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Brutal winter leaves Cedar Valley streets pocked with potholes

WATERLOO — Packed ice melting off the streets is exposing a new menace for motorists.

Pothole season arrived with a vengeance this month as heavy snow cover coupled with temperatures bouncing above and below the freezing point have turned many roadways into minefields.

City street crews, which have had to split time between patching the holes and plowing snow, are putting more emphasis on the potholes this week.

“A lot of it has to do with the freeze-thaw cycle,” said Waterloo Public Works Director Randy Bennett.

“If we don’t get all of the moisture out when we patch them, it freezes and expands and we have to go back again,” he added. “We’ve patched a lot of the holes multiple times.”

Tony Pauley, Street Department operations supervisor, said Waterloo had nine crews out patching potholes Tuesday while four trucks continued to make the rounds plowing snow.

Mayor Quentin Hart said there has been no shortage of concerned calls to his office about the condition of the streets. Both he and Pauley encouraged residents to report potholes through the city’s website or by calling public works at 291-4445.

“We have 924 lane miles, so it’s hard for us to know where all of them are,” Pauley said. “It helps when people call them in.”

Crews from the city’s Waste Management Services Department also were out clearing storm sewer catch basins that have been covered by snow. Catch basin issues can be reported by calling 291-4553.

“Crews were out last week and this week trying to open up a lot of the catch basins that are covered with snow in anticipation of this melting to try to eliminate flooding at intersections,” Bennett said.

Cedar Falls has had pothole patching crews out for the past week and a half.

“This winter was particularly harsh on our streets,” said Brian Heath, public works and parks division manager. “We had a lot of freeze-thaw and a lot of plowing activity. Those plows aren’t easy on the streets.”

While the pothole crews have been using temporary mix so far, Heath is hopeful temperatures will warm up enough by next week to begin using more permanent patching equipment and material.

Unpaved roads in rural Black Hawk County also are suffering from the extreme moisture and freeze-thaw cycle.

“The paved roads are in pretty good condition,” said County Engineer Cathy Nicholas. “The gravel road system is poor in many locations. The roads are very soft.”

Frost boils are showing up on the gravel roads.

“The frost is starting to come out of the ground so the top 4 to 5 inches is very soft,” said Nicholas, noting the county can’t repair the frost boils properly until the roads firm up.

“It does us no good to drive a truck with 15 tons of rock on it and then try to spread that out,” she said. “There’s really not much we can do it about it right now, probably for the next few weeks.”

Arrest made in 2015 George Wyth trail attack

WATERLOO — A former Cedar Valley man has been arrested in connection with a 2015 attack on the trails at George Wyth State Park in Waterloo.

A woman was attacked July 28, 2015, while she was jogging.

On Monday, Patrick Richard Burt, 24, was arrested for willful injury. Burt had been living in Aurora, Colo., according to police.

Authorities said DNA collected from the crime scene matched Burt’s profile.

Police said the victim, who was 27 at the time, had parked near the Canfield Shelter. She told investigators she was jogging on the trail when a man came up from behind her and hit her on the head.

The attacker continued to punch her in the head and face until she lost consciousness. Passing bicyclists found her unconscious near the entrance to the park’s campground shortly before 3 p.m., and she was taken to UnityPoint-Allen Hospital where she was treated for a broken nose, broken and chipped teeth and other injuries.

Officers collected evidence of the abduction between the shelter and the campground. Authorities closed off the park to investigate the attack, and when it reopened police stepped up patrols in the area. Local runners and cyclists responded with a Take Back the Trails rally.

On March 5, Waterloo Police were notified by the Iowa State Crime Lab that a sample recently entered into the Combined DNA Index System database matched DNA recovered from the attack.

On Monday, an arrest warrant was obtained for Burt, and Waterloo investigators with the help of the Aurora Police Department located and arrested Burt in Aurora without incident.

Patrick Burt lived in the Waterloo area at the time of the assault and had also lived in Cedar Falls in the past. Burt will be held in Colorado on $500,000 bond, pending extradition to Black Hawk County.

