Pricing the dredge

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Now that dredging is finished, the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors must decide what to do with the dredge. Sell it? Keep it? Junk it? The county bought the dredge in 2002 for $600,000 out of South Dakota. The Lake Improvement Commission had Palmer Olson and the city public works department get it running right. They had it pretty much down until Public Works Director Pat Kelly announced he would retire. It became clear somebody else would have to oversee the dredging.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources picked Dredge America of Kansas City, and the Lake Improvement Commission hired the firm to run the dredge. It ran it hard and the dredge kept breaking down. Dredge America was getting paid to fix it. This went on for three years. The dredge was getting fixed more than it was pumping. And that was the proximate cause to the state pulling the plug on dredging after this season. It was not cost-effective anymore. (For those who insist that the private sector can always do better, let us offer but this one humble example. Pat Kelly and Crew did better, steady as she goes because you wouldn’t want to blow off the South Dakota duct tape.)

Dredge America has expressed interest in buying the dredge, officials say. If the county wanted to sell to Dredge America, that might be a good deal if: Dredge America pays the $600,000 plus recompenses the county for all the repairs it made to the dredge, which are improvements. Then add an appropriate annualized interest rate of, say, 3% dating back to 2002. Then add 10% just because. Then add it all up and present a bill for purchase to Dredge America. That would be a deal.

Under any less favorable terms, the county should dry-dock the hulk and wait for the next round of dredging Storm Lake. Meantime, it could rent out the machine. A friend from Pocahontas County with an avid interest in Lizard Lake would like to see it dredged and is trying to drum up support. They might be interested. Iowa has about 100 lakes on the impaired waters list, and Minnesota has many more. There should be an outfit out there somewhere that wants to rent it. Or even buy it.

But if that buyer is Dredge America, then set the price accordingly. We would rather see it rust than give it away after we have paid for it two or three times.

New council, mayor

Tuesday’s city elections, which concluded after this was written, will give us a new mayor and two new council members. As we have said before, it is hard for Storm Lake to go wrong with any of them. We add a new mayor and council on top of a relatively new city manager and assistant city manager and finance director. This is all good. Storm Lake was waffling about there for awhile. It appears we are righting the ship and sailing into smoother waters.

We hope for this:

That the mayor will make everyone feel welcome and not be too rigid with rules. Let people speak their peace and blow off steam, and then you can have a constructive conversation. Sometimes those conversations get uncomfortable but they are worthwhile. Let people speak freely to the council.

That the council takes an easy and deliberate approach before swallowing anything big or lurching in any direction. We need for the administration to fully get its sea legs in this time of transition.

In our view, at least, the two biggest issues facing Storm Lake are housing and streets. We are urgently short of housing units, and now the state is tilting the rules on low-income housing tax credits against rural areas and in favor of urban areas. The city is not a housing developer. But City Manager Keri Navratil has had some luck helping developers sketch projects without low-income subsidies. She has been creative and flexible, and has landed deals when others could not. She should be encouraged.

Our streets have been decaying for a few years. You feel it every day on a bumpy ride. We hope the council can catch up on the street maintenance and improvement that has been put off the past few years.

Most of Storm Lake’s problems are associated with growth. We should view that as a blessing and conduct our business in an optimistic and forward-looking way. These are good problems to manage. All the candidates appeared to approach the task in that spirit. We thank them for offering their service.