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SOO Green could ship Iowa wind energy from Mason City to Chicago

MASON CITY | It’s been about a year since the developers of the Rock Island Clean Line project withdrew an application to build the controversial overhead transmission line in Iowa.

Since then, other developers have publicly revealed their plans to transport the abundance of wind-generated electricity from Iowa and other upper Midwest states to larger markets, including Trey Ward.

Ward is the CEO of Direct Connect Development Co. and lead on the SOO Green Renewable Rail project, a proposed 349-mile underground transmission line that would be built alongside Canadian Pacific Railway routes.

"Some of the best wind resources in the world are obviously found in Northwest Iowa and SOO Green brings that cheap renewable energy to eastern markets like Chicago," Ward said.

While the proposed route starts outside Mason City and ends in Plano, Illinois, SOO Green's project map also shows that Sheldon and Algona are "available."

This graphic shows where the proposed 349-mile underground transmission line could run from northwest Iowa to the Chicago area. 

“Our converter station to be located outside Mason City will withdraw power directly from the multi-state high voltage transmission grid, enabling us to draw power from wind farms located in Iowa, southern Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas,” Ward said. “Northwest Iowa, with its great wind resources, will very much be a part of our project.”

The more than $2.5 billion SOO Green project would create 600 construction jobs and 200 in-direct jobs.

"These numbers do not include the jobs created to construct the winds farms enabled by the (high voltage, direct current) line, nor do they reflect the broader economic development opportunities for the region," Ward said.

Construction is projected to start in 2020 and SOO Green would be in service by 2024, based on Ward's current trajectory.

Meanwhile, Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners insist the Rock Island Clean is still alive. The purpose of this project was to erect a 500-mile overhead line starting in northwest Iowa's O'Brien County over private land and deliver wind-generated electricity to Illinois and states in the eastern part of the U.S.

However, a recent ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court provided yet another setback for Rock Island, an obstacle Ware hopes to avoid.

"Our goal is to build the transmission line in a socially and environmentally responsible manner respecting landowners' rights," he said

Having an underground transmission line is one of the advantages Ward thinks SOO Green has over other projects including Rock Island, which faced a lot of backlash from landowners.

“The fact that SOO Green has the majority of its land already under control is a huge competitive advantage,” he said. “One of the largest single impediments for competing transmission projects is that they need to secure land rights. Landowners in several states, including Iowa, have pushed back against private corporations taking their land for the developer’s benefit.

“They are additionally agitated with the viewshed and other impacts of large, overhead transmission lines near the family farm. SOO Green does not have these issues.”

Trump celebrates Christmas like most of America, with family

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump is celebrating Christmas the way millions of Americans do: surrounded by family, the White House said.

But unlike most Americans, he released a brief video in which his wife, Melania, joined him to "wish America and the entire world a very Merry Christmas."

The first lady says that at this time of year "we see the best of America and the soul of the American people" in children packing boxes to help brighten Christmas for service members and communities coming together to help one another.

"In this season of joy, we spend time with our families, we renew our bonds of love and goodwill between our citizens and, most importantly, we celebrate the miracle of Christmas," Trump said, noting the story of Jesus' birth.

"This good news is the greatest Christmas gift of all, the reason for our joy and the true source of our hope," the president said.

Trump is spending his first Christmas in office at his estate and private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The White House did not say which family members are with him at Mar-a-Lago, but the first lady and their son, Barron, arrived days before he joined them last Friday.

Trump's daughter, Tiffany Trump, was seen getting off of Air Force One in Florida on Friday, and Donald Trump Jr. shared on social media photos of some of his five children at Christmas Eve dinner with their grandfather.

For Christmas Day dinner, the family had five desserts to choose from: piña colada crème brulée, cheesecake, black forest trifle martini, bread pudding and, of course, Trump chocolate cake.

The holiday menu began with another signature dish, Mr. Trump's wedge salad, the first of four salad or soup options. For an entree, there was turkey, char crusted filet mignon and seared foie gras, braised short ribs, pan seared seabass or diver scallops.