UPDATE: Senate 30 race draws Dem stars

CEDAR FALLS — A month ago, Eric Giddens was just a member of the Cedar Falls School Board thinking about maybe, someday, running for higher office.

Today, he feels like the most popular Democrat in Iowa.

California Rep. Eric Swalwell called to congratulate him the day he won the nomination for a surprise special election for Iowa Senate. California Sen. Kamala Harris did the same the next day. And this month, Democratic White House hopefuls have descended on his district to support his bid. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren helped him launch his campaign earlier this month. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, another possible presidential contender, had a beer with him at a bar on the University of Northern Iowa’s campus. Swalwell worked the phones with him.

Giddens has a jam-packed Saturday coming up, with former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas expected to campaign for Giddens in his first trip to Iowa. In a Twitter announcement, O’Rourke said he will be at Black Hawk County Democratic headquarters in Waterloo at 1 p.m. Saturday. In a tweet from Giddens, O’Rourke urged UNI students to vote early at satellite locations and implied he would visit the UNI campus.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar will be at the Black Hawk County Headquarters in Waterloo at 10 a.m. Saturday, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker plans to stop by at 4 p.m. Sunday. Those presidential hopefuls who can’t make it to the district, like Harris and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, are sending campaign staff to help.

This is what it looks like when your campaign is the only game in town less than a year before the Iowa caucuses. For the Democratic field, campaigning alongside Giddens is an opportunity to prove their commitment to building the state party, something local elected officials and party operatives are looking for as they evaluate whom to support for the White House. And it’s a chance for candidates to promote themselves in traditionally blue Black Hawk County.

For Giddens, whose full-time job is to head up the University of Northern Iowa’s energy programs, it’s all a little “bizarre” — but he isn’t fazed by all the attention. Asked how it feels to hang out with a handful of people who may someday be president, Giddens shrugs, smiles and deems it “cool.”

“It feels kind of normal, in a weird way,” he says. “They’re just ... they’re just people.”

Kevin Geiken, executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party, said the candidate involvement “shows that they’re committed to actually seeing Iowa Democrats succeed, and giving back resources rather than taking resources.”

The state Senate seat opened in February after the incumbent Democrat resigned. The special election will be held March 19.

For Giddens, the high-profile visits offer a visibility boost for a race that Democrats aren’t taking for granted. Senate District 30 is about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans in party registration, and Iowa’s Republican governor scheduled the election during spring break — a major concern for Democrats, as the district encompasses Cedar Falls, home to the University of Northern Iowa.

Jacob Becklund, director of the Iowa Senate Majority Fund, said Democrats are concerned about low turnout.

“Anything that makes it harder for both students and university personnel to vote is both wrong and more likely to cause the Republicans to win,” he said.

So the presidential candidates are a welcome addition to Giddens’ campaign.

“It helps build enthusiasm around a race and helps get people to turn out and vote. Our view is that it’s nothing but a good thing to get people more aware and engaged in a special election,” Becklund said.

While local Democrats are excited about the national attention the race is getting, Republicans see the visits as an opportunity to nationalize the race. Giddens’ GOP opponent, former state Rep. Walt Rogers, called Giddens an “avowed socialist” because of his campaign contributions to Sen. Bernie Sanders, another presidential candidate, and noted Giddens’ support from Warren, who “may not be a socialist, but she’s pretty far left.”

“Do you really want a socialist representing a moderate district?” Rogers said of Giddens. “This is a pretty important race for Iowa, and really for the country. It’s sort of a microcosm of what’s happening in the country, because I think socialism is going to be an issue in the coming election as well.”

He said the candidate visits have sparked interest and enthusiasm for the race among Republican voters as well.

Giddens dismisses the attacks as a “desperate tactic” and insists he’s focused on local issues like education and his experience on the school board. He and other Democrats say the enthusiasm boost the candidates may add to the race outweighs the potential complications brought on by having national figures come through.

