

Danbury Mayor Michael Buth on Tuesday said the L-37 road problem caused by the Maple River means motorists now have to travel further to reach the southeast Woodbury County town. 

"It is not just a one-mile detour...They are finding other ways around (the highway) for the time being. The shorter it is, the happier they will be," Buth said.

Nahra said county workers are logging numerous overtime hours, but added it is too soon to estimate the total cost to repair the roads.

He did have one estimate, for the heavily damaged highway near Holly Springs, which many people still call Old Highway 141.

"Pavement has collapsed into the hole. That is going to be about a $100,000 fix, because we are losing about half the pavement for 500 feet," Nahra said.

That repair is being held up, he said, because frozen conditions mean any asphalt pavement placed there for now won't compact properly into the ground. The flooding there came from Wolf Creek, which roughly runs north/south a mile east of Holly Springs.

The frozen ground in one way helps gravel road repairs. With temperatures still falling below freezing overnight, Nahra said county crews get started by 6 a.m. and work until about noon, when the gravel roads start thawing. But after that, workers hauling heavy gravel in trucks must back away from roads work.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

A closed section of Old Highway 141 is shown Tuesday west of Hancock Avenue and northeast of Hornick, Iowa. The road was closed after last week's flooding undermined and collapsed a sections of the eastbound lane.

"We don't want to tear up a few miles to get to a bad spot," he said.

There are other ways freezing has impacted work. Because "ditches were plugged with ice," Nahra said, water backed onto gravel roads, making for flooded portions that greatly washed out roads on both sides for about three feet.

Additionally, while the county has caches of gravel piles for usage, they are still frozen in the middle, and so Nahra said some additional gravel will have to be bought commercially.

The flooding event began on late March 13, then surged in county towns such as Hornick and Moville by the following morning. A Moville woman, Diane Pilar, on Thursday looked at flooded roadways, and said, "It is not often you see whitecaps on the highway."

A mandatory evacuation was ordered in Hornick on Thursday, after snow melt and a breached levee on the West Fork of the Little Sioux River caused extensive flooding of streets. The 225 Hornick residents were able to return home Monday after the river retreated.

At the height of flooding, 29 road sections were closed, and Nahra had crews meeting emergency officials in varying Woodbury County spots.

"It was constantly changing, as streams came up, streams came down," he said.

One piece of rare good news is that no county bridges have been damaged. Now, Nahra is watching bridges in the area south of U.S. Highway 20, flanked by Wolf Creek to the east and West Fork Little Sioux to the west, which caused some of the worst flooding of rural county lands.

In Sioux City, the Missouri River crested at 29.7 feet early Sunday morning, just below the height the National Weather Service said marks the minor flood stage. Standing water temporarily forced the closure of Hamilton Boulevard at the Interstate 29 underpass, as well as the north and southbound exit ramps for the interstate.

Nahra praised the work by county crews, many of whom also had backed up water in their own basements. The county engineer was among them.

"When I wasn't working, I was cutting up carpeting," he said.

"They come early and work late. They have a deep sense of duty to get the roads shaped up as quickly as they can."

Krystal Folsom, of rural Hornick, said she's had to juggle driving routes since Thursday in getting around the county. Folsom rides her bicycle near Holly Springs, and knows Highway 982 will be out of commission for some time this spring, which arrives Wednesday.

She has seen lots of county crews in many places addressing trouble spots over the last week.

"I think they are on top of it," Folsom said.

Ida Grove ends fluoride treatment of water after 50 years

IDA GROVE, Iowa -- After nearly 50 years of putting fluoride in the city water supply, the Ida Grove City Council on Monday narrowly voted to halt the controversial practice.

In recent months, city leaders and residents debated whether fluoride in the water served as an effective means to reduce tooth decay or presented health risks to the public. About half of residents weighed in on the subject in a recent survey distributed through the city utility bills. A majority of respondents did not support continued fluoridation step, according to the city clerk's office.

In 1971 city officials started placing hydrofluorosilicic acid, most recently in liquid drops form, in the water supply for the Ida County city of 2,142. The council voted, 3-2, to end the practice, with councilmen Scott Tomlinson, Ryan Goodman and Gregor Ernst supporting the motion and councilmen Paul Cates and Doug Clough voting against it.

Starting last summer, Christie Van Houten, of Ida Grove, at council meetings, spoke out against fluoride, and on her Facebook page, shared numerous posts about the subject.

