Clearing out flooding

Back in the early 1990s, then-City Administrator Clarence Krepps showed us a study from the previous decade showing that it would take tens of millions of dollars to relieve Storm Lake of flooding after heavy rains. The area around Storm Lake High School, Tulip and Rose Lane, and Russell Street were common sites of flooding after a fast rain of an inch or two. It became worse as more houses were built.

The city was not able to do much about it because it simply could not afford the work at the time, and had no way to raise revenue for it.

A lot of water has soaked into the ground since then.

Lake restoration activities led City Hall to look at protecting the lake. Rain gardens and storm sewer outlet holding tanks were installed to keep runoff from rushing to the lake without filter. Tyson and Hillshire joined the effort by building containments around their properties to keep storm water channeled properly.

City Administrator Patti Moore happened across the FEMA program a few years ago. Officials in Des Moines said several million dollars in flood mitigation funding directed to Iowa by the federal government were going unused. Storm Lake applied initially for a project that proved unfeasible, but we got on FEMA’s radar screen.

City Manager Jim Patrick, Moore’s successor, with the assistance of City Clerk Justin Yarosevich kept pursuing the flood mitigation strategy. The city identified problem areas around town and built an $18 million program to fix them.

Government, you see, isn’t all bad.

Moderate-income families living in the Tulip-Rose Lane area are getting relief for the first time in more than 20 years of trying. The intersection of Lakeshore Drive and Russell Street is no longer an extension of the lake after a middling rain.

Proof came Sunday morning when there were few areas of standing water around The City Beautiful following a rain of three to five inches. The ground soaked it up well and appears to have recharged the subsoil moisture sufficient to carry the corn crop through July. However, a heavy soaker previously would have flooded the city regardless because of all the impervious surface in town. This Sunday, it did not.

Were it not for federal funding, our friends would be flooded out on the northeast side of town. The lake would see more pollution from lawns and streets. When you complain about all that Washington pork, know that it is laden here for good cause.

The city is trying to protect and advance its gains by adopting a new storm water ordinance. The new law will require larger new commercial projects to pay more in storm water utility fees (a relatively new creation) than properties with a softer footprint. This could lead to even more innovation between the government and the private sector to keep the city dry in the right spots. Storm Lake has been selected as Iowa’s principal “best practices” community for dealing with storm water runoff. Our community will show the way to other Iowa towns trying to deal with the aftermaths of storms that are growing in strength and intensity.

We could not do this were it not for the federal largesse, as it were, and the willingness to work proactively with state agencies charged with cleaning up our state’s surface waters.

Hardly a monopoly

Sen. Chuck Grassley is one among many who expects the Justice Department to scrutinize the proposed merger of Tyson Foods and Hillshire Brands. The Iowa Republican long has been skeptical of consolidation in the meatpacking industry, especially for its effects on producers looking for a competitive marketplace. Sorry to say, that horse has galloped far from the barn.

Tyson acquired IBP with but a sniff from DOJ. Since then, Tyson’s principal domestic competitor in pork, Smithfield Foods, has been purchased by a huge Chinese meat company. Its main competitor in poultry is JBS of Brazil through its US subsidiary, Pilgrim’s Pride of Texas. Pilgrim’s Pride also tried to buy Hillshire but was outbid by Tyson. Smithfield has about 26% of the US pork market compared to Tyson’s 17%; Tyson has a 21% market share in poultry with Pilgrim’s Pride second at 18%.

Tyson does not have a market-dominant position in pork or poultry. Even if it did, its main competitors are foreign-owned. It hardly smacks of monopoly.

Hillshire and Tyson are not really competing in the same space. Tyson primarily is a producer that markets and Hillshire is a marketer that produces. Tyson wants Hillshire to become a better retail marketer. This is a deal born of synergy and efficiency, not to take control of the protein market.

The fact is that the meat industry is consolidating around the globe into larger corporate units in order to compete effectively. That’s why the Justice Department will give the deal a look, but not a very long one.