Latest News from Gazette Online

Robots changing surgery in Eastern Iowa

As technology continues to evolve, money transactions can be done on mobile phones, smart speakers can help with household chores and people may not have to drive their own cars.

But what if a robot is the one who does your surgery?

We’re not there yet and surgeons may never entirely be eliminated from the equation, health care experts say, but it’s becoming more likely nowadays a patient’s operation would be done with the help, at least, of robot.

“The reality of training and the reality of robotics now is that it is mainstream. There are lots of programs in lots of different hospitals now,” Dr. Jonathan Rippentrop, an urologist at Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa and director of minimally invasive surgery at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital.

Both Cedar Rapids hospitals and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City deploy machines for certain procedures. That opens the door to another form of minimally invasive surgeries that are faster and are much easier for patients to recover from.

“It’s just a better tool than what we had before,” said Dr. Jason Rexroth, a obstetrician/gynecologist and the medical director of robotics surgery at Mercy Medical Center.

However, other surgeons caution that while the technology has clear benefits, it is not ideal for every patient or every procedure.

“I think with time and clinical experience we will know with certainty where we get the most benefits with this technology,” said Dr. Evgeny Arshava, cardiothoracic surgeon at the UIHC.

The Future of the Operating Room

Surgical tools are connected to a robotic device controlled by a surgeon seated at a remote console, who operates the instruments through small incisions in the patient. These surgeries typically are done in place of a procedure that traditionally would require a large incision, which are more painful and require a longer recovery time.

Da Vinci surgical systems, created in 2000 and produced by Silicon Valley-based Intuitive Surgical, currently is the most commonly used machine in the Corridor, area surgeons say.

The system was first approved for urology surgeons, who used the device for prostatectomies — removal of part or all the prostate. Rippentrop estimated 90 percent of these procedures are done with the help of a robotic system.

Then, FDA approval came for gynecology and general surgery, Rexroth said.

“In the past three years, 100 percent of my robotic hysterectomies have gone home the same day,” Rexroth said. “For a surgery that used to stay in the hospital a week. Now it’s an outpatient surgery because of the robot.”

Since 2002, there have been more than 40,000 surgical cases performed in Iowa by a da Vinci system, said John Greenwood, senior clinical sales representative for Intuitive Surgical. In 2017 alone, more than 6,500 surgical cases were done by 36 da Vinci systems in 24 different hospitals across the state, he added.

The company expects that caseload to reach about 7,300 for 2018.

Both St. Luke’s and Mercy Medical in Cedar Rapids each have had a robotic program for more than a decade and each have three da Vinci systems in their hospitals.

Mercy Medical recently acquired three of the systems’ newest models for its operating rooms, a move that indicates more surgeons are using the tool as the technology becomes conductive to other types of procedures.

“If you think about it, we barely knew about the blood types 100 years ago, so organ transplants did not happen half a century ago. Cellphones were only widely used the last decade or so,” UIHC’s Arshava noted.

“So the same with medical technology, obviously in the future we will get better. We’ll probably be able to do more, it’ll be easier to use.”

However, even with advancements in recent years, Arshava said the technology does not benefit every patient. Depending on certain circumstances — such as the patient’s anatomy or the severity of the condition — an open surgery could be better for some individuals over a minimally invasive approach.

“Right now, I believe that certain patients do not benefit from this technology,” Arshava said.

“Other patients may have questionable benefits. Some patients get clear benefits. That’s why (surgeons) have got to be selective.”

Because of this, Mercy Medical’s Rexroth said he believes that human element won’t go away.

“If you look at a car, maybe a robot mechanic can fix something on the car because cars are all the same, but people are never all the same. There’s differences,” Rexroth said.

“Typically when we’re doing surgery, we’re doing it for an anatomical problem, so you have to be able to react to whatever anatomy you see, and I think that’s a little bit difficult.

“There are so many variables, I don’t see doctors going away.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

RAGBRAI Day 2: The journey continues to Jefferson

DENISON — RAGBRAI and its hordes of cyclists will travel across western Iowa today, the second day of the annual ride across Iowa.

Today includes stops in Aspinwall, Manning, Templeton, Dedham, Coon Rapids, and Scranton, before ending in Jefferson. The total mileage is 71.7 miles with 2,537 feet of climb, making it more challenging on paper then Sunday’s ride.

The route dips south but continues its eastern march across the state on what is predicted to be a mostly cloudy day with temperature peaking at 83 degrees and a possible evening shower or thunderstorm.

The ride began on Sunday in Onawa and ends on Saturday in Davenport.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Day 1: RAGBRAI pumps energy into tiny Turin

By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

TURIN — Turin once was a bustling little town.

Multiple grocery stores, a couple of shops and a creamery operated. The creamery is where locals came to sell eggs and milk. That’s how Ralph Wickersham, 88, remembers it in his early years in the 1930s after moving from Omaha.

“It used to be a quite little burg,” Wickersham said.

Present day, Turin is a shell of its former self, but still holding strong as the population has dipped from more than 100 to about 65. They still have a mayor and a town hall.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of bicyclists participating in RAGBRAI, or the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, pedaled through breathing a sense of vibrancy Turin hasn’t seen in years.

Turin was the first stop of RAGBRAI 46. Cyclists pedaled 43.5 miles and 1,558 feet of climb Sunday, or 62.3 miles and 2,627 feet of climb with the optional gravel loop.

Departing from Onawa, stops included Turin, Soldier, Moorhead on the optional gravel loop, Ute, Charter Oak and ended in Denison.

The route continues for 428 miles over seven days, ending in Davenport on Saturday, but not before stopping in Iowa City on Friday.

RAGBRAI is one of the state’s major tourism draws and shines a spotlight on many of the small communities that make up the state.

For Turin, which lost its grocery stores and post office, Sunday was the most people who’ve visited since RAGBRAI pedaled through 14 years ago, Wickersham said.

While riders saw a small town, which may blend in with the many other small towns they will see this week, locally RAGBRAI was an important event.

Wickersham was one the volunteers for the Turin United Methodist Church. It hosted a pancake breakfast, which competed with a stand offering breakfast burritos and another offering coffee and pastries.

Churches and other organizations capitalize on RAGBRAI’s market. Wickersham and United Methodist were raising money to redo the roof and basement of their 125-year-old church. If the building fails, it probably will not be saved, he said.

“We had a good turnout 14 years ago, and we doubled it this year,” Wickersham said. “I won’t be around if they come back in another 14 years.”