Van Houten linked to an online poll, which contains the snippet, "Water fluoridation is allowing government to mass medicate. This is what doctors can not do to individual patients. Put another way: Would you allow your neighbor to decide what medication you should ingest (even if it’s against your will)?"

The issue of whether fluoride should be in public water systems comes up periodically in Iowa and nationally. In January, a Hawaii lawmaker introduced legislation that would require the state's major public water suppliers to fluoridate drinking water, as a way to promote better dental health.

Ida Grove Water Superintendent Lon Schluter, at a July 2018 council meeting, said the city equipment used to drip in the liquid form of fluoride needed replacement, and noted that not all area towns add the chemical. The council that day unanimously voted to stop the practice.

The issue returned to the council in November, and, by a 3-2 vote, reversed their earlier decision. But fluoride was withheld from the water system while city officials waited for the updated equipment to arrive.

Clough said he subsequently educated himself on the topic, and learned the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta doesn't see any health risks associated with fluoride in water systems. Local public health officials, including from Horn Memorial Hospital in Ida Grove, in subsequent meetings urged the council to use fluoride.

In January, the council moved to ask the public to weigh in through the survey in the utility bills.

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Iowa cities push back on traffic camera proposal giving state large share of revenue

DES MOINES -- Iowa cities pushed back Tuesday on a legislative proposal calling for the state to scoop up 60 percent of the revenue cities now keep from traffic camera citations.

As amended by the House Public Safety Committee, the bill, House File 674, would allow cities to retain 40 percent of the revenue generated by automated traffic camera enforcement after paying expenses. The rest would go to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

However, David Adelman of the Metropolitan Coalition, which represents the largest cities in Iowa, offered an alternative — a $10 surcharge he said would generate $2 million for the Public Safety Department.

The surcharge would be similar to those applied to court fines. It would be a simpler process because of the differences in cities’ contracts with third-party vendors that supply the cameras.

Later, the bill’s floor manager, Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said he’s not interested in the surcharge. Collecting 60 percent of the cities’ revenue ensures that money is used for public safety and benefits the entire state, he said.

“Adding 10 police officers in Cedar Rapids doesn’t help in my district,” he said. “If the cameras truly are for public safety, then this ensures that the revenue is for public safety statewide. “We’re all paying for (traffic citations), so we all should benefit.”

After nine years of discussion without resolution, he wants to pass legislation to regulate the use of the cameras.

The bill would require cities and counties to have public hearings before installing traffic cameras and to provide evidence of a safety need. Cameras could be located only in documented high-risk areas. If they are in a fixed location, there must be signs advising drivers at least 500 feet, but no more than 1,000 feet, from the cameras. Citations would have to be reviewed by a law enforcement officer and records maintained for an annual report to the Legislature.

Klein also believes the Senate is more likely to agree with the House bill to scoop up the city revenue than to add a surcharge onto the cost of the citations.

In the Senate, Senate File 343, which would ban traffic cameras, has been voted out of the Judiciary Committee.

Representatives of cities with traffic cameras said HF 674 could open them to litigation because it’s at odds with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling over the programs.

Cedar Rapids, for example, wants more options when processing appeals from motorists who get traffic camera-generated citations.

Amanda Grieder, a manager for the Cedar Rapids Police Department, told a House Appropriations subcommittee the bill doesn’t square with the state Supreme Court ruling that was critical of the appeal process. Cedar Rapids is developing a form for people to use if they want to appeal online rather than in-person.

Although the bill came out of the Public Safety Committee on a 21-0 vote, and is very similar to legislation that was approved by the House last year, its fate is uncertain.

Subcommittee member Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, signed off on it to keep the process moving but opposes the use of traffic cameras.

Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, a former police officer, called traffic cameras a tool to reduce traffic collisions. Although the bill’s language needs to be “cleaned up,” he thinks passage of HF 674 would create stability rather than see the Legislature trying to deal with the issue every year.

The third subcommittee member, Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, who has voted to ban the cameras and for another plan to regulate them, said he doesn’t know how he will vote if HF 674 gets to the House floor.

While its red-light cameras have remained active, Cedar Rapids has not issued speeding tickets from cameras on Interstate 380 since April 2017 amid court battles, but Mayor Brad Hart said recently the I-380 cameras would be turned back on “soon.”

The city, which recently adjusted its contract with the camera vendor to keep more of the traffic fine revenue, projects generating $4.7 million from the cameras in fiscal 2020, paying the vendor about $1.7 million.