A cleaner lake

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

We have been complaining so much of late about the ignoble demise of our dredging operation that we failed, probably, to celebrate our accomplishments over the years. To wit: We walked along the high bank of Sunset Park on the north shore Sunday morning; it was perfectly still and we could see the sand and rocks feet deep in the water, crystal clear. That’s why we were dredging, and that is what we accomplished. You could not have said that 20 years ago.

It started in the early 1990s when then-federal soil conservationist Jeff Kestel sought a grant to protect the Storm Lake watershed by promoting conservation practices. That application led to a multi-agency effort that brought in 80% of the farms in the watershed to use some sort of conservation practice. Powell Creek was lined by buffers. Little Storm Lake was renovated, and nearby landowners used even greater conservation practices. Storm Lake was dredged thanks to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (led at the beginning by Jeff Vonk, to whom we are forever grateful), the late Sen. Mary Lou Freeman, R-Storm Lake, then-Sen. Steve Kettering, R-Lake View, then-Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge and Rep. Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia, working with Gov. Tom Vilsack to get the state lake restoration fund created. Storm Lake hired a lobbyist, former Buena Vista University publicist Susan Cameron, to lobby on behalf of all Iowa lakes. The city of Storm Lake supervised the dredging crew, which operated at costs half or less what a private contractor would bid. (Private enterprise is not always more efficient.) Landowners cooperated to lease or sell property for spoil sites at fair prices. Seven million cubic yards of silt were removed. We still have room in our east spoil site for more, but we won’t get into that. We have been down that road.

This was the one project that everybody got behind. We had the first locally-directed watershed improvement program in the state that was embraced by farmers. Bankers donated money. Fishermen cheered. The city was eager to supervise the work. The towns and the county and the state were working hand-in-hand, which really was remarkable.

In the end, the project was just too big for Storm Lake to sustain much longer. The state has other lakes to get to. It certainly gave Storm Lake every deference once we got the program going. It showed us how much we can accomplish with a public project when everyone sees the need. A dozen feet of Iowa black mud remains at the bottom of the lake beyond the fetch of wave action. We wish we could have gotten it all but we will have to leave that for another day. We should all appreciate what the lake looked like on Sunday. It was worth the effort.

Ag anxiety over Trump

The agriculture lobby in Washington is, of course, beside itself over fears that President Trump will blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement. This is something he can do all on his own without assistance from the bunglers controlling Congress. And, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross so much as told the aggies recently that they just don’t matter that much to the rest of the US economy. Ross has the President’s ear. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has tried to explain to Trump, with color graphics, how repealing NAFTA will wreak havoc on the very states that vaulted him into office. Perdue’s advice so far has been put aside as the President prepares to give notice to withdraw, which will trigger emergency negotiations.

Perdue has prepared a response plan for agriculture should Trump actually blow up NAFTA. The contingency suggests that he will, or that he is one helluva bluffer.

Everyone from the CEO of Cargill to the national corn and wheat associations are apoplectic. They believe Trump will pull the trigger. Several ag interest groups sent a six-page letter to the President last week urging him to reconsider his trade stance.

“We absolutely depend on them,” one lobbyist said of Mexico in an interview with Politico.

The same week the Politico story ran about the aggies’ dismay, the lead story in the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman worried about what Trump might do. The Des Moines Register featured their concerns prominently last week. They are on a publicity mission, and an urgent one.

These are the very same players who elevated Trump to the White House. They deserve what they get. But farmers don’t, and neither do poor immigrants. NAFTA has already drained a good many corn growers from Mexico and sucked them north to work in our meatpacking plants. Destabilizing trade pacts destabilizes Storm Lake. It also disrupts markets: Mexico is our top corn and pork market. Canada is second.

Cargill’s CEO several months ago warned that Trump’s policies threatened ag businesses and their labor force, heavily immigrant. If Cargill can’t get his attention, do you think the wheat growers can?

Our trading partners are willing to talk about adjustments. Trump is talking withdrawal. Listen to that land market, folks. There could be a giant sucking sound soon.