Problems Continue to Grow at Fort Madison Prison
Last Thursday, the House Oversight committee called in Department of Administrative Services Director, Janet Phipps Burkhead, to answer questions on the continual delays and rising costs at the new Fort Madison Prison. Unfortunately, the committee was left with more concerns and questions than real answers. Representatives now believe there may be additional costs and longer delays before the prison can be opened.
Director Phipps was appointed in May of 2014, and in previous Oversight meetings the committee had been told by the Department of Corrections that the Director had been working with DOC to resolve problems. After over 9 months on the job, the Director was unable to answer many basic questions about the problems plaguing the unopened prison. Representatives were disappointed with the Directors’ knowledge of the major issues and are following up with questions and document requests, in order to better understand how so many problems happened on this project and what parties are responsible.
While she could not answer many important questions, Director Phipps did tell the committee there is an additional $20 million being requested by the General Contractor, Walsh Construction, for equitable adjustments. When asked for specifics, the Director was unable to give examples of the equitable adjustments and could only tell the committee the request is made when a company believes it has provided additional resources or labor not part of the original bid. The committee was unable to get additional information on these equitable adjustments from the Director. This $20 million in equitable adjustment requests had not previously been shared with Representatives during the Oversight investigation. The Director was unsure if the State would have to pay the additional money.
The largest issue preventing the prison from opening is the ineffective smoke evacuation system. Director Phipps told the committee it will take a fire specialist another four to six weeks to finish modeling the buildings and determine the best way to manage the smoke. Once those models are complete, a Fire Marshal will be asked to review the plans and if they are approved, then reconstruction of the smoke evacuation system will begin. The Director could not tell the committee how much the design, or construction is expected to cost or when it will be completed.
Representatives also asked the Director about problems with the geothermal system. While she had little information about original problems and the cost to fix the system, she did inform the committee that the geothermal system appears to be fixed and working. Unfortunately, this week, it was reported that there may be additional problems with the system. Prison officials had to shut down a sprinkler system in a building that houses a library, gymnasium and chapel due to cold temperatures. According to the Department of Corrections, there is cold air leaking between the ceiling and the roof of the building and the temperatures dropped below freezing in that area. Additionally, there is cold air leakage in the mechanical alleyways adjacent in two housing units, the DOC did not say if water was shut off in either of those buildings. Representatives are just learning about these additional issues and will be following up with questions.
Currently there is no estimated date to open the prison. Once the buildings receive occupancy permits, it will take approximately another three months to retrain Corrections Officers before prisoners can be transferred. Representatives are worried it could be another year before the new prison is occupied.
The bi-partisan House Oversight Committee will continue to push for answers from all parties involved with the construction of the prison. Within the next week, members are expecting more detailed answers and documents from DAS. Once those documents have been reviewed the committee will be calling in more individuals involved with the prison construction to understand how all the problems occurred and to find a solution to ensure problems of this magnitude never happen again.
Nominations for Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Awards Sought
On Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the Office of the Governor issued a press release in which Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey encouraged Iowans to nominate farmers for the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. The award goes to farmers who have taken voluntary actions to improve or protect the environment and natural resources of our state. Nominations are due by June 15, 2015 and the nomination form can be found at http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/EnvironmentalLeader.asp. The award is a joint effort between the Governor, Lt. Governor, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to recognize the efforts of Iowa’s farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality.
Farmers that are nominated should have made environmental stewardship a priority on their farm and incorporated best management practices into their farming operation. As true stewards of the land, they recognize that improved water quality and soil sustainability reaps benefits that extend beyond their fields to citizens of Iowa and residents even further downstream. Nominations may be submitted on a year-round basis and are due by June 15th of the year to be considered for the award. Farm owners and operators are eligible for consideration.
An appointed committee of representatives from both conservation and agricultural groups will review the nominations and select the winners. The recipients will be recognized at the Iowa State Fair. Since creation of the award in 2012, 219 farm families have been recognized. Winners are presented a certificate as well as a yard sign donated by Monsanto. Hagie Manufacturing also sponsors a recognition luncheon for award recipients following the ceremony.
Agriculture Theft on the Rise
I wanted to tell you about an agriculture issue brought to my attention that deals with livestock and crop theft. In 2011, 428 people were convicted of livestock or crop theft. Compare that to the number of car theft convictions in the state, which is 407. There are more livestock thefts than car thefts in the state of Iowa.
Of the 428 convictions of crops or livestock, 407 were charged with aggravated misdemeanors, which carry a sentence of up to two years. The remaining convictions are serious misdemeanors and simple misdemeanors which carry a sentence of up to one year and 30 days, respectively. If you combine and figure the averages of the sentences, a person who is convicted of livestock or crop theft is incarcerated an average of 52 days.
When we started discussing this issue in Des Moines we introduced a bill setting a minimum 30 day sentence on all crop or livestock theft convictions. However, we learned most people convicted are already serving over 30 days of jail time. I’m not sure we will advance the bill since it is already being implemented. We are exploring other options such as setting a hefty fine to deter people from livestock theft. I want to make sure farmers get reimbursed for their stolen crops and livestock. The discussion will be ongoing.
I bring this up to make sure the agriculture community is aware this is happening. There have been a few times I’ve been off my head count myself. It makes you wonder. Unfortunately we are living in an era where stealing things from other people is way more common than we realize. Please keep an eye out for your neighbors and keep alert around the confinement buildings and grain bins. Also, investments in locks and security cameras might be something farmers should consider this season.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (515) 281-3221.
Rep. Lee Hein