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CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Clear Lake vs. Norwalk Thursday during the semifinal round of the Iowa High School boys basketball state championships at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Nicole White and Jordan Holmes wade through the flood waters surrounding Autumn Park Apartments in 2018, where White's mother-in-law, Jan Stigers, is a resident, after spring flooding caused Cheslea Creek to flood in Mason City.

Mason City at increased risk for flooding, officials plan where they can

MASON CITY | After a record-breaking snowfall in February, Mason City officials and weather experts are concerned that the area is at an "increased risk for possible flooding" this spring.

That's according to the Des Moines bureau of the National Weather Service's Senior Hydrologist Jeff Zogg. "It’s definitely a concern," Zogg confirmed. "It's much above a normal risk of flooding this spring."

Zogg pointed to two areas in particular that are a cause for flooding concern: snow packs and soil moisture.

"The snowpack is one of the factors that we look at and there’s quite a bit of water in that snow pack," Zogg said. "Soil moisture also indicates an increased risk in possible flooding."

Zogg said the bureau reached its increased risk conclusion by looking at both the snow pack and the soil moisture and then running simulations using past years of data to determine if the risk is above or below average or normal.

According to a recent NWS Hydrologic Outlook, the snow pack is "above normal across much of the NWS Des Moines service area."

"Water equivalent of the snow pack ranges from a trace to generally between 2 and 4 inches. The highest amounts are generally across the northwestern half of the service area."

A gradual melting of the snow pack over time could stem that risk somewhat but it's not something anyone is counting on.

So city officials such as City Engineer Mark Rahm have attempted to keep certain areas clean so that "the water can get to the streams and the river."

"But even then, the river is covered with ice and as the ice goes out there can be ice jams and things like that that impede the water flow," Rahm said. "So it’s kind of a compiling effect."

Snow removal can also help with drain issues, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Steve O'Neil. 

O'Neil asserted that it's important to keep things as clean as possible so water can reach drains.

He also recommends that people shovel snow away from their house and get any accumulation off of their roof with a snow rake.

However, O'Neil's realistic only so much can be done ahead of time.

"We do a lot of mitigative things (but) we’re not gonna stop the water," O'Neil maintained. 

According to O'Neil, Mason City Emergency Management has plenty of sandbags on hand and officials are reviewing FEMA floodplan maps but their job still largely feels reactive.

"(It) seems like we’re always planning for six months later and reacting to now," O'Neil said.

 O'Neil also made sure to warn that if you live an area that's experienced flooding in the past, there's a chance you'll see flooding again this year.

 "Just about any place there’s potential," O'Neil said. "Anything close to the river, with flash flooding you gotta look at low-lying areas. And it’s not just Mason, it’s all of Cerro Gordo."

Photos: Flooding in Mason City - June 2018
Photos from residents: Forest City flooding
Then & Now: Photos of 2008 flood damage in Mason City

CHRIS ZOELLER The Globe Gazette 

Water from Willow Creek in East Park overtakes the footbridge after heavy rainfall caused flooding in North Iowa last spring.

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Cost Cutters location demolished at Mason City shopping center after snow causes roof collapse

MASON CITY | The Cost Cutters location at Plaza West Shopping Center has been demolished, the store owner said.

“They tore down the building,” Cost Cutters franchise owner Mark Evans said. “It was a total loss for us.”

Evans, under Evans Enterprises, owns about 35 Cost Cutters locations. He said the owner of the shopping center is dealing with the demolition and construction. 

Property records name the owner as Mason City Shopping Center LP. The owner of the shopping center could not be reached.

Piles of snow and equipment are visible and the demolition site is fenced off at shopping center.

The call to the Mason City Fire Department came in about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 26 after individuals inside Cost Cutters noticed tiles moving and then, eventually, collapsing.

The roof at the Plaza West Shopping Center, between Cost Cutters and CosmoProf, shifted down some 8 inches and ceiling tiles collapsed under the weight of some 6 to 8 feet of snow drifts created by a blizzard.    

According to Mason City Fire Captain Jack Odegaard, about five people were inside the two stores when the ceiling tiles collapsed. The fire department closed the stores as well as Dollar Tree for safety precautions.

The damage was significant enough to warrant demolition.

“Everything was in there, I mean, It’s not good,” Evans said. “It’s not good for the employees who can’t work now.”

Evans said he has never experienced an event like this at any other location.

“I’ve seen some water damage but not the whole thing collapsing,” he said.

CosmoProf also is still listed as closed online. Corporate offices did not respond to a request for comment as of Friday afternoon.

Dollar Tree reopened March 2 with no damage to the store. 

Evans is looking to move the Cost Cutters Location and reopen.

“We’re looking at other locations in Mason City,” Evans said.

He said the insurance company is still “working some stuff out.”

“It’s still fresh,” Evans said.

Photos: Mason City Cost Cutters roof buckles


Iowa court: Medicaid can cover sex reassignment surgery

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court's ruling that the state cannot deny two transgender women Medicaid coverage for sex reassignment surgery.

The state's high court agreed with Judge Arthur Gamble's ruling in June that a 1995 Iowa Department of Human Services policy denying Medicaid coverage for sex reassignment surgery violates the state's 2007 Civil Rights Act, which added gender identity to the state's list of protected classes.

Gamble also deemed state's 1995 policy unconstitutional, but the high court did not address that finding.

Friday's ruling comes in the consolidated cases of 43-year-old Carol Ann Beal, who lives in northwestern Iowa, and 29-year-old EerieAnna Good, who lives in the east of the state. Both were born male but have identified as female since childhood. They sought to have surgery under the state's Medicaid program, which provides care for the poor and disabled, but were denied. They appealed to the state agency, which oversees the program, and were again denied.

They sued in 2017, and the agency appealed following Gamble's ruling.

In its appeal, the agency argued, among other things, that its policy wasn't discriminatory because neither transgender nor non-transgender Medicaid beneficiaries would be entitled to gender-reassignment surgery, which it said is performed "primarily for psychological purposes." It also argued the policy's explicit exclusion of gender-reassignment surgeries was merely a specified example within the broader category of "cosmetic, reconstructive, and plastic surgeries" that were excluded from coverage.

The state Supreme Court said Friday that the record doesn't support that assertion.

"The (department) expressly denied Good and Beal coverage for their surgical procedures because they were 'related to transsexualism ... (or) gender identity disorders' and 'for the purpose of sex reassignment,'" Justice Susan Christensen wrote, citing segments of the policy.

Moreover, she wrote, the policy authorizes payment for some cosmetic, reconstructive and plastic surgeries that serve psychological purposes, such as to correct disfiguring and extensive scarring and congenital anomalies, but "it prohibits coverage for this same procedure if (it's) a transgender individual."

Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman Matt Highland said the agency would not comment on the ruling.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Beal and Good, called Friday's ruling "a landmark win."

"Denying health care coverage to someone because they are transgender is wrong and extremely harmful to those who need this care," said John Knight of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project.

Beal and Good also expressed elation over the ruling, with Beal saying she's "extremely happy for those people who will come after me, that we've made a path for them so that they can get the medical care and surgery they need."

Good said the decision has been a long time coming.

"So many people still don't understand that this is not something we need for trivial or cosmetic reasons," she said. "It's medical care a doctor is recommending for someone who has a medical need for it. And it can save lives. Transgender people are at such risk for suicide, and I've lost transgender friends to suicide. I hope this decision helps change that."