When city staffers and council members the region went to Washington D.C., transportation was the topic of discussion.
June 3, 4 and 5 was Southeast Iowa Days in Washington. There were several area attendees but from the Burlington area, city manager Jim Fernaeu, city councilman Matt Rinker, Greater Burlington Partnership Event coordinator Rachel Lindeen, Jeremy Hess, Greater Burlington Partnership and Southeast Iowa Regional Airport Authority director Mary Beaird made the trip.
The transportation items revolved around infrastructure projects including roads and bridges, but Rinker said there is so much more than that. One of the biggest infrastructure projects the city has been working on is the sewer separation project.
“There was a lot of talk about infrastructure and that’s what I ran on,” said Rinker. “I’m hoping we can get a federal infrastructure bill passed.”
He said he was concerned about whether such a bill could be passed. With Democrats controlling the house and republicans controlling the senate, any bills would have to be a bipartisan effort.
The group had a chance to visit with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa). Rinker said visiting with the group let him see both parties really want the same thing, but barriers prevent the sides from working together.
He said that with 18 months left until the 2020 election, the focus for congressmen and congresswomen has shifted to getting reelected. Rinker admits he cannot relate, as he is in the second year of his first 4-year term, but that elected officials have to remember their job is to represent their constituents.
Fernaeu said one of his frustrations is that solutions being talked about are not practical for small communities.
“They were talking about public-private partnerships and that is not necessarily something we will be able to accomplish,” he said.
Among the group that went to Southeast Iowa Days, Rinker was the only elected official to attend from the Burlington area.
“It’s important to attend these meetings,” said Rinker.
Rinker said he has gone on every trip he’s had the opportunity to attend, including Southeast Iowa Days in Des Moines in March. After going to Washington, Rinker said he found his opinions strengthened by what he heard.
But even as the group met with some of the country’s top officials, what was going on in Burlington was looming over the group.
On June 1 Hesco barriers protecting the Burlington riverfront gave way inundating downtown with floodwater. As crews rushed to secure the scene, Burlington heard from some of the nation’s top officials.
“The White House reached out right after it happened and ask if they could help,” Ferneau said of that day.
Flooding was a topic of conversation with several of the officials the group spoke with.
The talk was centered around getting disaster relief to Burlington. There was quite a bit of discussion surrounding the Presidential Disaster Declaration issued for the state of Iowa. The disaster period ended less than three weeks before the Hesco barrier failed.
It was suggested the Federal Emergency Management Agency could reopen the disaster period, as the disaster did not end on May 16. FEMA has never reopened a disaster period before.
Others in attendance include Darrell Allman, Iowa Fertilizer Co.; Tim Gobble, Fort Madison Partners; Savanna Collier, Fort Madison Partners; Dennis Fraise, Lee County Economic Development Group; Cole O’Donnell, City of Keokuk; Kristi Ray, Mount Pleasant Chamber Alliance; Angela Shipley, Louisa Development Group; and Cooper Hess, student, Danville Community School District.