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Friday Afternoon News, December 19

Storm Lake Wind Farm Sold

STORM LAKE, Iowa (AP) - A Duluth, Minnesota-based energy firm says it has bought a 108-megawatt wind farm near Storm Lake.
    Allete Inc.'s clean energy division paid NRG Energy Inc. $15 million for the Storm Lake wind farm, which consists of 144 turbines.
     The just-purchased wind farm is adjacent to another 78-megatt, 104 turbine wind farm that Allete Clean Energy bought in January.
     Allete President Eric Norberg says the wind farm bought this week "creates immediate efficiencies with our first Storm Lake purchase, and it complements our expanding wind fleet."
     The adjoining Storm Lake wind farms will share an operations and maintenance facility. Norberg says both are operating under power sales agreements that extend another five years.


Land Values Survey Shows Decline

AMES, Iowa (AP) - The average price of Iowa farmland fell nearly 9 percent in the past year but still remains far above prices seen a decade ago.
     A report from the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University shows prices fell 8.9 percent to an average of $7,943 an acre.  Despite the drop, the average price is more than double prices seen a decade ago.
     Michael Duffy, a retired Iowa State professor who conducted the survey, says the farmland value decline is due to commodity prices and farm income "settling back to more expected levels."
     It was the second time since 1999 that the survey showed farmland prices had declined.
     Eastern Iowa's Scott County had the highest average farmland price.


School Superintendent Faces Ethics Charges

 TREYNOR, Iowa (AP) - A school superintendent in western Iowa could face disciplinary action after education leaders say he didn't appropriately respond to allegations that a district employee sexually assaulted a student.
     The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners says Treynor Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Elwood faces two counts of unethical practice. A hearing on the charges is scheduled to start Jan. 5.
     Among the charges, the board says Elwood failed to make a "reasonable effort" to protect students after a custodian hired in 2013 was accused of sexually assaulting a student. The custodian no longer works for the district.
     Elwood's attorney, Drew Bracken, says there's no evidence to the claims against his client.
     An administrative law judge will preside over the upcoming hearing. The board will then make a final decision.


Candidate Charged

     GLENWOOD, Iowa (AP) - A Libertarian candidate running for the Iowa Senate seat vacated by U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst faces a misdemeanor sexual assault charge in eastern Nebraska.
     The Omaha World-Herald reports that 69-year-old Donald Brantz has also been charged with assault, disturbing the peace and interfering with a public service company in Sarpy County.
     Prosecutors say Brantz is accused of inappropriately touching a woman on Oct. 10 and threatening to choke her. Authorities say he hung up a phone the woman used to call 911.
     Brantz has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Chad Primmer of Council Bluffs, did not immediately return a message Friday.
     Brantz is a former Mills County Board member. He faces Republican Mark Costello, of Imogene, and Democrat Steven Adams, of Red Oak, in the Dec. 30 election.


Supreme Court Rules Internet Providers Must Pay Telephone Tax

   IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court says companies that provide phone service through the Internet must be taxed the same as traditional telephone service providers.
     The court ruled 6-0 Friday that Voice over Internet Protocol providers operate "telephone lines" even if their service is provided through a broadband network. Therefore, justices say those companies are subject to annual property tax assessments based on the amount of cable and wire they use to provide the service.
     The ruling rejected a challenge from Cable One, Inc., an Arizona-based company that provides cable, internet and VoIP service in the Sioux City area. Cable One challenged two years of Iowa Department of Revenue assessments totaling $1.4 million, arguing they didn't apply because the company doesn't operate a telephone line.





Friday News, December 19

Rural Merrill Home Catches On Fire

(Merrill) -- A smoke detector saved the lives of a rural Merrill couple and their infant baby when fire was reported at a one story home located at 24997 Jade Avenue, or about two miles southwest of Merrill. Merrill Fire Chief Jacob Conley says the family living in the home were awaken by a smoke detector that sounded at about 1:30 a.m. Friday morning.  The family reported fire and smoke was emitting from the roof of their home.  Merrill, Hinton, and the Le Mars Fire Departments all responded to that house fire. Conley describes the scene upon arrival.

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Fire fighters were on the scene for about two hours.  Conley says the home suffered only minimal damage.

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No injuries were reported.  Conley says fire officials were able to contain the fire fairly quickly.

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Sioux City Home Catches On Fire

 SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - A Sioux City family and their pets have escaped an early morning house fire unharmed.
      The  fire was reported before 5 a.m. Thursday. Deputy Fire Marshal Frank Fulton says crews arrived to find flames and heavy smoke coming from the house.
      Three occupants were able to escape. Fulton says they suffered minor smoke inhalation, but did not know if the people received medical treatment. Three dogs and two cats also were safely removed from the house.
     Fulton says the house was severely damaged.
     The cause of the fire is under investigation.


Asylum Moving

(Le Mars) -- The Le Mars Youth for Christ center known as "The Asylum" will soon be moving from its downtown site to a new location.  Jim Rahn (Run), who oversees the operations at the teen center says by February 1st they hope to be in the former Le Mars Daycare Center at 3rd Avenue Southeast and 10th Street Southeast. Rahn says the Asylum was interested in relocating for many reasons.

