Working a plan

BY ART CULLEN

The beginnings of an articulated lake management plan are being formed as Shorty’s Island is set for restoration this spring and summer. The Iowa Natural Resources Commission last week approved a $544,000 bid to firm up the deteriorating island just off the Lakeside Marina (formerly Shorty’s). The Big Island gets a facelift next year. We have spent years talking about it. Now the job is getting done.

That’s because a plan has emerged, thanks in large part to DNR Lakes Coordinator George Antoniou. He has set out a rough plan for our lake after more than a decade of dredging that has revitalized what was a dying waterbody. He has consulted with top-flight scientists, engineers and community stakeholders to try and get Storm Lake to a sustainable level of ecological health in a way that has not been attempted.

The islands are a first step. They are important wave blockers that help suspended sediment settle to the lake floor, and they are important for biological diversity in the water. They can promote improved vegetation.

The next step looks to be extending the Chautauqua Park jetty as another wave break for the bay. Aluminum sulfate may be applied in test doses in the bay to see how water clarity, and fish and vegetative diversity might be enhanced. This is a sensitive topic that Antoniou has handled as such. His approach is likely to bring curious minds along with him for at least the experiment. We are assured that it is perfectly safe, certainly safer for the lake than allowing Iowa topsoil to flow into it year after year.

All of this is done as Iowa has kept a tight cinch on environmental budgets.

Storm Lake owes its gratitude to Antoniou and the DNR for bringing coherence to lake management. For the first time we can see how the lake can be improved, using scientific benchmarks, going forward. We sense a partner in the state who is as committed as we are in preserving and enhancing one of Iowa’s top natural resource attractions. DNR Director Chuck Gipp has enough on his desk just trying to keep the agency afloat in trying times. We are grateful he has directed Antoniou to chart a way forward for Storm Lake for the first time.

Silent Democrats

We strain to hear amid the roar of the freight train that voice of clarity imbued with the fires of Harold Hughes who could bring a state to its senses. All we can hear are the implosions of the workers compensation system and collective bargaining law, and nursing homes clanking with locked doors over Medicaid reform. Community colleges face a full frontal assault on their revenue base.

And it would seem that all is well. Iowans do not appear to be too worked up over this historic overreach. Not that anyone is asking them to be. At least, the loyal opposition remains terribly and incompetently loyal. The Democrats are content to see how far the freight train can run, if it ever runs out of track. Attorney General Tom Miller naps on the sidelines. Leading legislative voices … remind us, who are they? Who speaks for the working man anymore?

Gov. Terry Branstad will be sent off with a favorite son’s farewell for China, and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will succeed him with much pomp and celebrity. Much of the machinery wreckage will have been complete. She can run a victory tour while the Democrats are still trying to figure out how to get to Sheldon from here and ignoring every Latino along the way.

The minority party has three candidates for governor so far: Andy McGuire, Rich Leopold and Todd Prichard. This is the time for one of them — or somebody else — to hold up a hand in front of that engine and call for a halt. They aren’t.

Mike Gronstal is taking care of a pent-up list of honey-dos in Council Bluffs put off by 30 years of legislative trench work. John Norris has found paying work in political consultancy. Liz Mathis has sworn off a run. Tom Vilsack would rather be a dairy lobbyist — a dairy lobbyist! — than the governor of what could be the best state in America.

It’s the strangest thing. Republicans are giving Democrats a rare chance to grab back the big brass ring of the governorship. They just sit on their hands. They are not sure what to do in the face of this fury. They don’t know how to win a fight anymore, or even how to pick one.

Republicans have managed the process, the message and the result.

Democrats have stood by in awe and confusion.

Any hopes for a return of two-party government to the state legislative process appears at this point to be a mere fancy.