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Winnebago County supervisors deny CAFO permit

FOREST CITY | The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected a construction permit application for a proposed hog confinement operation south of Buffalo Center. 

The supervisors said the application from 1 pigE, LLC, might not meet the requirements of the master matrix scoring system due to a lack of verification of distances. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources can override the supervisors' decision to reject the application for the proposed concentrated animal feeding operation (CAF0) in  Grant Township.

1 pigE wants to build two 2,499-head deep pit swine finisher confinement buildings at the site, located off 380th Street west of 20th Avenue. 

Supervisor Bill Jensvold said he has spoken to all the neighboring property owners.

"They all really wish it (the CAFO) wasn't going to happen," he said. 

County Auditor Karla Weiss said she received two phone calls from people against the proposed CAFO site. 

Dean Gerzema, who attended Tuesday's public hearing on the permit application, said he's probably the closest property owner to the site.

He said his main concerns are dead hog disposal and manure management. 

Thompson resident Steve Anderson asked who verified the accuracy of the master matrix scoring.

Jensvold said the DNR did the measurements and he looked them over. He said he's no expert and has to assume the DNR's measurements are correct.

Anderson, who used to do master matrix evaluations in Kossuth County, said it's up to the county to verify the measurements.

Most of the time the master matrix scoring is accurate, "but they do screw up on distances," Anderson said.

He said the matrix awards point for things like an operation having a turnaround so semis can maneuver without blocking the road.

The 1 pigE plan calls for a turnaround, but a well would be located right in the center, according to Anderson.

He said it wouldn't be good if a semi were to back over the well, which would be located just 112 feet from one of the confinement buildings. 

Anderson also said it appears the well is 18 feet away from the county right of way rather than the required 25 feet.

If these distances aren't checked, “you are letting the fox watch the chickens," he said.

The problems could be eliminated if the buildings or the well were moved, according to Anderson.

CAFO applicants can earn extra points by having their buildings located certain distances farther away from residences, waterways or public use areas than is required by the DNR.

Anderson said according to the master matrix scoring, Gerzema's house is located 570 feet from the closest confinement building beyond the 1,875 feet required. 

However, he has concerns as to how that distance was verified. 

The proposed CAFO site is less than two miles north of the Gruis Recreation Area golf course. Anderson said he's concerned about that because he thinks the odor could carry that far. 

Jensvold agreed, noting the wind doesn't come out of the north often during the summer, “but it has happened.”

No one representing 1 pigE came to the hearing.

Anderson said it's likely DNR officials will override the supervisors' rejection of the permit application, but they  also might agree with them.

He said this wouldn't stop the confinement buildings from eventually being built, but at least it would ensure the rules are being followed.

The supervisors they can expect to see more CAFO applications soon, according to Anderson. 

He said the state legislature is considering tightening CAFO regulations, so those who want to start these feeding operations are going to "strike while the iron is hot" and try to get buildings up before those changes happen.  

Citizens share ideas for future of Southbridge Mall

MASON CITY | An indoor dog playground, a medical clinic, an office complex...

There was no shortage of ideas Tuesday as North Iowans came to Southbridge Mall to share some thoughts on how to repurpose the mall.

The event, held in the TJ Banks storefront near Younkers, was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Mason City and the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp.

A sports bar, coffee shop, indoor golf...

Many of the ideas were focused on individual outlets that might make a good fit.

Jim Collison, a retired Mason City businessman, said, "There are a lot of good ideas, but the mall owner is going to have to make the rents reasonable for any of this to work."

Collison suggested having a business incubator that could be tied in somehow with the Pappajohn Center at NIACC. Other people also thought a NIACC presence would be helpful downtown.

A pharmacy, climbing wall, batting cages, a children's museum...

Nancy Rockman of Mason City is excited about the possibilities of all that is being planned for downtown.

"We need things that will go well with the hockey arena," she said. "Can you imagine how many people that is going to bring to town? We need shops around it like sporting goods, and restaurants, too," she said.

Chamber Executive Director Robin Anderson said she was pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm shown.

"This is just a start," said Anderson.

She said the Chamber, the EDC, Main Street Mason City and local mall management will look over the ideas and determine which ones are feasible and do-able and will fit with citizens' ideas that have gone into the Vision North Iowa program.

Mitchell County Supervisors: Paulus was best candidate for county treasurer

OSAGE | A former Mitchell County supervisor was one of five people who applied for the recently filled county treasurer position, according to county officials.