Later in the day, Danielle and Jeremy Creese were running a stand selling chicken sandwiches and drinks to benefit autism research. Their 8-year-old daughter Kenley has autism, and they hoped to raise money for day camps and speech therapy.

“This is more people than we will see all year,” Danielle Creese said.

More than just money, it was a networking opportunity. She said a number of health care professionals left emails and phone number and asked questions about whether they had tried different methods.

Monday’s route travels 72 miles east to Jefferson.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

RAGBRAI Day 1: The journey begins

ONAWA — RAGBRAI 2018 kicked off Sunday morning in the shadow of the Loess Hills in Onawa, a town of 2,868, in west-central Iowa near the Nebraska border.

The route travels generally due east, clocking in at 43.5 miles and 1,558 feet of climb, or 62.3 miles and 2,627 feet of climb with the optional gravel loop.

Riders can expect a partly cloudy day with a high of 84.

Turin, population 65, is the first town on the route and a place many riders stopped for pancakes, breakfast sandwiches and other fuel to power them through the morning.

A “mile of silence” honoring cyclists who have died was observed on Highway 37 after leaving Turin and before reaching the next town, Soldier. Soldier, population 167, was named for a Civil War soldier who died on the banks of the Soldier River on his way home from war, according to a RAGBRAI staff report. The main route proceeds to Ute or an optional 19-mile gravel road loop travels to Moorhead, population 226, before returning to Soldier.

Ute, population 374, is the meeting town where cyclists can reconnect with their groups and support vehicles. The iconic vendor Mr. Pork Chop, along with the pink school bus, will be set up here along with more than a dozen other vendors.

Charter Oak, population 483, is the final stop before the end of the day, meaning riders can expect a party with music, food and drinks in the Limerick Beer Garden.

Denison is the Sunday’s final destination with evening entertainment including the RAGBRAI regular Johnny Holm Band.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Iowa race for governor now rated a tossup

The race to become Iowa’s next governor is a coin flip, says one prominent national political forecaster.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a project of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, last week rated Iowa’s gubernatorial race a tossup.

Previously, the Crystal Ball had rated the race as “leans Republican.”

The Nov. 6 ballot has three names on the ballot for governor: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, Democrat Fred Hubbell and Libertarian Jake Porter.

Crystal Ball said the rating changed because the overall environment in Iowa continues to lean in Democrats’ direction, noting polls show President Donald Trump’s approval under water and Democrats leading in competitive congressional districts that Trump won in 2016.

Crystal Ball also has rated those congressional races, in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts, as tossups. Republicans are the incumbents in those districts.

Crystal Ball also notes the uneven historical success rate for successor incumbents — incumbents such as Reynolds — who are running for the office but did not win the previous election to get there. Reynolds became governor in 2017 after former Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Crystal Ball reports that nationally since World War II, just 54 percent of candidates for governor — who had not previously won the statewide election — are successful in winning election, compared to the 74 percent re-election rate for incumbent governors.

The report also notes Hubbell’s ability to raise money for his campaign, including using his own funds, which could reduce or even negate the advantage created by Reynolds building her campaign war chest because she didn’t have a primary race this year.

“All in all, we feel there is sufficient uncertainty in Iowa to make tossup a more appropriate rating for the gubernatorial contest,” the Crystal Ball report says.

Iowa Democrats welcomed the news.

“Democrats are fighting like hell today and every day for the chance to serve the people of Iowa, and we’re starting to see it pay off,” state party spokeswoman Tess Seger said in a statement.

Crystal Ball added a caveat that the Republican Governors Association has a substantial financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart, and that could help in competitive races like Iowa’s.

The Republican group gave Reynolds’ campaign $1.3 million in January; the Democratic Governors Association recently donated its first $250,000 to the Hubbell campaign.

Porter TV ad

Porter, the Libertarian candidate for governor, has announced the first television ad for his campaign.

In the 30-second ad, which also can be found on YouTube, Porter describes his Libertarian philosophy and says, “I like to say we take the good from the Republicans and the Democrats and we toss out the bad,” and that he “will be a governor for all Iowans.”

Hubbell’s first TV campaign ad since the primary started airing earlier this month, and Reynolds began airing ads just before the primary election in June.

down-ballot Dems

Democrats in races for three statewide offices are enjoying significant fundraising advantages over Republican incumbents.

The first campaign fundraising reports in the general election were filed last week, and the Republican officeholders for secretary of agriculture, state auditor and secretary of state all were outraised by their Democratic challengers.

In the ag secretary race, Democratic challenger Tim Gannon raised more than $85,000 to the $46,000 raised by Republican Mike Naig, who Reynolds appointed to the job this year when the incumbent took as job in Washington, D.C.

Deidre DeJear, the Democratic challenger for secretary of state, raised nearly $71,000 to the $8,000 raised by Republican incumbent Paul Pate.

The biggest contrast was in the state auditor’s race: Democratic challenger Rob Sand raised more than $100,000, while Republican incumbent Mary Mosiman raised roughly $17,000.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for The Gazette and Lee Enterprises. His email is erin.murphy@lee.net and @ErinDMurphy on Twitter.

Tree work will close segment of Washington Street in Iowa City

IOWA CITY — A portion of Washington Street is scheduled to be closed Monday morning, causing drivers and five bus routes to make detours.

Crews will be removing ash trees in the 200 block of Washington, weather permitting. The city announced that Washington between Dubuque and Linn streets is expected to be closed until late morning or early afternoon.

The bus routes affected by the closure starting at 6 a.m. are outbound Court Hill, outbound Towncrest, outbound Mall, outbound Lakeside and outbound Seventh Avenue.

These routes will detour using Clinton Street to Burlington Street, instead of traveling eastbound on Washington Street. The bus stops at Washington and Linn streets (No. 7200) and at Washington and Gilbert streets (No. 7201) will not be serviced during the time of the detour.

The inbound trips of these routes are not affected.

The city advised drivers to find alternative routes during the brief closure.

Trump expected to visit Dubuque Thursday

 

CEDAR RAPIDS — Rep. Rod Blum, who two years ago called on northeast Iowans to elect Donald Trump and send him back to the U.S. House, is doubling down on his support for the Republican president.

Blum will host Trump in Dubuque on Thursday. Sunday, after Politico.com broke the news that the president would visit the Mississippi River city, Blum posted on Twitter:

Looking forward to hosting @POTUS @realDonaldTrump in my hometown @cityofdubuque for a round table. President Trump was the first Republican nominee to win Dubuque County since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 #IA01

— Congressman Rod Blum (@RepRodBlum) July 22, 2018

Not surprisingly, his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, does not share Blum’s enthusiasm for a presidential visit.

