As 2022 comes to an end, take a look back at the local news stories that appeared in the Oskaloosa Herald throughout the year — and shaped our communities. Part 3 of the Herald's Year in Review covers June to September.

JUNE

Lely unveils new North America business complex

Lely held the grand opening of its new business hub and complex, Lely Park, located just off Highway 163 in Pella. Lely, which broke ground on this location in late 2020, is the only dairy/livestock automation company that manufactures and assembles robotic milking and feeding equipment in North America.

Rising input costs impact Iowa farmers

Rising input prices forced Iowa farmers to brace for a rollercoaster of a season. As the relatively late planting season drew to a close, 98% of Iowa’s corn and 94% of soybeans had been planted, according to the May 31–June 5 report by Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The USDA’s projected season-average farm price for corn in 2022-23 was $6.75 compared with last year’s projection of $5.90. Similarly, other feed grains were projected to be significantly higher than previous years due to increased demand and decreased supply.

Rising commodity prices are due, in part, to the high input cost of producing them. Part of this high input cost comes from a fertilizer shortage that has stemmed largely from supply and transportation problems caused by the war in Ukraine.

87th annual Tulip Time Festival a success

After two years of cancellations and modifications, Pella’s 87th annual Tulip Time Festival came back in full swing this spring.

Held the first week in May, the festival garners about $3 million to $4 million in gross revenues within a 30-mile radius of Pella in a typical year, according to Val Van Kooten, executive director of Pella Historical Society and Museums. The festival provides a financial “lift” for retailers, hotels, restaurants, nonprofits and businesses in Pella and surrounding communities. About 20-25% of Pella Historical’s annual income comes from the festival. While it’s difficult to estimate the financial impact on the community with exact numbers, Van Kooten said it was a successful spring.

Attendance for this year’s festival also bounced back. On Saturday, the third and final day of the festival, about 100,000 people were in attendance. In total, more than 202,000 people visited Pella over three days.

Mahaska Supervisors protest pipeline

The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors voted to protest the Heartland Greenway Project, a carbon pipeline proposed by Navigator CO2. If built, the pipeline would run through 36 counties in Iowa, including Mahaska and Wapello Counties.

Supervisors voted to submit their letter in protest of the pipeline on behalf of the citizens of Mahaska County. However, final decisions regarding the pipeline rest with the Iowa Utilities Board.

Iowa high court declares airport agreement unconstitutional

The South Central Regional Airport Authority is in jeopardy after an Iowa Supreme Court decision deemed the agreement establishing it was unconstitutional. The ruling found that the intergovernmental agreement establishing the authority from Mahaska County and the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa was illegal because it in effect barred the county from leaving the relationship.

Prior to the ruling, in order for the county to leave the 28E agreement as written, they would need permission from Pella and Oskaloosa. This clause effectively bound all future boards of supervisors in Mahaska County to carry out decisions made by the SCRAA for as long as the authority exists, wrote Justice Christopher McDonald in the opinion.

The purpose of the agreement was to ultimately construct a regional airport between Oskaloosa and Pella, because the cities each had municipal airports that were no longer adequate for area needs. The cities are funding the airport, but needed the county involvement with the organization in order to have eminent domain and zoning authority in the area.

The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors voted for a third and final time to officially leave the SCRAA after the ruling.

Abortion still legal in Iowa, for now

The United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24. The decision allows states to decide abortion restrictions, if any. Because Iowa did and still does not have a "trigger ban" or "trigger law" in place, abortion is still legal in the state. Currently, abortion is still legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, except to save a patient's life or "prevent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the state's conservative majority overturned a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision that declared access to abortion a "fundamental" right under the state constitution. This decision allows a state law requiring a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion procedure to go into effect immediately.

The state legislature would still need to take further action before abortion is further curtailed in the state.

JULY

TeenServe comes to New Sharon

Students and volunteers from across North America made the New Sharon community their home for the week of June 27 to July 1 as they participated in TeenServe.

TeenServe is a one-week mission trip open to junior and senior high students. The students, led by adult volunteers, work on service projects in the community during the day and camp in classrooms at North Mahaska Community School at night.

“Our community has sent a group to TeenServe ... This would be the 16th year,” said Brett Morris, a volunteer leading a house painting project along with his wife, Acacia. “Every year they ask groups to just see if they feel led to host a camp, and so that’s where my wife and I and a team of close friends and different folks ultimately said ‘you know what, let’s step up to the plate.’”

This year’s camp worked on a total of 55 service projects in the New Sharon area.

Oskaloosa Community Schools welcome new superintendent

The Oskaloosa Community School District welcomed Mike Fisher on board as superintendent on July 1.

Fisher succeeded Paula Wright, who announced her retirement in October 2021. Formerly the superintendent for Charles City Community School District, Fisher is a graduate of Oskaloosa Senior High School.

“I’m excited about taking the work I’ve done in both school improvement in terms of the core business of our teaching and learning, then also culture and climate, making sure we have a safe, welcoming inviting culture and climate because one of the things I’ll say is that people don’t invite to average. We want people to invite to exceptional,” Fisher said.

