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Walls go up on Habitat's latest Waterloo home

WATERLOO — After a round of hammering, the collection of bundled-up carpenters lifted one edge of the wooden framework into place, creating a wall on what will be DaNesha Arceneaux’s new home.

One of those hammering and lifting was Arceneaux herself, helping a group of two dozen Wells Fargo Bank employees volunteer their Saturday morning for Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s coming along. It’s so exciting. I am so humbled and thankful and grateful,” Arceneaux said.

The mother of three and Waterloo schools employee is looking forward to getting an attached garage and a basement with more space with the home that will be 1712 W. Sixth St. The family currently rents.

“We pay a lot. We live decent, but it’s not anything we can do anything to or call our own,” Arceneaux said.

Jeff Reinitz / JEFF REINITZ 

DaNesha Arceneaux works on what will be her new home at 1712 W. Sixth St. on Saturday, April 7, 2018. The house is being built as part of a Habitat for Humanity project.

Under the program, she has been providing “sweat equity,” working at Habitat’s ReStore location and swinging a hammer on other Habitat projects.

“I’ve worked on this house,” she said pointing at another house nearby, “four houses in the area and then my own,” Arceneaux said.

Her father came out to watch the construction, and her mother dropped by to serve lunch to the volunteers.

“There’s just a different mindset from renting to owning, and I’m just really excited for my daughter to be in that realm and for my grandchildren to have a space that they can call their own. A lot of people don’t have that,” said her father, Darrell Huggins.

Once completed — likely by the end of the calendar year — the home will be the latest of a series of Habitat homes going up around the former Irving Elementary School site in the 1700 block of West Sixth Street.

Arceneaux’s soon-to-be neighbor will be moving into another Habitat home later this week on one side of her, and orange construction fencing surrounds a recently built foundation that will be another Habitat home on the other side, said Ali Parrish, the organization’s executive director.

The block will host 14 homes built by Habitat volunteers when the sawdust clears in the next year and a half, Parrish said.

Wells Fargo’s Housing Foundation usually gives about $15,000 and provides 300 hours to Iowa Heartland Habitat, but this year the group upped that to $35,000 and 600 hours for home projects on the site, said Heather Labonte, a bank branch manager spearheads the company’s collaboration with Habitat.

“The site supervisors are great because they teach us everything. I’ve been able to learn how to use different saws, climb up on a roof, things I have would have done,” Labonte said.

Other groups helping with the project include Community Foundation, Max & Helen Guernsey Charitable Foundation and the Otto Schoitz Foundation. New Century Communications will do the electrical work at no cost, and Farmers State Bank will service the mortgage when the home is finished.

UPDATE: Chase suspect caught near Janesville was wanted for murder

JANESVILLE – When 21-year-old Devon Christian Cooke was caught in a farm field amid light snow following a 100-mph wrong-way chase down U.S. Highway 218 on Thursday, he refused to tell state troopers who he was.

When he was booked into the Chickasaw County Jail for felony eluding, assault on an officer and marijuana charges, he told authorities his name was Joshua Grant. The fake name earned him an obstruction charge.

It wasn’t until officers ran his fingerprints through an FBI database that they confirmed his true identity, and they learned Cooke was wanted in connection with a homicide 1,500 miles away in warm, sunny Florida.

As of Friday, Cooke, a Miami Gardens resident, was sitting in the Chickasaw County Jail in New Hampton awaiting extradition to Dade County, Florida, where he is wanted for second-degree murder.

Details about the Florida homicide of which he is accused weren’t immediately available.

The pursuit began around 9:30 a.m. Thursday when a trooper with the Iowa State Patrol noticed a black Chevrolet Impala speeding south of Nashua near mile marker 216. The Impala, bearing North Dakota license plates, didn’t pull over, and the chase continued south on Highway 218. The Impala took an exit near Waverly and then darted down an off ramp, heading south in the northbound lane against oncoming traffic.

Officers set up Stop Stick devices at Iowa Highway 3 and at Janesville. Cooke allegedly swerved toward a Bremer County sheriff’s deputy who was deploying sticks near mile marker 202.

The device caught the Impala’s tires, which began to deflate. Cooke stopped in a ditch around mile marker 192 and ran into a field, where officers captured him.

Police found about 80 grams of marijuana packaged for delivery and rolling papers, according to court records.