“After failing to let our farmers speak directly to the vice president during his recent trip to Cedar Rapids, Congressman Blum has a responsibility to make it clear to President Donald Trump how damaging his Twitter trade war is for Iowa,” Finkenauer said in a statement released by her campaign.

“People’s livelihoods, and our entire economy, are at stake. It’s an insult to stand by the administration’s reckless trade policy and bring them to our district without a chance for farmers to voice their concerns.”

Trump’s visit comes two weeks after Vice President Mike Pence was in Cedar Rapids to assure farmers and manufacturers that they “will start winning again” as a result of the president’s trade negotiations.

When Pence visited, Blum met with the vice president to impress on him concerns about the trade policy.

“I bent his ear about that a lot — about how farmers and ag disproportionately feel the retaliation from other countries,” Blum said about his dinner with Pence aboard Air Force Two.

While he supports Trump’s efforts to get better trade deals with Canada, Mexico and China, Blum said he told the vice president, “We need some good news — soon. Whatever it is, we need some good news.”

“The longer this goes on then we all, including me, people will start to question this,” Blum said.

Still, Christopher Budzisz, who teaches political science at Loras College in Dubuque, said the back-to-back visits by Pence and Trump suggest the president recognizes he and Blum are vulnerable. Trump’s response to Blum and other members of the Iowa congressional delegation, as well as Gov. Kim Reynolds, expressing their concerns with his trade policies “appears to be to come to states like Iowa to try to assure people that any negative impact will be minimal and better trade deals will be the consequence of any economic conflict.”

The president’s assurances may be enough for some voters, Budzisz said, “but as time goes on, and if prices and markets continue to suffer, these promises may be unsatisfactory.”

However, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann thinks the visit likely will put the president and Blum in a positive light.

“If the topic of the roundtable is a subject 1st District voters care about — and I’m sure it will be — then it could have a positive effect,” Kaufmann said. “It will show a congressman with the ear of the president making sure the views of his district are part of the president’s discussion,” he said.

Kaufmann compared it to the announcement earlier this month that the federal government was making $117 million available to Cedar Rapids for a flood wall “that showed Blum getting something done for his district.”

“It showed the value of persistence and relationships,” Kaufmann said.

He understands Democrats don’t like the president, but we have issues that need to be dealt with and I would think they would want the president to hear about them,” he said.

Trump and Blum carried Iowa’ 1st Congressional District — 20 counties that include Linn, Black Hawk, Dubuque and Marshall — in 2016. Since then, Blum, who outpolled Trump, has been targeted by the Democratic Party and its allies. He now is considered the most vulnerable Republican House incumbent and his race against Finkenauer is rated a “tossup.”

Trump visited Cedar Rapids in June 2017, claiming he was making “amazing progress” improving the economy, lowering unemployment, stopping the flow of illegal immigrants and, in short, delivering on his promise to “Make America Great Again”

Details of the presidential visit are expected to be announced later this week.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

 

Stolen vehicle catches fire in southeast Cedar Rapids

A vehicle that had been reported stolen through the Cedar Rapids Police Department was found engulfed in flames on Sunday morning.

According to a news release, Linn County Sheriff’s Deputies, Linn County Rescue, West Bertram Fire, and Cedar Rapids Fire responded to a single vehicle fire on Berry Road and Bertram Road at around 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

The vehicle, which had been reported stolen, was found unoccupied when Deputies arrived and no one was seen with the vehicle or leaving the vehicle before it was reported on fire, according to the release.

The registered owner was notified and the vehicle has been towed. This incident remains under investigation by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Cedar Rapids family and dog escape early morning fire

An early morning fire has left a Cedar Rapids family and their dog displaced.

According to a news release, the Cedar Rapids Fire Department responded to calls of a fire at around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Upon arrival at 1643 32nd St. N, a single family rental home, responding personnel noticed fire showing from the exterior back side of the home.

Firefighters stopped the fire and water from further damaging the inside of the home. Both occupants made it out safely, along with their family dog. Although damge to the home was “minor,” Red Cross assisted the family after power had to be disconnected from the home, according to the release.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Democrats call on labor to help take back state, country

CEDAR RAPIDS — The 2018 election is about regaining control of state and federal government, Democratic candidates told a gathering of labor union members Saturday.

It was in February 2017 when the GOP majorities in the Iowa House and Senate were voting to rollback Iowa’s four-decade-old collective bargaining law that state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, decided that she would run for Congress.

“I was going to do whatever I could to get my state and country back,” the second-term state representative said Saturday night at the Hawkeye Area Labor Council’s annual steak fry in Cedar Rapids.

She is challenging two-term U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican from Dubuque, in the 20-county 1st Congressional District, which includes Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls-Waterloo, Dubuque and Marshalltown.

Regardless of political persuasion, she said, “That’s not how we treat people here.”

That means that the 2018 election “won’t come down to whether you are Democratic or Republican, but whether you care about people or not.”

Retired Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell decided to run for governor a bit later — after he heard then-Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds call the 2017 legislative session “the best ever.”

“It was the worst ever,” Hubbell and his wife told each other, and said they wouldn’t “let her run our state into the ground anymore.”

Hubbell reminded his audience that he worked for a labor union in Des Moines in 1969-70 and that one of his daughters and her husband are union members. Working with public and private-sector unions — from both sides of the bargaining table — he said he has learned unions “bring a lot of value, not just to the bargaining table, but to the economy and the quality of life of people all across the state.”

So one of his first priorities as governor would be to restore Chapter 20, the collective bargaining law governing labor contracts between public employees and state and local government.

His first priority, however, would be to improve workers’ incomes by investing in education and health care because they often are the highest-paying jobs in Iowa communities. He wants to raise the minimum wage “a lot higher.”

Hubbell also called for more funding for education from pre-K through community colleges and universities, and increased investment in health care by ending the privatized management of Medicaid, restoring funding for Planned Parenthood and increasing funding for mental health.

In short, he said, it’s time for the state to put its budget behind its priorities.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Despite rumors, Sabula bridge on schedule

Rumors and confusion have some thinking the opening of the new bridge being built at Sabula — Iowa’s only island city — is being delayed yet again.

But an Iowa Department of Transportation official said a recent rush of concerned callers was assured the bridge construction is on target or very close.

