Editorial: We’re on our way in ‘14
Op-Ed · January 10, 2014

The year 2014 welcomed us with snow, ice and a wind chill south of negative 35 degrees. Yet we know that the cold will end and the snow and ice will melt, so with that kind of hope we present our hopes and wishes for the coming year for the West Branch community:

• West Branch Public Library and the community looked at new locations for an expanded facility, but by the end of the year, the groups kept coming back to the current location. We like that it is close to Hoover Elementary and close to downtown, yet still out of high-traffic areas. Plus, even though the current building is getting a bit too small for local traffic, the city takes good care of it and there’s probably many years of service still within its walls.

To expand would mean heading north and taking in the property now occupied by the West Branch Community Schools’ bus barn. Mayor Mark Worrell offered to have the city pay to relocate the bus barn in exchange for allowing the library to take over that land. The city council should make a firm commitment to back that offer — which should include moving the fuel service and even laying down gravel or paving — so this is more than talk. It should even go so far as to decide how it would pay for the work.

Once that is done, we would then hope to see the school district accept the offer. They would get a new bus barn and continue to have the library conveniently close for kindergarten-through-eighth-grade pupils.

We don’t presume all this will happen in a single year. The library expansion is still probably several years away. But this is a joint project that requires cooperation and planning.

• The industrial park continues to attract new businesses at a healthy rate considering the size of West Branch. We look forward to Altorfer Inc. getting its new dealership construction complete and hope the city leaders will actively welcome this new business.

Our bigger concern is Acciona Windpower. The wind turbine company recently landed a 100-unit order for two Texas wind farms, and recently a 34-unit order for wind farms in Canada. The company shut down its assembly line last March but still keeps its offices open. When asked where they would build the 3-megawatt turbines to fill the Texas order, the company had yet to decide and, weeks later, we have still not been able to get that answered. We thought that decision would be easy given the West Branch plant is the closest of Acciona’s turbine plants.

We would like to see our local and elected officials get involved: city leaders, Iowa City Area Development Group, state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, state Sen. Bob Dvorsky, U.S. Rep. David Loebsack, and Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley. Each should contact Acciona and push for the company to restart its local assembly plant. Iowa as a whole is very interested in clean energy, so we hope this should not be a hard sell to see these officials pick up the phone.

For the city’s wastewater treatment plant, there is not much to say except: Keep doing what you are already doing. That is, keep aggressively paying down city debt because whether the city builds a new plant or finds promising results in the BioDome study, either option will cost a significant amount of money to put in place. Keep improving the infrastructure, too, by replacing or repairing old water mains so the city is only treating sewage, not rainwater that leaks into the system. (We can’t help but notice that there has not been a water main break in this severely cold weather, and wonder if some of the recent repairs are part of the reason.)

Also, we would like to see a report on the BioDome test going on in the city’s lagoon.

• We would like to see more progress on sidewalks and trails. The community is still smarting over the city council’s rejection of the $250,000 grant nearly two years ago, and while the council injected some money into building sidewalks in 2012, very little happened in 2013. The top priority should be building more sidewalks to the schools, while second in line should be over Interstate 80 to the Kum & Go/McDonald’s area and then the industrial park.

• The city should, this year, finish its capital improvement plan. We thought that would happen in 2013. It should go hand-in-hand with the comprehensive plan, which did get finished in 2013.

• The Hoover Complex shutdown showed us a new concern: That Congress acts with very little concern of serious ramifications for not meeting its self-imposed deadlines. That resulted in a shutdown of about 17 percent of the government in October, including the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and Hoover Presidential Library-Museum. We hope our local and U.S. representatives would work with the National Archives and Records Administration to develop a mechanism that would allow the State of Iowa to pay to keep the Hoover Complex open should there be another shutdown. Of course, that also means getting the state legislature to agree to pick up the costs. Yes, it would be an additional unpaid mandate of sorts on the state, but we think there is good reason to push for this change. As we write this, the Jan. 15 deadline that could lead to another shutdown is fast approaching.

So there’s our list for 2014. Some of the wheels are already turning on these projects and ideas. In some cases, key people need a bit of convincing. We hope our elected leaders will see the strong local support and act accordingly.

Let’s see what we can get done.

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