Year in Review - Part II: Top local news stories from July-December 2022

RAGBRAI® completes successful final day through Allamakee County ... Allamakee County greeted 18,000 bicyclists and also welcomed support crews and other visitors that pushed population estimates to nearly 25,000 people for the final day of RAGBRAI® XLIX Saturday, July 30, as the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) came to a close for its 49th year. As depicted in the surrounding photos, bicyclists celebrated completion of this year’s RAGBRAI journey with the traditional dipping of their front tire in the Mississippi River in Lansing and some also raised their bicycles over their heads in triumphant celebration of their accomplishment (evident in the photos taken by Julie Berg-Raymond). “From all accounts, the day was a momentous and jubilant success,” shared Lansing RAGBRAI Chair Ian Zahren. “Riders from all across the world, and many veteran cyclists to RAGBRAI, lauded Lansing for their thoughtful organization and kindness, stating that this was the best RAGBRAI they had ridden and Lansing in particular the most accommodating and organized of any of the towns. Many people gave hundreds of hours to assist and aid our organization on the day and for the months leading up to it. It takes a village. Thank you, Lansing for making this event possible and for opening up your community, homes and hearts to the tens of thousands of people from all over the world who arrived in our little town.” In order to make it to that final tire-dip destination, riders first ventured from West Union to the meet-up town of Postville and then the pass-through town of Waukon (as depicted in the photo at right below by Standard Assistant Editor Joe Moses). Waukon City Clerk Sarah Snitker said that “it all seemed to go well,” in regard to Waukon’s involvement as a pass-through community Saturday. “We got some great feedback from the riders, and it seemed like they spread themselves out really well among the vendors, businesses and other organizations along the route through Waukon.” Additional photos from Saturday’s RAGBRAI venture through Allamakee County can be found in the Photo Galleries link on this webpage.

The items below summarize the top news stories that appeared in The Standard newspaper during the last six months of 2022, July-December.

The Allamakee County Community Foundation (ACCF) awarded a grant in the amount of $20,000 to the Building New Traditions Campaign at the Allamakee County Fairgrounds in Waukon. The Building New Traditions Campaign has been dedicated toward constructing a new, larger all-species youth livestock show barn centrally located at the Allamakee County Fairgrounds, a project that also involved relocation, elimination and transformation of some of the other livestock buildings at the Fairgrounds, with those improvements having been made and those facilities now being ready for use at this year’s Allamakee County Fair taking place this week. “Our board is so pleased with the new building and happy we could help bring it to reality,” ACCF Coordinator Betty Steege shared. “This is a great addition for the fairgrounds.”

New Albin Improvement League (NAIL), a volunteer group dedicated to making the community of New Albin the best that it can be, was honored earlier this summer with a Governor’s Volunteer Service Group Award for outstanding commitment and service. An Iowa Governor’s Award Ceremony was held at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls May 31. However, no members of NAIL were able to attend that Tuesday afternoon ceremony to receive the group’s award in person. New Albin Improvement League was nominated for the award by New Albin City Clerk Deb Stantic. In her nomination application, Stantic wrote: “The group has hosted fundraisers which improved the Army Road Park, they fundraise for the schools and the food bank, and last year they fundraised money and built a new splash pad, basketball court and ADA playground for the community and surrounding communities. The ‘hearts of gold’ of the members have improved our charming community vastly.”

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday, July 25 to address a full agenda of items. During Public Comment, Board of Supervisors Chairperson Larry Schellhammer thanked the Allamakee County Fair Board and volunteers for their efforts in making the 2022 Allamakee County Fair a success. The meeting moved into the acknowledgment of a receipt of petition for a special election. Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer advised that a petition exceeding the required number of nearly 400 signatures was received from CEO Michael Coyle of Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) relating to the proposed move from a City to County hospital. The Supervisors approved to acknowledge the receipt of a petition with the Special Election to be held with the November 8 General Election also being approved.

Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) are offering a solution for Lansing residents and businesses who are unsatisfied with their Internet service - a fiber-optic build-out in the city.

The build-out would be funded by a grant from the State of Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO); but first an appeal must be made challenging Lansing’s eligibility status, followed by the writing of an Invitation to Qualify (ITQ) plan. At its meeting Monday, August 1, the Lansing City Council voted to approve ACEC’s and UERPC’s request to support the appeal and ITQ work.

UERPC Executive Director Rachelle Howe estimated the cost to the City of the appeal and ITQ plan to be no more than $5,000 and added that UERPC would contribute $1,000 toward the effort. In attendance at the meeting, as well, was ACEC General Manager Hollee McCormick.

Howe told the council that an appeal to OCIO would seek to overturn Lansing’s status on a map constructed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determining areas of eligibility and non-eligibility. According to that map, Lansing and Waukon - which is appealing, as well - are considered non-eligible for increased access to high-speed Internet services.

August 2, the Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer published a new version of the Statewide Broadband Availability Map, which is designed to facilitate decisions concerning future spending under federally-funded broadband programs. The Office utilizes maps and data sources made available by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), contractors and other third-party sources in compiling its own broadband availability map.

The most recent of those maps and the corresponding data sources represent the status of broadband availability in Iowa as of August 2 of this year. However, the Office of the Chief Information Officer is also seeking feedback from the very individuals who utilize the broadband services being reported, and local broadband Internet provider Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative is helping to facilitate that public response in order to give the most accurate picture of broadband availability within Allamakee County.