“We’re still hoping for Labor Day,” said Sam Shea, transportation planner for the Iowa DOT. “It could be a day or two off because of recent flooding.”

The lost construction time is because of floodwaters in the area of the new bridge, which will reconnect Iowa’s only island city — home to about 500 people — to the 2-mile causeway that leads to the much bigger bridge over the Mississippi River and into Savanna, Ill.

The previous span was deemed unsafe and was closed to traffic in February. The Iowa DOT initially estimated a replacement would be finished by the end of May. The finish date then was extended to mid-July. Now it’s September.

“There’s been some terminology confusion,” Shea said last week. “The bridge will open to traffic much sooner than the project completion date.”

When vehicles are permitted onto the new span, he said, contractors will continue to work on portions of the project related to the shore.

“There’s been a mad flurry of phone calls to the DOT,” he said. “The contractor hopes to get back to work today, and I’ve been told they don’t expect the flooding to set them back too far.”

Meanwhile, Sabula residents have firmed up plans for a two-day event dubbed Island City Days. Visitors may access the island from Route 64 or by using the vehicle and pedestrian ferry between the island and the Savanna riverfront.

The community celebration begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 3 with a parade, followed by outdoor food, drink and live music. It continues at 7 a.m. Aug. 4 with a pancake breakfast at the fire station, then ski shows, live music, food and drink and fireworks at dusk.

UI Labor Center director passionate about worker rights

IOWA CITY — As the daughter of a Lutheran minister who served several different churches — and communities — during her childhood, Jennifer Sherer said she absorbed and perhaps internalized a sampling of perspectives on issues facing Midwest workers.

“I was growing up in multiple small Midwestern communities that were living through the farm crisis or living through the effects of industrialization, and having to figure out as I was growing up why is it that so many people who I know or the parents of so many people who I go to school with are working so hard and struggling so much,” Sherer said.

Those childhood questions, or seeds of inquiry, matured as she grew and infiltrated her psyche.

“What is it about the structure of our economic and political system that is creating those challenges?” she came to ask.

Sherer’s longing for answers and solutions led her as a University of Iowa graduate student in the late 1990s to a project working with the new UI Center for Human Rights on child labor education. The project was housed in the UI Labor Center, established on campus in 1951 with a mission of providing educational programs and research support to Iowa workers and employers.

“I thought it was going to be a project that I worked on for a couple of years,” Sherer said.

But something about the center’s mission clicked for the English and neuroscience major in pursuit of an English doctorate. She found connection with its altruistic pursuits around worker rights education, research and support.

Sherer also found herself impressed with the center’s statewide standing, as she got “a glimpse of the deep ties and the respect and relationships that the center had with communities all over the state.”

“The reputation of the Labor Center alone would make it possible for me to make connections with people,” she said.

Decades later, Sherer, 45, continues her work with the Labor Center, but now as its director. And, as of last week, her work includes a fight to keep it alive.

UI President Bruce Harreld on July 10 announced plans to shutter the enterprise, along with six other campus centers, in response to repeated state funding cuts.

Although the closure isn’t immediate, as the center has outstanding projects and grants, it eventually will eliminate five full-time jobs. Unless, of course, Sherer and her team compel a reversal.

“I certainly have hope,” Sherer said Wednesday, hours after meeting again with the dean of the College of Law, which houses the UI Labor Center.

Dean Kevin Washburn, on the job just weeks, surprised Sherer with news of the impending closure earlier this month.

Since the news became public, outcry has been loud and persistent — with Democratic lawmakers issuing statements, supporters rallying and clients calling the college.

“It’s clear this has been a learning experience for some of the administrators who are hearing from people all over the state right now about the value and the impact of the center in their lives and their communities,” Sherer said.

Her follow-up discussion with Washburn left her “really encouraged.”

“He’s shown a lot of interest in learning a lot more about the center’s work, and that discussion’s going to continue,” she said. “I think everyone involved is interested in moving the discussion forward about how to preserve the center.”

That has Sherer and her staff scaling up work, as the media spotlight has highlighted their center.

“People who have worked with us — in some cases for many years — are wanting to get in touch, and there’s a whole new population of people who didn’t know that we existed or what our mission was who, in some cases, are curious and wondering if this is a place they can get information.”

It is, she tells the callers — whose surge also can be credited to changes in state laws and Iowa’s economic environment.

“It’s no secret we’re living through a period of time when Iowa continues to become a low-wage state,” she said. “We have significant demographic shifts and just a large, diverse number of new immigrant and refugee groups who have been recruited to work in Iowa communities.”

Iowa today has more temporary jobs, bringing unique issues, Sherer said. And then there are the recent changes in state law — including those related to workers’ compensation, health insurance and collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.

“I think people are having to keep up in Iowa with constant sets of changes,” she said. “And it has felt to me like there is no time when our information and services and education have been in more demand.”

With that in mind, Sherer said, she hasn’t started job hunting. On the contrary, she’s dreaming of growing the center.

“We have tried to think about how to expand the labor center’s missions beyond some of its historical traditional constituents,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Time Machine: ‘Natural’ Hubbard Ice was cut from frozen Cedar before plant produced ‘artificial’ ice

In 1870, a new icehouse went up on the east bank of the Cedar River between Washington (Second) and Commercial (First) streets, above Linn (A Avenue), as.

Owned by Elias Tarlton “E.T.” Hooper and Charles P. “Charley” Hubbard, it was 52-by-94 feet and 16 feet high, “big enough to hold ice enough to keep Cedar Rapids cold enough next summer,” the Cedar Rapids Times reported.

The business would continue, through several iterations, for more than a century. The business moved to the west side of the river in 1901, at 1124 First St. NW, and will be razed sometime soon to make way for the Cedar Rapids flood control system.

When Hubbard came to Cedar Rapids in 1866, he clerked in a leather store, while Hooper and Joseph Calder ran a meat market. By 1870, Hooper and Hubbard were partners in the ice business.

At the time, ice was cut from the Cedar River in the winter. Crews of 50 to 100 men cut several thousand tons of ice a day, moving it to storage for use during the spring and summer. The ice was stored in icehouses with snow driven between the layers. It’s likely the icehouse was insulated with sawdust.

The ice survived into the summer and was delivered by ice wagons to homes with ice boxes. In the days before electricity, the slabs of ice were placed in the insulated ice boxes, which were cool enough to preserve milk and butter.