But canvassing on an icy Wednesday in Cedar Falls, where Giddens has lived and worked for over a decade, it’s not clear he needs all the national attention. Neighbors and friends say hi to him on the street. He skips a number of homes included on a party list of likely Democrats, telling his campaign manager “don’t bother” — they’re definitely going to vote for him. Most of the voters he does encounter are aware of the special Senate race even if they didn’t know the Democratic caucus campaign is already taking place in their backyards.

Linda Taylor, a retired lab scientist and educator, said she wasn’t aware Warren and others had been to the county recently, but she was enthusiastically supporting Giddens and had already requested her absentee ballot.

“I’m not a person that loves politics, but I feel like it is so important, now more than it ever has been, for us to make our voices known,” she said.

UNI students urged to vote early in Senate 30 election (PHOTOS)

CEDAR FALLS — The March 19 special election to fill the open seat in state Senate District 30 falls during the University of Northern Iowa’s spring break, so students are pushing to have their voices heard with early voting.

Two satellite voting sites were open Tuesday and Wednesday, one in UNI’s Maucker Union.

By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 425 ballots had been cast at Maucker Union. The other location is at the Diamond Event Center at Western Home Communities.

“More students are aware of this election than they normally would be,” said Sam Blatt, a UNI student organizer for Eric Giddens. “It has such urgency.”

Voters will choose between Republican Walt Rogers, Democrat Giddens and Libertarian Fred Perryman, all of Cedar Falls. District 30 covers Cedar Falls, Hudson and portions of Waterloo.

Republicans and Democrats set up tables around campus to drive students to the polls before spring break. The progressive-leaning NextGen America hopes to replicate what it describes as record student turnout in the November midterm election.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to accomplish is to get as many young people to vote since (Gov.) Kim Reynolds scheduled the election during spring break,” said Trenton Seubert, NextGen America Cedar Falls organizer. ‘We have students all around campus that we’re working with.”

Nearly 60 percent of Black Hawk County’s registered voters cast ballots in November, breaking 2014’s previous record.

Students and faculty have been communicating on social media about where to vote, Blatt said. “We have a lot of people on campus sharing information about voting.”

There also are programs at the dorms for students to walk to the polls together.

During the satellite voting, both parties reached out to fellow students outside of Maucker Union.

Nicholas Schindler, UNI College Republicans president, said they worked last week to get people to join their club and had their first meeting last wee. “We had Walt Rogers at our meeting to talk about his campaign and to get people to vote at Maucker.”

Schindler said Rogers was a strong advocate for UNI in the Legislature.

“When he was there, he increased funding for UNI by 28 percent during his time in the Iowa House,” Schindler said. “He just loves the school.”

Rogers campaigned with the students Monday.

The UNI College Republicans recently reorganized. Several club leaders graduated after the 2018 midterms.

Schindler restarted the club in time for the special election campaign.

“We need a spark at this campus to get a conservative and Republican presence here so some of these kids can join a club that isn’t left of center,” Schindler said. “We’re outnumbered substantially.”

Brenna Wolfe, UNI College Democrats' social media director, also has worked to get the word out about early voting.

“This past Saturday we had a day of action on the Hill,” Wolfe said. “We had people going out and knocking doors all day. We had a rally event at the Octopus where we had Deidre Dejear there and (presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper).”

The student Democrats also have tables around campus.

At least nine potential Democratic presidential candidates have or will have come to the Cedar Valley, something Wolfe appreciates.

Most students won’t be on campus March 19, when the special election is scheduled.

“I would say 60 percent of them will gone, probably,” Schindler said. “We want students to vote Tuesday or (today) because if not they have to fill out an absentee ballot by Friday.”

Any voter in Iowa Senate District 30 can vote at the satellite locations, and same-day voter registration is offered.

After today, early ballots can still be cast at the Black Hawk County Courthouse.

Thomas Nelson / THOMAS NELSON 

Eric Giddens, the Democratic candidate for Iowa Senate District 30.