The public is encouraged to provide input by completing a short online survey into whether the map accurately reflects broadband Internet coverage and speed throughout the state of Iowa. The information collected through the survey will help communities secure grants for the future development of Internet resources - such as through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Program, impacting economic development, entrepreneurship and educational opportunities. Residents and business owners are encouraged to complete this survey within the next couple weeks, no later than Wednesday, August 31.

Lansing Office Works was stop No. 77 on Senator Joni Ernst’s annual 99-county tour Thursday, August 11, as the senator met and spoke with about a dozen local citizens on the issues they see as being most important in their community.

“So great to be with folks in Lansing today,” Ernst tweeted on her social media account later that day. “Through the opening of the Lansing Office Works co-working space and Main Street Lansing business development programs, they’re making major steps in fostering entrepreneurship within the city.”

Among the attendees Thursday was Kee High School and Middle School Principal Sarah Updegraff, whose appraisal of the situation in Lansing was met with nods of agreement by everyone in the room. “If we don’t start serving our families with housing, with daycare and with amenities, we’re going to have a dying community,” she said.

Updegraff told Ernst that one of Lansing’s biggest issues is affordable housing. “We have to balance the needs of the hotel/motel industry with the needs of our families,” she said. “We have an abundance of Airbnbs; but families are looking for middle-income housing.”

May 9 of this year, the Lansing/New Albin Police Department responded to a medical call of an elderly man unconscious and not breathing. When officers arrived on scene, it was determined that 83-year-old Daniel William Lundy was deceased, and a death investigation was initiated.

Wednesday, August 17, the Lansing/New Albin Police Department arrested 67-year-old Andrew Raymond Karvel of Lansing, who was then charged with Murder in the First Degree in connection to the May 9 incident. Karvel remains in the Allamakee County Jail where he is being held without bond.

The investigation remains active and no further information will be released by authorities at this time. The Lansing/New Albin Police Department is being assisted by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Major Crimes Unit, Allamakee County Sheriff’s Office and Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office.

A long-vacant property on Main Street in downtown Waukon is getting a fresh start thanks to a collaboration between the City of Waukon, State of Iowa and local business owners.

AJ Steakhouse, located in the building known previously as JCPenney or Tierney’s on the southwest corner of the stoplight intersection on Waukon’s Main Street, is set to open early in the month of September.

New building and business owners Arturo Barreda and Jose Velarde first opened Fiesta Vallarta in 2014 just a couple blocks east of their newest venture, and their busy Mexican restaurant has been a draw to downtown Waukon ever since.

A few years back, after the Waukon community lost both Mulligan’s and Gus and Tony’s to fires, the two restaurateurs started thinking about what they could do to fill that void. “We needed more restaurants and we thought the steakhouse would be a good idea,” said Arturo.

Two years ago, the business partners started looking for a possible location that would fit their needs. They had conversations with Waukon Mayor Pat Stone, who suggested they look at the idle building on the corner of Main Street and Spring Avenue. “We came and looked at the building, which was then owned by the City, and we bought it from them,” he added.

RAGBRAI 2022 is in the books - and Lansing, hosting the end-of-the-line “dip-site” for the third time (1977, 2017 and 2022), made the biggest profit from the event of any participating city this year.

Ian Zahren, Lansing RAGBRAI executive chair, recently announced that the organization generated $208,000 in total revenue (Main Street restaurants and bars made an additional $50,000) and recorded an after-expenses profit of $115,400, the largest profit realized by any community participating in RAGBRAI 2022. By way of context, the 2017 event in Lansing generated $102,855 in total revenue, and recorded a profit of $33,017, after expenses. These numbers, Zahren noted, reflect a doubled revenue, and a quadrupled profit from that 2017 venture.

Residents of the community of Harpers Ferry overwhelmingly passed a Public Measure imposing a 7% Hotel/Motel Tax in the community, effective January 1, 2023. Nearly 88% of the 66 voters who cast a ballot in the Tuesday, September 13 special election voted “Yes” - compiling a 58-8 margin in favor of the measure. Just under 27% of the 247 registered voters in the community cast a ballot in the special election.

Labeled Public Measure AM on the September 13 ballot, the approved measure will now impose a 7% tax on all rented sleeping rooms or sleeping quarters within the Harpers Ferry city limits, beginning with the start of the new year, with City of Harpers Ferry officials noting that will include 15 facilities within the community at the present time. The measure states that at least half of that tax revenue will be used for park and recreation programs and facilities for the City of Harpers Ferry, with application of the remaining revenue yet to be determined by the Harpers Ferry City Council.

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday, September 19 at the Meehan Memorial Public Library in Lansing as part of the Supervisors’ annual schedule of library visits within the county. Board Chairperson Larry Schellhammer called the meeting to order with Supervisors Mark Reiser and Dan Byrnes present.

Schellhammer addressed the next matter relating to the discussion and consideration of the County’s portion of the Hotel/Motel Tax. Schellhammer recommended using the County’s portion of this revenue, $50,000 of the approximate $100,000 generated, to establish a countywide facade grant program with the ACED Board having oversight and the Supervisors approving applications.

Byrnes added that he did not support the use of ARPA funding when this matter was discussed last spring with this not matching the goals set for that funding. Byrnes noted that as a countywide program, the Hotel/Motel Tax revenue would be appropriate with a dollar-for-dollar match required of business owners. Byrnes indicated that he is supportive of the program and seconded the motion.

Reiser noted that he would prefer to see the $50,000 portion of the Hotel/Motel Tax returned to the County to help cover tourism-related expenses rather than taxpayers being responsible for the considerable expenses associated with tourism. The matter was approved by a split vote with Schellhammer and Byrnes voting for the measure and Reiser voting against.

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