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Rahn says the new location will be nearly double the space.

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Rahn says the Asylum has about 375 students that actively utilize the facilities.  He notes the new location may be attractive to students since it is next to the Le Mars YMCA Community Wellness Center.  Rahn says the organization is trying to raise additional funds to make the move complete.

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In addition to moving to a different location, Rahn says the youth center will also be changing its name.

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Plymouth County Conservation Board Eligible For Grants

(Le Mars) -- Plymouth County Conservation Board was recently notified it is eligible for a grant to help with the new River's Bend Lake located near Akron.  Nick Beeck  serves as the executive director for the Conservation Board, and explains how the grant money will be utilized.

 (sot) Beeck1

Beeck says before the County Conservation Board can obtain the funding, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources still needs to agree to the plan.  However, Beeck is confident the local conservation board will be given approval.  He says of the $9,600 requested, the state DNR would finance 90 percent of the costs, and the Plymouth County Conservation Board would need to finance the remaining 10 percent.  The grant proposal was scored at a recent district conference.

 (sot) Beeck2

The rennovation of the lake is scheduled for March or April, depending upon when the lake is free of ice.  Beeck says within a month after the application, the Conservation Board will be able to re-stock the new lake with desired game fish.

 (sot) Beeck3

Beeck says River's Bend used to be a gravel pit.  He says the county made a land swap deal with the Higman Sand and Gravel Company.  The Conservation Board is on year two of a three year plan to upgrade the facilities to include a boat ramp, camping area, restrooms, and a shelter house. 


New Survey Says Iowa Should Invest In Business 

  DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A new report says Iowa should invest more in business development, education and infrastructure to boost the state's economy.
     State officials released the report from the nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute Thursday. It was commissioned last year by an economic advisory board co-chaired by Gov. Terry Branstad.
     Overall, the report said the state has seen job growth and wages increases. Still, there is room for improvement.  As of 2013, Iowa ranked 23rd nationally for per capita income.
     Recommendations in the report included simplifying the state tax code and providing more funding to programs that offer support to businesses. It suggests increasing educational opportunities to develop more skilled workers.
     The report also cites Iowa's infrastructure needs, stressing the need for more funding for roads and better broadband infrastructure across the state.


Sioux City Man Pleads Guilty To Improper Asbestos Removal 

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - A Sioux City developer accused of improperly removing asbestos from a former YMCA building has pleaded guilty.
     Records show 54-year-old Larry Wolf of Dakota City, Nebraska entered his plea Wednesday in federal court in Sioux City on one count of violating the work practice standards of the Clean Air Act.
     Wolf was accused of improperly removing asbestos from an old YMCA building between July 2009 and March 2011. He admitted during his plea hearing to knowing about the asbestos ahead of removing material from the building.
     Prosecutors say Wolf also removed asbestos-containing material wrappings from metals inside the building then sold the metals.
     It's unclear when Wolf will be sentenced. He remains free on bond.


Man Convicted Of Murder Wants New Trial

DAKOTA CITY, Neb. (AP) - A 23-year-old Iowa man convicted of killing a northeast Nebraska woman has requested a new trial. 
     The attorney for Raymond Gonzales Jr. filed the motion on Wednesday. The attorney says problems with the trial include jury misconduct and a verdict not supported by sufficient evidence. 
     A jury on Dec. 9 found Gonzalez guilty of first-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony. Authorities say he shot 28-year-old Bonnie Baker 16 times in December 2013 at a party in her South Sioux City home. 
     Witnesses say Gonzales became upset after people at the party teased him.
     A district judge has ordered a hearing on the motion for Feb. 5, the same day Gonzales is scheduled to be sentenced.


AGP To Expand Sergeant Bluff Facilities

SERGEANT BLUFF, Iowa (AP) - An Omaha, Nebraska, soybean processing company plans to build a $90 million vegetable oil refinery in western Iowa.
     Ag Processing Inc. plans to build the refinery at its complex near Sergeant Bluff, creating at least 20 new jobs. The information comes from documents by Ag Processing seeking nearly $1 million in Iowa loans and tax breaks released by the state Wednesday.
     The company's complex in Woodbury County currently includes a soybean processing plant, biodiesel plant and grain storage facilities.
     The vegetable oil refinery proposed for the same 85-acre site would be designed for 30 rail tank cars per day. Estimated project costs include $2.5 million for site preparation, $14.5 million for construction and $71.5 million for new machinery and equipment.


Stolen ATM Machine Is Recovered

 DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An automatic teller machine stolen from the Iowa Events Center in September has been found at the Des Moines International Airport.
     Police say an airport employee told police he found an ATM when he was checking the airport grounds shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday.
     The Des Moines Register reports ( ) that police checked the machine's serial number and found it had been reported stolen from the Iowa Events Center on Sept. 11.
     Surveillance video showed a man entering the Iowa Events Center by pushing a potted plant through a glass window, then prying the ATM from the wall.
     The man then broke a different glass door to escape. Police found tire tracks in the grass and mud near that door.
     Police have not made any arrests.



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