DROUGHT-RIVER SHIPPING Drought threatens to close Mississippi to barges ST. LOUIS (AP) – After months of drought, companies that ship grain and other goods down the Mississippi River are being haunted by a potential nightmare: If water levels fall too low, the nation’s main inland waterway could become impassable to barges just as the harvest heads to market. Any closure of the river would upend the transport system that has carried American grain since before steamboats and Mark Twain. So shipping companies are scrambling to find alternative ways to move crops to the Gulf Coast. The focus of greatest concern is a 180-mile stretch of the river between St. Louis, Missouri and Cairo (KEHR’-oh), Illinois. That’s where lack of rain has squeezed the channel from its normal width of 1,000 feet or more to a just a few hundred feet. And it’s shallow.
SOLDIER KILLED-FLAGS LOWERED State to honor Iowa native killed in Afghanistan DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Governor Terry Branstad has ordered flags under state control to be lowered in honor of an Iowa native who was killed on patrol in Afghanistan. The flags will be flown at half-staff from 5 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Monday for Army Sergeant Joseph Richardson, who died on November 16th. Richardson spent most of his childhood in Algona and moved to Booneville, Arkansas after the ninth grade. Richardson’s funeral is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Algona. Richardson is survived by his wife, Ashley Richardson, as well as his parents, two sisters, a brother and other relatives.
STATE WORKERS-INSURANCE PREMIUM Judge to decide legality of state worker premiums (Information in the following story is from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com) DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – An administrative law judge will decide whether Governor Terry Branstad’s administration broke the law in July when he allowed state employees the option of paying 20 percent of their health insurance premiums. Three labor unions challenged Branstad’s executive order saying any changes in insurance benefits must be negotiated or agreed to by the unions. The unions want a judge to end the program and reimburse workers who participated. A hearing was held on Thursday. The Des Moines Register reports that 95 employees took Branstad up on his proposal. Iowa Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll says the issue did not need union blessing because no benefits were changed. A decision is expected by March. More than 80 percent of state employees are not required to pay insurance premiums.
FLOOD DAMAGED BUILDINGS UI officials seek OK of building demolition plans (Information in the following story is from: The Gazette, http://www.gazetteonline.com/) IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – University of Iowa officials will ask the Board of Regents next week to approve plan to demolish flood-damaged Hancher Auditorium and the School of Art building. Both buildings have been vacant since the 2008 flood. The Gazette reports that demolition of both buildings likely won’t be completed for another year. University officials estimate demolition costs of nearly $5 million for the Hancher complex and $1.5 million for the art building. Plans call for preserving the 1936 portion of the art building because of its historical significance. The Regents meet Wednesday.
PRICE LAB DEMOLITION UNI seeks OK to demolish most of Price Lab site (Information in the following story is from: The Gazette, http://www.gazetteonline.com/) CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) – Officials at the University of Northern Iowa are asking the Board of Regents for approval to demolish most of the Price Laboratory School building following a decision to close the school. KCRG-TV reports that the Regents will consider the request at a meeting Wednesday. UNI closed the school in June in a cost-saving move approved by the Regents. The proposal, listed in meeting information released Thursday, calls for demolishing the Price Laboratory building except for the field house and west wing. The school dates back to 1953, and a 2012 facilities report lists $17 million in deferred maintenance at the school.