In 1875, Hooper & Hubbard crews cut and pulled 6,000 tons of ice from the river that year. The breweries had cut 3,000 tons, and Hooper & Hubbard’s main competitor, McDaniels & Co., had harvested 1,000 tons. They were dwarfed by the 23,000 tons T.M. Sinclair & Co. had put away for its meatpacking business.

The Hooper & Hubbard partnership was dissolved in 1882 when Hooper retired, and Hubbard took over the company.

In 1883, Walter S. Hooper revived his father’s ice business and became Hubbard’s competitor. Then E.T. Hooper returned to manage the company’s business with the packinghouse.

ICE BUSINESS

In January 1884, Hubbard took a Gazette reporter on a tour of the ice business, “nearly freezing him to death, but also filling his notebook with pointers on the ice business.”

The ice on the Cedar River was clean and clear and about 16 inches thick during the harvest.

Hubbard’s crew of 120 was nearly done filling the main icehouse to its capacity of 8,000 tons. In addition to filling his icehouse, he was contracted to cut 3,000 tons of ice for the Magnus Brewery. He also cut ice for the Geo. Williams brewery, the Chicago & North Western and the Chicago, Minneapolis & St. Paul railways and for the Higley Brothers.

By the time the season was over, Hubbard’s crews cut and stored more than 16,000 tons of ice.

Ice workers were paid $1.50 per day, or $3 a day for teams of drivers and horses.

A 1909 Gazette story reported the process: “The ice is first entirely cleared of snow and ruled off in squares by an instrument something like a plow ... (which) cuts into the ice about three or four inches and guides the men who later come with large ice saws and cut the ice into long strips, which are floated to the banks at one side, where they are loaded and taken to the icehouse or run up an elevator if the icehouse is near the place where they are cutting.”

ICE WAGONS

Critical to the ice trade were the ice wagons that delivered ice to the company’s customers.

in 1875, the ice company debuted a new ice wagon, with Hooper falling into the river where the ice was thin. The ice harvest season concluded in February, with Hooper falling into the water for a third time.

Hubbard ordered a new wagon in 1891 from Cedar Rapids’ Star wagon works. The red wagon had a large box covered with canvas, with Hubbard’s Ice painted in gold lettering on the bronze-green sides.

ARTIFICIAL ICE

In 1915, the company started producing “artificial ice” at its plant.

In 1917, Hubbard Ice became Hubbard Ice & Coal Co., adding fuels and cold storage warehousing.

In 1922, Hubbard consolidated with the Chadima Ice Co. The new company was managed by Joe Chadima and members of the Chadima family.

Two years later, the company built a new fireproof building for its artificial ice plant, adding a brick office building 10 years later.

The transition from natural ice to artificial ice was gradual. In 1926, 30,000 tons were harvested from the river, and 3,000 tons of artificial ice was made in the plant.

By 1929, all of the ice was produced in the plant. The company stopped selling “natural” ice altogether that year, saying artificial ice produced a superior product.

In 1931, the company changed its name to Hubbard Ice & Fuel, adding fuel oil and oil burners, furnaces and other oil-burning equipment. The main plant added oil storage tanks.

ARTISTIC WAGONS

Hubbard’s old ice wagons, which had been replaced by trucks, found another use in the 1930s for Grant Wood’s Stone City art colony.

Joseph T. Chadima was approached by the colony’s business manager, Grace Boston, about buying the old wagons. When he asked why she wanted them, she said, “I want them for artists’ bunks. We would like to use them instead of tents at Stone City.”

The idea came from Davenport artist James Kelley, who had just returned from a trip to Mexico. “They won’t blow over in a windstorm,” Kelley said. “They have dry floors in case of damp weather and — aw, heck, they are so much more romantic!”

With a permit issued to take the ice wagons on the public highway, the unusual caravan set out for Stone City early one morning.

At their destination, they were re-roofed, painted and decorated and parked from the Green mansion to the old stone tower.

BUSINESS GROWS

By 1936, the company’s 110 tons of ice were produced using water from artesian wells. Thirty-five cars made ice deliveries every day.

Hubbard Ice & Fuel Co. was dissolved in 1997. Quality Chef Foods took over the property until 2002, when it was acquired by investors and remodeled into the Hubbard Industrial Park.

The complex was severely damaged in the 2008 flood, eventually leading to the decision to raze it.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

University of Iowa VP job returns to research focus

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is returning its vice president for research position to its roots, shifting the economic development focus the role currently assumes elsewhere in the university.

Before a review of the Office of the Vice President for Research more than a decade ago, the office did not include the economic development function.

Aliasger Salem, co-chairman of the committee to search for the office’s new vice president, told The Gazette in an email that UI officials made the decision to return the role to its research focus following open forums with the campus community following the departure of Dan Reed, who previously held the position, in October 2017.

The search comes amid a string of administrative departures among UI leadership, which have left officials searching for new deans and high-ranking administrators such as the provost.

“This is a time of great challenge and great opportunity,” Salem said. “We’re excited to find the kind of leader who can accelerate impactful, multidisciplinary research at the University of Iowa.”

Q: What benefits should the UI community expect to see under this structure?

A: The new vice president will be able to focus on:

• Facilitating and fostering the excellence in research, scholarship and creative activities.

• Strengthening relationships with the public, private agencies and corporations that provide support for research and scholarly endeavors.

• Enhancing relationships with community partners.

• Assuring the integrity of the research enterprise.

• And overseeing the formulation and implementation of research-specific policies related to regulatory compliance and intellectual property management.

Q: Where in the university might the economic development leadership role be shifted — and would that come in the form of another vice president or some other position?

A: University leadership is working with campus partners to determine next steps for coordinating economic development units and activities.

Economic development is a natural outgrowth of research but requires different tools and skills.

We need to focus our vice president for research on developing innovative ways to support faculty in their discovery efforts and developing equally robust approaches for fueling innovation. ...

Q: The UI just reported a dip in external funding this past year in a time where the regent universities are increasingly relying on external funding due to state budget cuts. How will the new vice president be expected to work within that higher education landscape and fulfill the UI’s research mission?

A: The University of Iowa had another strong year for projects that will benefit Iowans, the country and world, thanks to an increase in federal funding for research and the number of proposals, grants and contracts awarded in fiscal year 2018.

The National Institutes of Health granted UI medical and (health care) researchers 29 percent — or $40 million — more in FY ’18 than in FY ’17.

In fact, NIH support in FY ’18 was the highest since 2012, when funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — an economic stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009 — ran out.