But the day was not without work. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president had been briefed on Monday's suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least six people.

Heading into the holiday, Trump took note of those he considers naughty (a top FBI official, the news media) and nice (U.S. troops stationed overseas and their families, kids eagerly awaiting Santa's arrival). He also squeezed in time for golf, time with family and time for church.

"Merry Christmas," Trump said Sunday night as he and the first lady arrived for a Christmas Eve service at the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, where congregants welcomed them with a standing ovation. The Trumps wed at the church in 2005.

Trump also sought to cheer U.S. troops who are spending the holiday away from their own families.

"Every American heart is thankful to you and we're asking God to watch over you and to watch over your families," he told Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard members via video hook-up from his estate.

Trump opened Christmas Eve by tweeting against those he feels don't support him, including FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the news media.

After playing golf at his private club in neighboring West Palm Beach, the president joined his wife to field calls from children eager to know when Santa Claus would come to town. The calls came by way of a Santa tracking program run for more than 60 years by NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Trump ate Christmas Eve dinner with family before heading to church.

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Clear Lake farmer sentenced to prison, ordered to repay $1.1M in cut-and-paste loan scam

CEDAR RAPIDS | A Clear Lake farmer has been sentenced to federal prison and ordered to pay restitution after pleading guilty in a multi-million dollar cut-and-paste loan scam. 

Michael Royster, 53, pleaded guilty to providing false documents to Farm Credit Services of America (FCSA) to receive $3.8 million in credits for 2015 farming expenses. 

U.S. District Court Judge Linda R. Reade sentenced Royster to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $1,133,821.31 in restitution to FCSA.

Royster admitted in a plea agreement he created fake contracts to mislead FCSA into thinking local cooperatives or other purchasers were storing more of his and his son's corn and soybeans than what they actually had in storage, court documents said. 

He created the fake documents by cutting and pasting additional digits on the actual contracts and then making photocopies of the altered documents, according to court documents. 

In one example, Royster admitted to falsifying a contract showing a cooperative had approximately 20,000 bushels of his corn by adding a "1" to make it appear as though the cooperative instead held 120,000 bushels, court documents said. He admitted to using a similar scam to get loans in 2011, 2012 and 2013. 

Royster must also serve a term of supervised release after the prison term. A special assessment of $100 was imposed. 

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob A. Schunk and investigated by the FBI.

Mason City woman requests help from Cheer Fund for toddler nephew, son

A Mason City woman who recently obtained temporary custody of her toddler nephew is hoping the Christmas Cheer Fund can help her provide him a gift from Santa Claus.

The 38-year-old woman, who has a teenage son, said in her application that her sister is currently in treatment for drug addiction, and she’s not receiving assistance for the care she's providing for her nephew.

“I want to make sure when (my nephew) wakes up, he believes Santa has come,” she wrote in her application.

The woman said her nephew was previously living in a car, and she wants to make sure he feels at home during the holidays.

According to the application, the woman has a part-time job with the desire to get a full-time job but is unable to because she’s caring for her nephew and babysitters and daycare is too expensive.

“Since (my nephew) has moved in his attitude has changed tremendously, and I have given him structure and discipline, which he needed,” she wrote. “Please consider my application and thank you.”

If the woman is granted Cheer Fund assistance, she said she’d use it to buy stocking stuffers and something from Santa for the two boys.

Since the Cheer Fund began in 1927, more than $3 million has been raised.

This year’s goal is $125,000.

The Christmas Cheer Fund was established by Globe Gazette Publisher Lee Loomis in 1927 so every child could have a present on Christmas morning. In the years since it has come to mean a little help at Christmastime to people of all ages.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to the Globe Gazette office, 300 N. Washington Ave., Mason City, IA 50402-0271.

Any remaining funds not distributed for the holidays will be given to local nonprofits. The Christmas Cheer Fund balance will return to $100 in January to maintain the checking account.