Pella Schools break ground on new Early Childhood Center

Members of the Pella School Board, Superintendent Greg Ebeling, district educators and representatives from Neumann Monson Architects and DCI Group held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday to celebrate the beginning of construction.

The Early Childhood Center will be located adjacent to Madison Elementary and is being designed to accommodate 3- and 4-year olds for both preschool and wrap-around care. The center will include 10 classrooms, each accommodating 16-20 students, along with a kitchen, playground and additional parking. It will also allow for additional classrooms for K-6th grade students.

Estimated project costs are now just shy of $19 million. Original estimates were projected around $17 million.

Lexi Van Utrecht crowned 2022 Southern Iowa Fair Queen

Mahaska County’s new Southern Iowa Fair Queen, Lexi Van Utrecht, began her reign July 18 at the Southern Iowa Fair.

Van Utrecht is the daughter of Mike and Julie Van Utrecht and is a graduate of North Mahaska Community Schools. She was one of nine candidates for fair queen. First runner up in the contest was Allie Van Donselaar. Recipient of the Volunteerism Award was Abby Drost. All of the girls competing shared a passion for serving the community they call home.

Naig visits Southern Iowa Fair

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (R) paid a visit to the Southern Iowa Fair on July 21 as part of his 99 county tour.

Naig spent his day at the fair learning about the 4-H and FFA programs in Mahaska county, meeting exhibitors and their families and watching the 4-H/FFA goat show. The main focus of the day was the hard work that Mahaska County’s youth have put into preparing and exhibiting their projects at the fair.

Marion County completes VA District demolition

Marion County completed demolition of the 160-acre Veterans District. The project was estimated at $11 million with a one-year contract completion deadline. According to Chris Nesteby, Marion County facility and maintenance director, the demolition cost was $10.8 million and was completed in 10 months and 17 days — both under estimated cost and deadline.

According to Jake Grandia, Marion County Auditor, the county issued $10.3 million in general obligation bonds to cover costs for the project. The county’s general fund covered the remaining amount.

“At June 30 year end, the general fund was in a solid position,” Grandia said.

Osky celebrates Sweet Corn Serenade

Oskaloosans came together to celebrate a timeless Iowa summer tradition on the city square.

Oskaloosa Mainstreet’s annual Sweet Corn Serenade took place July 28 on the Oskaloosa City Square. Sweet Corn was roasted, vendors from across Iowa came to exhibit and sell their wares and the Oskaloosa City Band performed on the bandstand.

There was an added air of excitement this year, as the City of Oskaloosa was honored at the festival as one of this year’s four new Iowa Great Places designated by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The recognition was a fitting payoff for the city after all the hard work involved in organizing festivals like Sweet Corn Serenade.

AUGUST

Pella celebrates 175th anniversary

Mayor Don DeWaard signed a proclamation to signify Aug. 5, 2022 as the city of Pella’s 175th anniversary.

The proclamation was signed in Scholte Gardens in recognition of the city’s founding by Dominie Hendrik Pieter Scholte, who immigrated to the area from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in the summer of 1847. Scholte brought with him his wife, Maria, and nearly 800 other colonists.

Scholte and Dutch colonists immigrated to Pella to escape religious persecution.

“We’re very thankful for our town. It’s a beautiful community. It’s a beautiful area, and Pella does a tremendous job — Mayor Don and all the council people and all of the people that have always been in charge of the Dutch heritage and the [Pella] Historical Society especially — making it stay Dutch,” said Randy Sikkema, longtime resident and Tulip Time Burgemeester. “I’m very proud to call it my home.”

Mahaska Health's Run in the Sun raises money for charity

Members of the Oskaloosa community came out in force on Saturday, Aug. 6 to enjoy a run in the sun while supporting a cause that for many hits close to home.

More than 300 participants ran in Mahaska Health’s Run in the Sun charity 5k in benefit of Oskaloosa’s Hospice Serenity House Saturday morning. The runners got the chance to test their speed and endurance while working together to help Mahaska Health raise approximately $20,000 in support of Serenity House.

Osky police officer retires after 33 years

Oskaloosa Police Officer Gary Kutcher celebrated his retirement from the department Friday, Aug. 19. Kutcher worked as a school resource officer with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education system (D.A.R.E.) since the early ‘90s and said that one of the most rewarding aspects of his career was making connections with youths that lasted for years.

County, chamber, city of Oskaloosa plan infrastructure project

The City of Oskaloosa, Mahaska County and the Mahaska Chamber and Development Group are collaborating on an infrastructure project that would address concerns about semi traffic in town while also providing shipping accessibility to invest in and grow industry in Oskaloosa.

The project involves three major pieces: road construction, adding railways to the Oskaloosa industrial park, and building a certified site for transloading and storage facilities adjacent to the existing industrial park to better facilitate business and transportation in the area.

The road construction, in particular, will entail building a connecting route for semi traffic between highways 23 and 63, leading to Oskaloosa’s industrial park. This proposed route comes in response to high-volume traffic and bottle-necking at 15th Avenue.

Ag experts cautiously optimistic about upcoming harvest

As the summer came to a close, ag experts were looking ahead to an uncertain harvest after a months-long drought.