The Impala was loaded for travel. Troopers found luggage, a pallet of bottled water and packs of sports drinks in the trunk. A winter coat and a laundry basket with clothing were in the back seat. There were also tools — a hammer and a pry bar. Another set of North Dakota license plates was also located.

Assisting in the pursuit was Iowa DOT Enforcement, Bremer County Sheriff’s Office, Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office, Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office and Janesville Police Department.

Sweeney, Freese running Tuesday in Iowa Senate District 25 election to replace Dix

WATERLOO — Republican Annette Sweeney and Democrat Tracy Freese will compete Tuesday for the Iowa Senate District 25 seat just before the expected end of the legislative session.

Whoever wins the special election to replace Bill Dix will be the incumbent in the June 5 primary when the position will be on ballots again ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

Iowa Senate District 25 includes all of Grundy and Hardin counties as well as portions of Butler and Story counties — the same area that makes up House Districts 49 and 50. In Butler County, it includes Aplington, Parkersburg, New Hartford, and Shell Rock plus Ripley, Jefferson, Shell Rock, Beaver, Albion, and Monroe townships. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Dix, a Republican from Shell Rock, resigned his seat and majority leader position March 12 following release of a video posted by the online political blog Iowa Starting Line in which he appears to be kissing a lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.

Both candidates, in response to a Courier candidate’s questionnaire, said they are looking beyond the waning days of this session in their bid to join the Legislature.

“Granted, I would hit the ground running,” said Sweeney, if elected. But legislative leaders are already hoping to wrap up the session by next week.

“April 17 is the target date and wouldn’t give me much time to be in the Legislature,” she said. However, “being elected and sworn in gives me time to have conversations as a seated senator. It gives me time to ask questions and really get up to speed.”

Freese will be focused on the agenda she plans to pursue if elected to the Senate.

“Regardless of when I join the Legislature, I will be an advocate for Iowa families,” she said. “I plan to push hard for my ethics and accountability plans, to ensure all of our children have access to a quality education and to end the tax breaks for special interests that cost hard-working families hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”

The small business owner lives at 405 Fifth St. in Dike with her husband, Ben, and their three children, ages 7, 6 and 3. She also works as a adjunct instructor at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo. Freese, who didn’t provide her age, is chairwoman of the Grundy County Democratic Central Committee, treasurer of the Black Hawk County 4-H and FFA Foundation, a member of the League of Women Voters and a member of Citizens for Community Improvement.

Sweeney, 60, farms with her husband, Dave. The couple lives at 21547 Highway S27 near Alden and has two adult children. She served as Iowa’s U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development director for less than a year until announcing her candidacy.

She previously served in the Legislature representing what was then Iowa House District 44 from 2009 to 2012. Prior to that, Sweeney was executive director of the nonprofit Iowa Angus Association and then owner of Practical Promotions Publishing, which produced livestock sale catalogs and online content. She also spent three years as a Lutheran school teacher in Peoria, Ill., at the beginning of her career before moving back to the family farm.

“I don’t just bring one attribute to the table, I bring many,” said Sweeney, citing her work experience and agricultural advocacy. As far as her time in elective office, “I’m known for my constituent work,” she said, citing a focus on relationships, communication, and conversations. “That’s how you get things done.”

Freese suggested there needs to be a change at the Legislature, and she can be part of the solution.

“It’s time to clean up the corruption in Des Moines and get the Legislature back to putting Iowa families ahead of special interests,” she said. “My opponent has demonstrated through her claim that it is time to ‘move on’ after Senator Dix’s resignation that she will be a vote to maintain the status quo in Des Moines. I am the candidate in the race who is best positioned to restore the focus in Des Moines to creating jobs, funding education and getting our state back on the right track.”

Freese was referencing a speech Sweeney made to supporters March 15 announcing her candidacy that was broadcast on Facebook Live. In that speech, Sweeney called the incidents surrounding Dix’s resignation “unfortunate,” but said the issues important to District 25 are “our concern now.”

Sweeney told The Courier her emphasis will remain outside of Des Moines.

“The reason why I’m running is I believe in rural development,” she said, noting her time with the USDA gave her “good insight” into the issues. She will be “representing rural Iowa, making sure rural Iowa has a voice. We’ve got the infrastructure concerns and we need to address the infrastructure in all these small towns.”