Stan Walk, one of the two Mitchell County supervisors, provided the Globe Gazette with the list of individuals who showed interest in the position: Shannon Paulus (who was appointed), Cynthia Johnson, Dawn Adams, Susan Ellison and Jane Michels.

Contact information for the latter four above was not provided, as Walk said he threw that information away after the board appointed Paulus to treasurer on Jan. 2.

According to a prior Iowa Supreme Court ruling from 1988, "public agencies can make job applications confidential," according to the Iowa Public Information Board.

"I felt there was no need to keep them," Walk said of not having the contact information.

Walk and fellow Supervisor Joel Voaklander said they decided to appoint Paulus and not hold a special election because there were limited dates they could hold the election, and the cost would have been between $2,000 and $3,000.

Walk added that Paulus' service to the county was a key reason why she was selected as treasurer.

"It wasn’t just one thing, she does have a BA degree, she’s worked in management positions," he said. "As a county supervisor, she went above and beyond what was required of the office to help out with various situations."

Voaklander also emphasized the fact the position is up for re-election this fall played into his and Walk's decision not to hold a special election.

"Sure, it costs money to have an election, and this would be a countywide election and all that factors in," he said. "How painful do you want to make it? And it’s up for election this year … a year goes by real fast in this business."

Paulus said Tuesday that it was "weird" having to apply for the treasurer position while serving as a supervisor, because she had to take certain steps to avoid conflict-of-interest situations.

She added, however, that she is confident about her new role, and hopes to improve the treasurers' office. According to the Iowa State Association of Counties, the Mitchell County Treasurer's salary is $56,512.

Other people did apply for the position, but she felt her background — including as a supervisor, and having a business management and marketing degree from NIACC — made her a solid fit for the job.

"I’m kind of a numbers nerd and I love computers," Paulus said. "And I’m willing to learn and willing to get certified with all the skills that the girls at the counter have."

Mitchell County Lowell Tesch said Tuesday that he, Paulus and County Recorder Pat Skuster are planning to fill the vacancy on the board this Friday.

Tesch emphasized in multiple interviews that the decision to appoint Paulus as treasurer fell solely on Walk and Voaklander.

"This was a supervisors' decision," he said Tuesday. "It was their appointment, I had no part of that."

Tesch clarified that if the supervisors had chosen to hold a special election, then candidates would have needed to file and he would have their names and contact information. 

Now, however, Paulus is in her first month of replacing Pamela K. Meyer, who resigned last month. One of her main goals is to bring CDL driver testing to Mitchell County.

"I have to meet with the DOT individual about that and I have to talk to her because there’s new rules about doing the testing," she said, adding there are more driving aspects to the test than in the past, and a certain obstacle course needs to be set up.

Paulus — if nobody chooses to run in the spring primary — is scheduled to run for re-election in November. For now, she just wants to serve those in Mitchell County.

"Stop in, we’re more than happy to help," Paulus said.


Shannon Paulus began her duties as the new Mitchell County Treasurer on Tuesday, Jan., 2, replacing Pam Meyer. Meyer resigned in December.

Fewer motorists crashing into Iowa DOT snowplows

DES MOINES — Since equipping its snowplows in 2015 with blue and white lights, the Iowa Department of Transportation has seen a big decrease in collisions with its road-clearing trucks.

In the 2014-15 snowplowing season, an Iowa DOT snow removal vehicle was struck every 2,801 hours of operation on average, Director Mark Lowe on Tuesday told the House Transportation Committee.

But after the $500 units were mounted on 220 plows in the 12-county Central Iowa district in November 2015, collisions decreased to one only every 8,321 hours of winter operation. In the 2016-17 winter season, the agency recorded one collision every 8,813 hours of operation.

About 75 percent of the crashes were either rear-end collisions or sideswipe collisions.

“It definitely had an impact on people seeing them and being better at avoiding them,” Lowe said.

He said he can’t explain why the orange snowplows already equipped with flashing amber lights are now more visible with the addition of rear-facing blue and white flashing lights.

“They just leap out at you,” he said. “We know it works and we’re cool with that.”

In addition to reducing injuries, there have been significant cost savings. The average cost of a crash in motorist and state property damage is $7,725, Lowe said. The cost can be much higher if the equipment that calculates and distributes brine gets damaged.

The pilot project lawmakers approved in 2015 is expiring. A Senate Transportation subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday to consider Senate Study Bill 3048, which would permanently authorize installation of blue and white lights.

Mount the lights on the remaining 650 plows would cost about $335,000. That would be paid out of budgeted operational funds without an increase in funding or an additional appropriation from the Legislature, Lowe said.