Local group meets Ernst, Grassley

Snow storm wipes out most of Washington agenda Wednesday

-Submitted photo Weather in Washington D.C. interrupted a Webster County delegation's plans Wednesday.

Local officials visiting Washington, D.C., had what one called “good meetings” with U.S. senators Joni Ernst and Charles Grassley on Wednesday.

But much of the local delegation’s agenda was scrapped the same day due to the winter storm pounding the East Coast.

A group of about 17 representatives from Fort Dodge, Webster County and Iowa Central Community College traveled to the nation’s capital on Tuesday for an annual lobbying trip at which local projects and priorities are presented to members of Congress, their aides and other federal officials.

The meetings with Republican senators Ernst and Grassley were the highlight of Wednesday, which was the group’s first full day in Washington.

“We did have good meetings,” Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich said.

The senators and their aides were given 16-page booklets listing projects such as the removal of the dams on the Des Moines River, the renovation of the Warden Plaza and related construction of a cultural and recreation center, the growth of the industrial park called Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation, the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes flights to and from Fort Dodge and funding for the community college.

“We worked through the book and asked if they were aware of different funding opportunities that we weren’t aware of,” Bemrich said.

“There always seems to be a lot of interest related to the ag park, Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation,” he said, reflecting on the items that received the most attention during the meetings.

The Iowa Central representatives talked about the Second Chance Pell Grant Program, which provides federal financial aid to prison inmates taking college classes.

The local college is one of 67 schools in the nation authorized to use the program, according to Jim Kersten, Iowa Central’s vice president for external relations and government affairs.

He said 313 inmates from the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility and the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City are using the grants to take classes in things like welding and electrical maintenance.

“Their success rate has been very good in progressing in the course work,” Kersten said.

He said Ernst and Grassley are “very supportive of our legislative agenda.”

The delegation also met with U.S. Rep. David Young, R-Van Meter. Young doesn’t represent Webster County, but he is interested in it, according to Webster County Supervisor Mark Campbell.

“He’s a big fan of our area and our ag park,” Campbell said.

The meetings with the members of Congress were about the only ones the local group was able to have because the storm dropped four to five inches of snow on Washington, closing most federal offices.

“It was absolutely amazing to see the people from Texas going out and taking pictures of each other in the snow because they’ve never seen real snow before,” Campbell said.

He said one representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture met with the group at their hotel to talk about rural development programs.

Meetings with other Department of Agriculture representatives, plus officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies were canceled.

Bemrich said those meetings have been rescheduled for today and for Friday morning before the group flies back to Iowa.