Freese said a renewed emphasis on education is needed in the state.

“I was extremely honored (last) week when the Iowa State Education Association recommended its support of my candidacy to its members,” she said. “Restoring public education funding back to competitive levels and championing public educators is a primary focus for me. We must do whatever is necessary to ensure that we fully fund our public schools and restore Iowa’s place as the best state for education.”

Voting locations and other election information can be found online at the Grundy, Hardin, Butler and Story county websites or by contacting the appropriate county auditor’s office.

Iowa producers say ethanol limits would be 'war' on rural US

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa ethanol and biodiesel producers warned President Donald Trump on Friday imposing restrictions on biofuels production “would be viewed as a declaration of war on rural America.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, a group representing the state’s 43 ethanol and 12 biodiesel refineries, wrote a letter to Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst on Friday. It called on them to tell Trump limiting biofuel production would be a “complete abdication of his repeated promises” to protect the renewable fuel standard, a federal law that mandates a minimum volume of biofuels to be mixed in the nation’s gasoline and diesel fuel supply.

The group said it has heard EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will push Trump on Monday for a proposal advocated by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that would significantly reduce demand for biofuels.

The EPA and the White House did not immediately respond to messages seeking confirmation of a meeting.

Cruz has tried to get Trump to waive some of the requirements in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard law that would ease gasoline and diesel refiners’ volume mandates. That would reduce demand for the biofuels and violate the RFS, the biofuels producers said.

The biofuels producers allege Pruitt already has taken action to lift some of the mandated blending requirements through secretive waivers to some petroleum refiners exempting them from compliance and destroying more than a billion gallons of biofuels demand.

“Since taking the helm at the EPA, Pruitt has repeatedly and relentlessly sought ways to subvert the President’s RFS promises and to undermine, if not destroy, the effectiveness of the program. His anti-RFS actions must be put to an end because today Scott Pruitt is essentially making a liar out of President Trump,” the group said.

Trump gained early support in Iowa during his presidential campaign in part of emphasizing his support for the decades-old RFS program, which is managed by the EPA.

Corn, soybeans and animal fat are used in the production of biofuels and farmers rely heavily on markets for their products created by the fuel additives.

Farmers already are stinging from Trump’s tariff fight with China which has affected pork exports and prices and the export of ethanol to China. The next round of tariffs could impact exports of soybeans for which prices already have fallen in anticipation of Chinese tariffs.

Pruitt was closely aligned with the oil and gas industry as an elected Republican official in his home state of Oklahoma. He proposed modest cuts last summer to production quotas for ethanol and other biofuels, despite promises from Trump to leave the RFS alone.

“EPA is chipping away at the Renewable Fuel Standard by issuing secret ‘hardship’ waivers to oil refining corporations making billions of dollars in profits,” Grassley said in a statement, adding further erosion of the RFS would “deal a massive blow to rural America.”

Ernst said in a statement she and Grassley have had countless meetings with Trump and the administration on ethanol and she is “fully committed to protecting the RFS and will not support anything that will harm the 88,000 farms in Iowa or the 50,000 jobs tied to the renewable fuels industry.”

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for the oil and natural gas industry, said it continues to work with leaders in Congress to come up with a comprehensive approach “to fixing the outdated and broken ethanol mandate.”

“We appreciate the president elevating this important consumer issue and support efforts to seek a legislative overhaul of the RFS,” the group said in a statement.

“EPA follows a long-standing, established process where the agency uses a (Department of Energy) analysis to inform decisions about refiner exemptions/waivers. These waivers are only considered for refineries that submit applications and that are below the blending threshold,” Bowman said.

Earlier last week, Grassley said the Andeavor waiver could be a violation of the RFS. On Friday, he issued a statement laying out some of the difficulties facing rural areas, including low commodity prices, the threat of Chinese tariffs and the NAFTA renegotiation that some are worried might surrender some of the gains agriculture made from the deal.

Undermining the RFS, Grassley said Friday, would deal a “massive blow to rural America.” Instead, he urged Trump to authorized expanded sale of E15 ethanol, a longtime goal of biofuel groups. That, Grassley said, would help farmers and refineries by lowering RFS compliance costs.

Ernst also said Friday she is “fully committed to protecting the RFS and will not support anything that will harm” farmers or the jobs tied to the renewable fuels industry.