“Where we’re at right now is currently called the dent stage on the ear, so when you shuck the husk back on the ear, you start to see the kernels have a dent on top of them, which means they’re starting to dry down, starting to pull the moisture out of the kernel," Key Coop Sales Agronomist Alex Fynaardt said. "The plant does that on its own every year, regardless of what the situation is, but this year we’re seeing the dry down process start to show up faster in areas, especially hillsides and areas with tough soil.”

After a slight break in the summer-long drought in August, Fynaardt said that while the drought was tough, there was still reason for optimism.

“Honestly, driving around you think that some of these areas look really bad,” Fynaardt said. “We’re starting to see corn that’s ‘firing up,’ which means it’s starting to turn brown on the bottom and work its way up the plant, so leaves are starting to turn brown, wilt, die and fall off the plant. But really, when you walk through it, it’s not as bleak of an outlook as what you might think driving past it, unless you get into these areas that have really missed out on all the rain in July and August.”

Fynaardt placed Mahaska County in a “fringe area,” saying that some crops will do really well while others struggle due to drought stress.

SEPTEMBER

Southeast Iowa drought persists

As harvest approached, southern Iowa farmers were forced to reckon with drought conditions, which in many cases are severe.

Statistics for southern Iowa during the week of Aug. 30 showed that both Mahaska and Marion counties were classified under the severe drought category. The USDM says impacts of severe drought include dryland corn producing extremely low yields, notable commodity shortages and livestock stress. Severe drought areas also have increased fire risk and less mosquitos. Surface water levels are typically low, algae blooms increase and voluntary water conservation is requested.

City prepares to build water treatment facility amid rise in construction costs

In keeping with Iowa Department of Natural Resources mandates, the City of Oskaloosa is required to construct a new wastewater treatment facility no later than 2027.

“Our existing treatment facilities are very dated,” said Sean Murphy, senior engineering technician for the City of Oskaloosa. “They’re using technologies that are no longer really built for new treatment facilities, and there’s been some maintenance issues.

"We’ve actually had concrete structures that have needed some pretty significant intention and rebuilding in order to keep them in service, so the long and short of it is that we are in need of new facilities.”

Currently, the plan is to build the new facility at the existing Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant site and combine the facilities into one.

In order to combat rising construction costs, the city did a data collection survey of residents enabling it to apply for grants that would help with costs.

City, county vote to enter Greater Des Moines Partnership

Mahaska County and the City of Oskaloosa joined Greater Des Moines Partnership, a coalition of 10 counties – 11 with the addition of Mahaska County – that focuses on economic development in the greater Des Moines area.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership visited both the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors and the Oskaloosa City Council at their respective meetings on Tuesday, Sept. 6 to pitch their services. Their services include marketing of participating regions and communities; marketing of buildings and sites; research assistance; legislative advocacy and support; and professional development, to name a few.

Both the board of supervisors and the city council voted to enter a partnership with the coalition.

Midterm candidates make stops in Pella

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear made 10 stops in Pella on Sept. 6, including visits to local businesses, the Career Academy of Pella and Central College. She said that no matter where she speaks to constituents across the state, education is an important issue for Iowans.

“We have not only been able to deliver for Iowans, we’ve led throughout this country [in education]. The fact that we are now 18, 19, 20 on the list under this current governor’s leadership, we all know that we’re better than that,” DeJear said.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, (R), was hosted by Lely North America and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers to discuss the importance of manufacturing in Iowa on Sept. 8.

Miller-Meeks received a tour of the new Lely North America headquarters in Pella and spoke with Lely employees and representatives from AEM. Their discussions were centered on the challenges facing the manufacturing industry across the state and country, which is the focus of AEM’s “I Make America” grassroots campaign.

The campaign advocates for policies that support manufacturing jobs to help U.S. manufacturers compete in the global market. According to AEM, the equipment manufacturing industry in Iowa alone is approximately $13.7 billion.

Osky city council to evaluate EMA, E911 services

The Oskaloosa City Council voted to evaluate emergency management and 911 services amid funding issues at their meeting on Sept. 19.

Oskaloosa City Manager Amal Eltahir facilitated a strategic planning session with the goal of allowing the city to work collaboratively with county officials on local issues that affect both groups. One of the issues discussed was the question of funding for the county’s EMA and E911 services going forward.

Some possible organizational changes the city will look for the expert to provide include: "right-sizing" the organization from a staffing perspective; internal restructuring of the E911 and EMA system; a combined or partial outsourcing of operations to a third-party professional provider; or merging operations with a neighboring county or joining an existing regional consolidated public safety dispatch facility, such as Westcom in Polk County.

The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors has given its full support to the city’s decision. Board Chair Mark Groenendyk attended the city council meeting on Sept. 19 and told the council that “If you guys are looking for a partner, I think we’d love to partner with you on that.”

The Mahaska County EMA and E911 services were not involved in the strategic planning session held between the city and the county, according to Eltahir. She responded that when the time comes to award a contract for an expert to come evaluate the existing system, the city would be open to partnering with other groups, such as EMA, and sharing the cost.

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