Overall, funding for research and other scholarly activities, including grants from federal agencies and contracts for research-related work, including the State Hygienic Lab, declined 2 percent, or $8.6 million, over FY ’17 for a total of $434.5 million.

Total external funding, which includes the research funding plus UI Foundation (moneys), is down 1 percent, or $3.7 million, for a total of $554 million.

The numbers are pretty remarkable, given all of the challenges and pressures facing researchers and scholars and the UI these past few years.

The new vice president will continue to support the hard work of our faculty and staff, who are continuing to seek answers to the big questions across the disciplines, undaunted by our shifting fortunes and the trend of generational disinvestment in the state.

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

Highway 30 bypass project brings challenges to Mount Vernon and Lisbon

MOUNT VERNON — When about 8 miles of a wider U.S. Highway 30 opens perhaps in 2020 and swings father south of the side-by-side cities of Mount Vernon and Lisbon, it will present both problems and possibilities.

The estimated $105 million bypass project will take traffic father away from schools and alleviate the frustrations of drivers trying to turn from city streets onto the existing Highway 30.

The bypass also will act like a magnet in drawing the cities’ borders to it. Both plan to extend to fill the gap — but with what?

The bypass is one segment of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s plan to widen Highway 30 to four lanes all across Iowa. Outside the cities on the Linn-Cedar county line, it will be a four-lane expressway with two interchanges.

The existing Highway 30, which cuts through the lower portions of Mount Vernon and Lisbon, will turn in a dead end — running between Willow Creek Road on the west to about Adams Avenue on the east.

The then former highway will be turned over to the local entities to become a city street, said Iowa DOT District 6 planner Catherine Cutler said in an email.

Crews have begun work moving dirt around the new site and building bridges. Paving will begin in 2019 and may go into 2020, Cutler said.

“The purpose of this project is to provide a safe, free-flowing east-west route for the efficient transportation of people, goods and services,” Cutler said. “The project will improve the capacity of U.S. 30, improve local access and safety, and improve roadway conditions.”

And, city officials anticipate, the bypass will open up opportunities for development south of where existing commercial areas now are concentrated.

Lisbon City Administrator Connie Meier said the city is working on its future land use plan to incorporate the bypass.

“We’re hoping to grow the community by having developments up to the bypass, hopefully on the east side of town and south of town, and also incorporate some commercial business along the bypass,” she said.

Construction for the bypass project initially made it difficult for people to get from Lisbon to businesses farther south, such as the Sutliff Cider Company, she said, but noted businesses located closer to and within the city limits were not affected as much.

Rich Herrmann, a volunteer on the board of directors of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group, said he thinks it will be tough going for a while after the bypass opens for businesses along existing Highway 30.

Signs or other visual appeals to drivers to come in to town off the new highway would be helpful, he said.

Cutler said the Iowa DOT will install signage for the cities along the bypass at the department’s expense.

“We have to make it enticing for people to stop and take a breath and still be a destination,” Herrmann said. “We don’t want to lose that feel and that destination place that we’re starting to become known for.”

Being a “destination” in Mount Vernon is why Gary’s Foods owner Denny Dietrich said he does not anticipate the new bypass affecting his business much.

The businesses located right along the existing Highway 30 — which include Subway, Hardee’s and Dairy Queen, to name a few — may bear the brunt of the impact, Dietrich said.

“People are planning on going to the grocery store,” he said. “It’s the stores, businesses that are impulse ... I think they’re the ones who are going to be more affected by this.”

Mount Vernon Motel owner Beth Mhire said she thinks the bypass initially could hurt the downtown area.

“ ... With the bypass, they’re just going to go right on by,” she said.

But she said she isn’t that concerned about traffic coming into her business changing all that much.

“If people are going to want to stop, they’re going to stop anyway,” she said. “If people want to go onto Cedar Rapids, they’re going to continue going on, whether the bypass is there or not.”

Mhire said the bypass — even though it moves traffic farther away — eventually opens up the potential for the city to attract more people.

Particularly important, Mount Vernon City Administrator Chris Nosbisch said, is ensuring any development that happens at the new interchange ties to the downtown area at the core of all major activity in Mount Vernon.

The city anticipates there will be a number of businesses seeking to locate along the interchange, but he said there have not been discussions with any particular company about being out there yet.

“The bypass area is going to create a new and different style of commercial district, but it’s imperative for us to make sure that we don’t allow the disconnect to remain,” he said. “The connectivity between downtown Mount Vernon and what’s going to occur out at the bypass has been our focus.”

The concern shouldn’t be about trying to develop land around the interchange all at once, Herrmann said.

He foresees a mixed-use environment of residential, retail, offices and green spaces being an ideal use of the area, though what ultimately will shape up in the space is undecided.

“Start small and keep focused on the overall design,” he said, “but let’s not try to turn that into a second city overnight.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

Farmers stick with Trump in trade war

President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with China, Mexico and Canada already are eroding the value of American agricultural production, with soybean growers alone expected to lose at least $3.2 billion during the next crop season.

But many farmers — including some whose incomes are plunging as exports stall — are sticking by the man they helped vote into office.

They’d just like him to win the trade war quickly, before the fall harvest starts compounding the problem in a couple of months — when congressional midterm elections also will be heating up.

“President Trump is a businessman,” said John King III, 57, who raises soybeans, corn and rice with his father and nephew outside Helena, Ark., about 100 miles east of Little Rock.

“He’s making a high-risk business decision that probably should have been made a long time ago. But it’s definitely a risk.”

Agriculture is the third-biggest U.S. export industry and a global juggernaut that’s generated six decades of trade surpluses.

It’s also become a flash point in tariff battles with China, which bought $12 billion of soybeans last year and now is shifting to supplies from South America.

Separate duties are affecting sales to Canada and Mexico, which are renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Trump’s trade policies already are changing the outlook for U.S. exports and farmer income, mostly because China, Mexico and Canada accounted for 43 percent of American farm exports last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday predicted domestic soybean stockpiles will be 51 percent larger than expected a month earlier and cut its export forecast by 11 percent.

The USDA also reduced its price forecast by 75 cents a bushel, citing reduced purchases by China, the top importer.

That amounts to almost $3.2 billion in lost revenue based on the government’s use estimate.

‘Level playing field’

While the situation could get worse if the trade war escalates, the president has urged patience.

“Always thinking about our farmers,” Trump said via tweet Wednesday from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels. “Other countries’ trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying” U.S. farm businesses, he said.

“I will open things up, better than ever before, but it can’t go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!”

