SOTU, from our perch

President Obama was putting the final touches on his State of the Union Address as this was written. So were the Tea Party and regular Republican respondents. So we thought the President and Congress might want to know what the State of Things is as viewed from the frozen windswept prairies surrounding Storm Lake, Iowa.

First, much of that wind is for naught because Congress has failed to extend the wind energy production tax credit. Nor has it done anything meaningful about building out a transmission network that will transfer renewable energy into the grid when and where it is needed. Hence, no new wind turbines are being built along Buffalo Ridge despite it being at about 10% of developed capacity.

Second, we have no farm bill. The House has held it up hoping for some $40 billion in cuts to food stamps. Upper Des Moines Opportunity, meanwhile, is facing a funding deficit because of the many demands placed on it by the working poor in Storm Lake and other communities in northwest Iowa.  There is no safety net under corn production at the moment. We are told a farm bill will be passed. They have been saying it for three Januarys now.

Third, probably half the population of Storm Lake is comprised of immigrants. Congress has not passed a comprehensive immigration reform package despite the fact that there are 10-14 million undocumented aliens living among us. Local employers, police, schools and neighbors often have no real idea with whom they are dealing. Former President George W. Bush advocated comprehensive reform nine years ago. He said he was sickened by the deaths in the desert. But nothing happens. We doubt whether anything significant will.

We have propane fuel shortages on one of the coldest winters on record despite having record domestic fossil fuel production. We’re drilling baby, and we’re pumping, but it is plugged up somewhere between here and Texas. Letters have been sent demanding an investigation. That’s the last we will hear of it.

Iowa students are graduating from college with, on average, more than $40,000 in debt. They must move out of Iowa to find a job that services their debt. We are told that education is the great equalizer, but it becomes more difficult every year to finance that college education. Many in Congress want to eliminate the Pell Grant for needy students. Subsidized loans are on the block as well.

We are building plenty of low-income subsidized apartments, but Storm Lake has a hard time supporting construction of new single-family homes. Something is wrong with the picture when a working person needs a subsidy from the government to put a roof over his head. Something is further wrong when the only way affordable apartments can be built is by offering a subsidy to the developer as well.

Despite Congress ordering up more ethanol, the Administration through the Environmental Protection Agency has limited the amount of corn-based fuel that must be blended into the nation’s gasoline mix. In part because of ethanol, our reliance on foreign oil has declined over the past decade. Restricting renewable energy production assures more wars fought by Iowa National Guard units in the Middle East.

Our region’s lakes suffer a steady demise from soil erosion into them. The rate of their siltation has increased rapidly since 1980, when government crop production set-asides were blotted out. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, fed primarily by crop nutrients in the Upper Midwest, is growing. The federal Clean Lakes Act is just a dust-catcher. The Clean Water Act is something of a ruse when you consider the state of Iowa’s filthy surface water. Non-point source pollution is being addressed voluntarily, state political leaders say. The federal government isn’t even going that far. A soil loss of five tons per acre per year is considered A-OK.

Plenty of great things are happening in Storm Lake. Food processing brings young immigrants, which brings us new life. Farmers have been making decent money. Our manufacturing wage is starting to rise. We are cleaning up our lake now with almost no help from the federal government. We just thought it would be useful to point out how Washington is holding us up from important work in making Storm Lake an even better place.

Paying for sidewalks

City Hall made the right call in dropping the idea of charging a $15 fee to anyone who received a certified letter to fix their sidewalks. Earlier, the very idea of it picked the scab off our sidewalk strawberry — that some properties in Storm Lake must maintain sidewalks while others do not. It’s not fair. A friend stopped in after our missive and explained that Back in the Day the post office would only deliver to properties with sidewalks. After the post office got their little Jeeps, the sidewalks were not mandatory. That’s when sidewalk requirements stopped, for some.

The city has a policy of not ordering special assessments for streets. Even little-used cul-de-sacs are maintained at the cost of the city. Everyone uses the streets, so why not have everyone pay for them?

The same could be said for sidewalks.

People in West Lake Estates do not have to maintain sidewalks. People on Lake Avenue do. Many pedestrians from hither and yon walk on Lake Avenue from the downtown to the lake. They walk along College Street and Grand. They come from the north side of town and from Alta and Sioux City.

We come together to maintain streets and bike paths. But we essentially impose a special burden on those who live in the older parts of town, and whose properties are not as valuable as their newer western neighbors. They must fix their sidewalks at their own cost, or the city will order a special assessment to get the work done.

Why not treat sidewalks the same as streets?