Proud of our town



We necessarily discussed race and immigration quite a bit last year, and especially in more recent months, as the issue is thrust upon us primarily by outside forces. Over the holidays we had a little time to reflect and we keep returning to a theme: pride. We are proud of Storm Lake. We are proud of the way we have handled ourselves over the past quarter century. We live in a diverse, interesting and wonderful place that has become a model for rural communities anywhere.

School districts across the Midwest look to Storm Lake for guidance in helping English Language Learners and their families. We have built an integrated system from Head Start to Iowa Central Community College whose aim is to assimilate new neighbors quickly and seamlessly by teaching the entire family how to thrive in Iowa. They do thrive. We see the children of immigrants teaching in our classrooms. The lesson is that building lives and a community starts with education. It frees people from poverty and confusion and oppression. We can see it alive every year right here.

Likewise, Storm Lake is sought out as a model for building grassroots coalitions around water quality, in providing public safety for all residents no matter their color or creed, and in building a quality of life around natural amenities.

Other rural communities struggle with all these things. Here, the county and cities pulled together with the state to dredge and protect the lake. It has become the water quality photo-op for state politicians, and we enjoy every picture. That effort was suspended, shall we say, in 2017 after we removed 7 million cubic yards of mud from the bottom of the lake. That is astonishing. What’s more astonishing is that there is another 7 million cubic yards still down there waiting to be removed. It is left to a younger generation and, perhaps, to a state that someday actually values what little we have left in lakes.

We will have a new city council that grapples with all the issues of growth in a new year. Members no doubt will be mindful of the leadership role the city has assumed over the years. National law enforcement training coalitions look to our public safety department on how rural communities deal with urban issues brought by immigration. The city has been at the forefront of natural resource protection through the adroit use of flood prevention funds to control runoff — more than $20 million has been spent in the past five years. These are worthy traditions that deserve our support.

We are on the leading edge in Iowa. We have a university that is recommitting itself to the region with an enthusiastic new president. We are attracting visitors from a three-state region to our waterpark resort that is paying off its debt and operating in the black. We have an interesting downtown full of stores that have figured out how to survive in the shadow of Walmart.

The people in places taking shots at us are drained of that pioneering spirit, that immigrant drive that pushes Storm Lake and Buena Vista County forward in myriad ways. It’s something we take pride in. There is a way for rural communities to flourish around agriculture, and Storm Lake is showing that way. That’s what we will continue to do in 2018.

Wither ethanol?

Ethanol faces an uphill battle. Electric cars are coming on, damping demand for gasoline and alcohol. Environmental interests are skeptical of its net benefits, considering the toll it has taken on Iowa’s soil and water resources; a vast dead zone kills aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico in part because we are chasing that elusive corn gold. Ted Cruz is playing games with the USDA, trying to hold up Iowan Bill Northey’s appointment, over Cruz’s objections to ethanol. And, the EPA grudgingly maintained current blending standards but did not expand them. The ethanol lobby does well these days to hold its own.

This week The Hill, a prominent journal in Washington, published an essay by Aaron Smith, a rural economist at Cal-Davis, and Vincent Smith, an economist at Montana State, essentially calling for an end to the Renewable Fuels Standard created in 2007. Their argument is that the environmental cost of corn production is greater than the benefits to air quality in congested urban areas. There is a growing body of evidence to support their thesis. Note that they come from ag colleges (Iowa State has its own articulate critics). The Smiths come from a liberal point of view. Cruz and the Koch Brothers oppose it from the right. Those are forces almost as powerful as the markets driving us toward electric cars and solar panels.

Smart operators like Quad County Corn Processors in Galva are transitioning into other enterprises. They are hedging against ethanol’s future. There are many uses for corn, but policy makers and the oil money are not convinced that fuel should be among them. We should be prepared for that eventuality.