To be sure, farmers were big winners until recently. High commodity prices led to record net income of $123.8 billion in 2013, before a global glut sent markets tumbling.

This year’s projected net income of $59.5 billion would be the lowest since 2006, and the average farm business will see a 7 percent drop in 2018 to $339,300, compared with $437,400 in 2013, USDA data show.

The country still would have an agricultural trade surplus of $21 billion.

Because the U.S. exports almost a third of its agricultural production, the industry is a logical target for foreign retaliation.

It’s also a key group among voters in rural counties that gave Trump 60 percent of the vote in the 2016 election. That, in theory, gives trade rivals an opportunity to inflict damage on his political base.

Groups representing crop and livestock producers have warned that their industries would be hurt by reduced exports at a time when they already face big inventories and lower prices.

“America’s farmers and families are staring down a dark path, with no signs of relief in sight,” Casey Guernsey, a spokesman for Americans for Farmers and Families, a group of crop and meat producers formed to protect NAFTA, said in a statement on July 6, when China’s retaliatory duties went into effect.

For farmers, the timing is terrible. By September or October, many will need to have unloaded inventories from last year to make room for this season’s harvest.

King, the Arkansas grower, says he sold about 60 percent of last year’s soybeans for about $10 a bushel. That’s nowhere near the record of more than $17 in 2012, but it’s decent compared with about $8 now.

King says he can’t hold onto his remaining inventory once he starts collecting this year’s crop.

‘The long run’

The slumping market hasn’t dimmed support for Trump among some farmers.

“The one thing I admire about the guy is that he’s fulfilled or tried to fulfill” his campaign promises, said David Durham, 66, who grows corn and soybeans about 40 miles east of Kansas City, Mo.

“In the long run, this could benefit us” by opening the world to more buyers of U.S. farm goods, said Durham, a fourth-generation farmer who estimates his crop revenue has been cut in half since rumbles of a trade war began earlier this year.

Farmers thus far have been patient with the White House approach, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday at an event in Washington, D.C.

“Many of them understand the reasons the president has taken this on,” Perdue said. “China hasn’t played by the rules for a long time.”

Still the White House is readying an aid package for producers that’s set to be unveiled around Labor Day in early September, just in time for the harvest, he said.

Farmers are patriotic, “but you can’t pay the bills with patriotism,” Perdue said. Fighting a trade war is like going on a diet, he said. “It’s going to be good to get there, but it will be a little bit painful in the meantime.”

Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University in Ames, said support for Trump’s actions may boil down to who is most willing and able to ride out the storm. Farmers “are comfortable with the objectives President Trump has laid out,” Hart said. “I don’t think anyone’s considered that they’d change their vote.”

That doesn’t mean Trump isn’t losing some votes. The president’s net approval rating in monthly surveys by polling company Morning Consult has fallen almost as much in deep-red, agriculture-heavy states such as Kentucky (down 21 percent), Montana (21 percent) and Oklahoma (25 percent), as it has in the bright blue coastal states of California (15 percent) and Massachusetts (22 percent).

And farmers say they’d rather the trade conflict end sooner rather than later.

Don Borgman, a third-generation corn and soybean grower from Buckner, Mo., said he’s been “hammered” by lower prices but is “refreshed” by Trump’s get-tough approach. The president “is in negotiating mode,” he said.

Still, Borgman said he’d be more concerned “if I thought our president was starting a decades-long trade war.”

Trade impacts on agriculture would have to be truly catastrophic for farmers to turn on the White House, though some defections on the margins could be significant in specific political campaigns, said Harwood Schaffer, a professor of agricultural policy at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

At least for now, support for Trump persists among farmers who have “concern and some worry” about where trade may be heading, said Will Rodger, spokesman for Farm Bureau in Washington, D.C.

“Donald Trump is president of the United States and he’s the man many of them voted for,” Rodger said in an interview. “It’s not panic.”

That’s King’s approach. Farmers understand why they’re taking a hit, the Arkansas grower said. But if it lasts too long, some may feel the need to re-evaluate the president’s wisdom.

“Time will tell,” King said. “Let’s see what price I get for the last 40 percent of my soybeans.”

Open office plans are as bad as you thought

A cubicle-free workplace without private offices is supposed to force employees to collaborate. To have them talk more face-to-face.

To get them off Instant Messenger and spontaneously brainstorm about new ideas.

But a recent study by two researchers offers evidence to support what many people who work in open offices already know: It doesn’t really work that way.

The noise causes people to put on headphones and tune out. The lack of privacy prompts others to work from home when they can.

And the sense of being in a fishbowl means many choose email over a desk-side chat.

In an open office workplace, said study co-author and Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein in a recent interview, “I walk into this space, and I see everyone wearing big headphones staring intently at a screen trying to look busy because everyone can see them.”

The result can be that “instead of interrupting people, I’ll send an email.”

Bernstein studied two Fortune 500 companies that made the shift to an open office environment from one where workers had more privacy. Using sociometric electronic badges and microphones, as well as data on email and Instant Messenger use by employees, the researchers found in the first study that after the organization made the move to open-plan offices, workers spent 73 percent less time in face-to-face interactions.

Meanwhile, email rose 67 percent and IM use went up 75 percent.

The participants wore the badges and microphones for several weeks before the office was redesigned and for several after, and the company gave the researchers access to their electronic communications.

The results were startling.

“We were surprised by the degree to which we found the effect we found,” Bernstein said.

The badges worn around participants’ necks included an infrared sensor, Bluetooth sensor and an accelerometer that, combined with a microphone, could tell that two people had a face-to-face interaction, Bernstein said, without recording actual spoken words.

The researchers were careful to make sure other variables weren’t in question — the business cycle was similar, for example, and the group of employees were the same.

In a second study, the researchers looked at shifts in interactions in specific pairs of colleagues, finding a similar drop in face-to-face communication and a smaller but still significant increase in electronic correspondence — emailing each other between 22 and 50 percent more.

There’s a “natural human desire for privacy, and when we don’t have privacy, we find ways of achieving it,” Bernstein said.

“What it was doing was creating not a more face-to-face environment, but a more digital environment. That’s ironic because that’s not what people intend to try to do when creating open office spaces.”

Another wrinkle in their research, Bernstein said, is that not only did workers shift the mode of communication they used, but they tended to interact with different groups of people online than they did in person. Moving from one kind of communication to another may not be all bad — “maybe email is just more efficient,” he said.

But if managers want certain teams of people to be interacting, that may be lost more than they think. The shift in office space could “have profound effects on productivity and the quality of work.”

