Prescription from afar

BY ART CULLEN

We have a hard enough time trying to figure out the complicated relationship between the City of Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, Lakeside and the south shore community. Far be it from us to understand the politics of Des Moines and its suburbs, especially as it relates to the organization of water delivery. Strange, then, that a legislator who lives 100 miles from the capital city would profess a keen enough understanding of Des Moines politics to prescribe a bill to completely reorganize the Des Moines Water Works.

Rep. Jared Klein, R-Keota, may have you believe he is interested in equitable treatment for the people of Clive and Urbandale who suffer at a political disadvantage to the east side of Des Moines. A fuller truth would be told if we were to acknowledge that this legislative effort is intended to emasculate the water works board and make its lawsuit against the agricultural petrochemical complex go away.

It sounds as if there is considerable support among Farm Bureau Republicans for meddling in the affairs of greater Des Moines.

The result will be a bad law that will obliterate the water works and create anew a board with purportedly wider regional representation. That presumably would eliminate the lawsuit over nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River against Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties. It also would leave a huge political cleavage along the fault lines of Central Iowa politics that could hurt urban and suburban dweller alike, and lead to even more division among the body politic, rural and urban.

No heated controversy existed over the structure of the water works board that anyone in Storm Lake or Keota had heard of. If there were, the mayor of West Des Moines would have raised the issue with his local legislator. But West Des Moines isn’t necessarily interested in reorganizing the board right now, with a new Microsoft data center hanging fire that depends on the water works to deliver.

Which means that legislators who really don’t know the score should not jump into a hornet’s nest, the disturbance of which could scuttle major economic development projects. First, do no harm. Listen carefully to reasonable leaders in the suburbs. Take care that you do not create a bigger political problem for rural Iowa.

We hope that our area legislators stay away from this stink bomb. They will just get something on them.

Let Des Moines figure out its own problems.

Meantime, we have our own problems to straighten out. Such as: How can agriculture and the environment strike an accommodation that serves everyone? How can Buena Vista County work cooperatively with the Des Moines Water Works to keep agriculture whole, the river clean and everyone accountable? How can a constructive mediation be engaged? How can we get the two sides to quit talking past each other?

This lawsuit should be settled by rural and urban legislators coming together with the water works and the counties to forge an acceptable compromise. Legislation that at its base seeks to deny Des Moines its rights to protect its drinking water supply only heightens tensions and makes people dig into their trenches deeper. Everyone has to acknowledge that we all have a stake in this game. We need healthy agriculture, and clean air and water. We need to have a fair discussion in the legislature, which has been avoided for generations. That’s why it ended up in the courts. We have been warning about hot levels of nitrates in the Raccoon for 27 years, and nobody did anything until the water works threatened to sue. Now that everyone’s attention has been fixed on the real issue, could we have a civil adult conversation about accountable stewardship that involves everyone working toward the same end? Otherwise, let’s get to the federal courthouse in Sioux City so a lone judge can sort this issue out for everyone who has refused to over the past three decades.

Getting railroaded

Good that the Storm Lake City Council told the railroad man to keep on moving down the line last week. The agent for the Chicago Central Pacific, owned by the Canadian National railroad, told the council that the railroad wants to withdraw from agreements with the Iowa Department of Transportation and the city to install automated crossing guards and signals at several railroad intersections with city streets. The state covers the initial cost, and the railroad is expected to cover maintenance. The railroad objects so it can be used in political leverage to get a law passed covering maintenance costs for foreign companies that own Iowa railroads.

Mayor Jon Kruse appropriately directed the railroad man to IDOT, which is where the beef lies.

Throughout its history, the railroad has used arrogance and leverage to take what it wants. Those days are changing.

Maintaining safe railway operations is a cost of doing business. By installing guards trains are able to operate at higher speeds within the city limits, increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Railroad personnel are relieved of the stress and potential liability of rail-vehicle crashes. Iowa has always helped railroads re-invest in capital facilities that assist corporate profitability and sustainability. The railroad should recognize it and realize how important Iowa is to its success, and how good relationships in Storm Lake might help them in Ames. But when you are operating in the robber baron mindset of two centuries past, it can be difficult to discern modern practical realities.