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NEWS 12.5.22: Winnebago Tribe Awarded Air Pollution Grant, New Housing for Arnold's Park Employees, NAIA Volleyball Semi-Finals in Sioux City, and More

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Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
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A county auditor in central Iowa has decided Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver’s voter registration is valid.

The decision follows a challenge from Grimes resident Ann Gale. She alleged Whitver was still living in Ankeny when he changed the address on his voter registration to a condo in Grimes so he could run in a new district.

Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald wrote the social media profiles and water bills submitted by Gale were, quote, “insufficient to overcome the presumption that Whitver’s declared residency is valid.”

A spokesperson for the Senate Republicans says Whitver appreciates the decision and that he’s expecting to close on a lot in his new district before the end of the year.

In a statement, Gale says she’s disappointed in the decision, but she didn’t say if she plans to appeal.

A key lawmaker says Republicans in the Iowa Senate intend to reform Iowa’s property tax system in 2023.

Senator Dan Dawson, a Republican from Council Bluffs, is chairman of the Senate committee that drafts tax policy. Dawson says the system has been “on auto-pilot” and it’s time for meaningful reform of property tax levies.

Democrats say change should come slowly because local governments depend on property taxes.

A couple of years ago, state officials agreed to spend about $100 million on Iowa’s mental health system, paying bills that have been covered by county property taxes, but Dawson says that’s barely if at all, reduced Iowans’ property taxes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a grant of more than $266,000 for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska for a community air pollution monitoring project. The project is one of more than 132 air monitoring projects in 37 states that will get more than $53 million from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and American Rescue Plan. A news release issued today says the focus is on communities that are underserved, overburdened by pollution, and historically marginalized. The Winnebago Tribe is expected to use the money for equipment to monitor weather conditions and air pollution at several locations and then used the data collected to make the necessary improvements.

News release from the White House:

Biden-Harris Administration Announces $266K Grant to Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska for Air Monitoring Project

Largest investment for community air monitoring in EPA history funded by President Biden’s Climate and Economic Plans

LENEXA, KAN. (DEC. 5, 2022) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has selected the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska to receive $266,064 for a community air pollution monitoring project.

This grant is among 132 air monitoring projects in 37 states that will receive $53.4 million from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and American Rescue Plan to enhance air quality monitoring in communities across the United States. The projects are focused on communities that are underserved, historically marginalized, and overburdened by pollution, supporting President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska will use the grant money to improve the Tribe’s capacity to fully address air quality by installing equipment to monitor meteorological conditions and air pollution at various locations throughout the Winnebago Tribal Nation. The Tribe will also use the data collected from the air monitoring equipment to update emission inventories to better understand ambient air quality issues within the boundaries of the Tribal Nation.

“Funding for this air monitoring project for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska will give the Winnebago people the data they need to monitor their local air quality and make the improvements needed to reduce air pollution in and around their communities,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Meg McCollister. “Investing in communities such as the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska demonstrates the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to addressing pollution in disproportionately impacted communities across our region.”

The air pollution monitoring projects are made possible by over $30 million in Inflation Reduction Act funds, which supplemented $20 million from the American Rescue Plan and enabled EPA to support 77 additional projects, more than twice the number of projects initially selected for funding.

These grant selections further the goals of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative and Executive Order, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which directed that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to overburdened communities that face disproportionately high and adverse health and environmental impacts.

EPA will start the process of awarding the funding by the end of 2022, once the grant applicants have met all legal and administrative requirements. Grantees will have three years to spend the funds from the time EPA awards the grants.

View the full list of applications selected for the award.

Background

In spring 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, providing EPA with a one-time supplemental appropriation of $100 million to address health outcome disparities from pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of that $100 million was dedicated to air quality monitoring. EPA Regions began awarding nearly $22.5 million from this appropriation in 2022 as direct awards to state, tribal, and local air agencies for continuous monitoring of fine particles and other common pollutants.

In addition, EPA Regions are in the process of procuring monitoring equipment using $5 million in American Rescue Plan funding to advance the EPA Regional Offices’ mobile air monitoring capacity and establish air sensor loan programs. These investments will improve EPA's ability to support communities that need short-term monitoring and air quality information.

In July 2021, EPA announced the $20 million American Rescue Plan Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities grant competition. The goal of this competition was to improve air quality monitoring in and near underserved communities across the United States; support community efforts to monitor their own air quality; and promote air quality monitoring partnerships between communities and tribal, state, and local governments. EPA received over 200 applications in response to the competition.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides funding to EPA to deploy, integrate, support, and maintain fenceline air monitoring, screening air monitoring, national air toxics trend stations, and other air toxics and community monitoring. Specifically, the Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for grants and other activities under sections 103 and 105 of the Clean Air Act. EPA is using approximately $32.3 million of this funding to select 77 high-scoring community monitoring applications.

Arnold’s Park is constructing dorms for the large population of international students that work at the amusement park each year. More than 100 seasonal workers will be housed across the street from the park next summer.

For the last 15 years, the northwest Iowa amusement park has employed students participating in the J-1 summer work exchange program. They come from as far as Bulgaria, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to spend a summer in Iowa.

But, finding housing for them hasn’t always been easy. CEO Jon Pausley says sometimes seasonal employees had to bike to their rentals or hotels located farther away.

“Knowing that they're the backbone of our workforce during the summertime, we'd like to have them close by and in a safe place, and then give them a great experience while they're with us.” 

The three-story dorms will be completed in time for the park’s opening in mid-May. It will be available to all full-time seasonal workers.

University of Northern president Mark Nook says UNI’s plan to start a nursing program is part of a reassessment of university programs.

Radio Iowa reports UNI administrators say the new bachelor of science in nursing should be launched in 2024, to help address the nursing shortage. There’s also a shortage of accountants and CPAs. UNI already offers an accounting degree to students at the Cedar Falls campus, but Nook says that could expand soon.

UNI’s enrollment peaked in 2000, at more than 14,000 students. This fall’s enrollment is just under nine-thousand students. Nook made his comments during a weekend appearance on Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has promoted Nate Scheelhaase (Scheel House) from receivers coach to offensive coordinator. Scheelhaase replaces Tom Manning. Manning was fired last week after the Cyclones finished at the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring and total offense during a 4-8 season. Campbell called Scheelhaase one of the rising stars in college football coaching. Campbell also announced the firing of fifth-year offensive line coach Jeff Meyers.

Four teams are left in the Women’s NAIA National Volleyball Tournament in Sioux City. Eastern Oregon takes on Corbin of Oregon tonight at 5, followed by Jamestown of North Dakota and Midland, located in Fremont, Nebraska, at 8. The winners will compete in the championship game at the Tyson Event Center tomorrow night at 7.

Sheila Brummer returns to her radio roots as a Reporter/Special Projects Producer for Siouxland Public Media KWIT-KOJI.