Bernstein hoped the research will offer empirical evidence that will help managers consider the possible trade-offs of moving to an open office plan. In seeking a lower cost per square foot, they buy into the idea that it also will lead to more collaboration, even if it’s not clear that’s true.

“I don’t blame the architects,” he said. “But I do think we spend more of our time thinking about how to design workspaces based on the observer’s perspective” — the manager — “rather than the observed.”

Why Zuckerberg says Facebook won’t ban Holocaust deniers

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently defended the company’s decision to keep the site Infowars on its platform, a prominent right-wing outlet known for spreading conspiracy theories and baseless information.

Zuckerberg said in an interview published by Recode on Wednesday that Facebook has a responsibility to curb the viral spread of hoaxes and blatant misinformation.

But he maintained that Facebook should not ban publishers for spreading false claims, a position he described as “too extreme.”

“The approach that we’ve taken to false news is not to say, ‘You can’t say something wrong on the internet,’” he said.

“Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that.”

Facebook’s relationship with Infowars has come under heightened scrutiny in recent days. The social network touted its increased efforts to combat misinformation at an event with journalists.

But a CNN reporter asked Facebook how it could reconcile this beefed up approach with allowing a known purveyor of conspiracy theories to maintain a popular page on the platform.

According to CNN, the head of Facebook’s News Feed John Hegeman replied by saying that Facebook doesn’t take down false news.

Zuckerberg said that if people flag posts as potential hoaxes, Facebook will send the content to fact-checkers who can verify the claims.

If the posts are false, Facebook will “significantly reduce the distribution of that content” in the News Feed, he said.

Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, also said that people who deny that the Holocaust happened should be allowed to stay on the social network, too.

“I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” he said.

Zuckerberg added that it’s difficult to understand a person’s intent. He said that Facebook shouldn’t ban people from the network even if they spread false information on multiple occasions.

Boeing faces significant setback with spacecraft it’s designing to fly NASA astronauts

The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system in June, officials discovered a propellant leak, the company confirmed.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Boeing said that is has “been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action.”

The leak is likely to delay its launch schedule, and is another setback for a program that has faced a series of problems. It also comes as Vice President Mike Pence is expected to announce the crews for the first missions during a ceremony in early August at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Along with SpaceX, Boeing is under contract from NASA to fly astronauts to the space station. The so-called “Commercial Program” would restore NASA’s ability to fly humans from the United States - a capability that was lost when the Space Shuttle retired in 2011. Since then, the space agency has had to rely on Russia to fly its astronauts to space, at a cost of more than $80 million per seat.

Under the program, Boeing’s contract was worth as much as $4.2 billion; SpaceX’s was $2.6 billion for the same number of flights.

The program’s first test launches with crews on board were supposed to happen this year. But a recent Government Accountability report said the company’s schedules “are aggressive” and that they “have set ambitious - rather than realistic - dates, only to frequently delay them.”

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, has also faced challenges and is working to show NASA that it has fixed a problem that caused one of its uncrewed Falcon 9 rockets to explode during fueling in 2016.

In its report, the GAO said that further delays in the program could “disrupt access to” the space station - which would be an enormous embarrassment for NASA. The space agency has been counting on Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts there. But the GAO said the delays could mean their spacecraft are not certified before the last flights NASA has secured for its astronauts on Russian rockets, which would keep an American presence on the station through early 2020.

In other words: Should delays persist, NASA could find itself with no way to get to the station, the orbiting laboratory that has cost NASA $100 billion to build and operate.

In a statement, NASA said that, “flying safely has always taken precedence over schedule. As our partners are finalizing their systems, we’re assessing remaining technical details and schedules for flight tests with and without crew.”

The agency said it plans to announce an update on the test flight schedules next month.

Boeing said that it discovered the propellant leak during the emergency abort test in June at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

“The engines successfully ignited and ran for the full duration,” the company said in a statement. “During engine shutdown, an anomaly occurred that resulted in a propellant leak.”

The GAO report also said it was concerned about another problem with the abort system, causing it to “tumble, which could pose a threat to the crew’s safety.”

Boeing has said it fixed that problem, and that it would “meet or exceed all NASA requirements.”

Marshalltown relief agencies seeking donations

Donated clothing, food and household items have poured in to Marshalltown since Thursday’s tornado, but now relief and recovery organizations find themselves in need of monetary donations.

“People are being so generous in giving us clothing and food and miscellaneous things, and we’re at that point where there’s too much stuff and monetary donations are best,” said Pami Erickson, executive director of the Red Cross South and Eastern Iowa chapter that serves Marshalltown.

Erickson said people looking to donate money to the Red Cross should designate their donations for disaster relief and send them to the Red Cross Central Iowa office in at 2116 Grand Ave., Des Moines, IA 50312

Businesses

Many businesses in the Marshalltown downtown district were severely damaged by the tornado. The Marshalltown Central Business District is collecting donations that will go directly to repair and recovery for the downtown businesses, homes and buildings that were damaged.

Individuals can donate to the downtown district effort online or by check. Checks made out to the Marshalltown Main Street Partnership and containing “Downtown Tornado Recovery” in the memo may be delivered to 16 E. Main St., Suite 280, Marshalltown, IA 50158.

Families

Mid-Iowa Community Action, a nonprofit serving impoverished families and children in central Iowa, is organizing donations that will directly benefit affected families.

Individuals can donate online or by mail checks to Mid-Iowa Community Action, 1001 S. 18th Ave., Marshalltown, IA 50158.

Medical care

The Marshalltown hospital, UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown, also was hit by the tornado. A Heart to Heart International team in Marshalltown has set up a mobile medical unit and is handing out hygiene kits.

Monetary donations to Heart to Heart also encouraged.

Shelters

The Red Cross has set up a shelter for residents displaced from their homes at the Marshalltown YMCA, at 108 Washington St., and Red Cross emergency response vehicles are going through the community, “looking at damage assessment and providing rakes, shovels, tubs or totes and handing out snacks and water,” Erickson said.

Food

Food is being served on an ongoing basis at a Salvation Army station in the parking lot of the Marshalltown Hy-Vee, 802 S. Center St.

JBS Swift & Co., a pork packing plant in Marshalltown, will provide burgers, hot dogs and drinks from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot of the Marshalltown YMCA.

City announcements

Individuals are encouraged to check out the city of Marshalltown’s Facebook page for important announcements and updates on relief and recovery efforts.

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

Pages