‘Fort Dodge is just really moving’
Sen. Ernst learns about local projects
Railroad connections and water will be key to the future growth of the ag industrial park west of Fort Dodge, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst learned Wednesday.
The Republican senator was briefed on the ag park and a handful of other local projects when she visited Fort Dodge. City, county and school officials asked for her assistance in securing federal money to help with those projects.
”I am just very excited,” Ernst said after meeting with local leaders in the Greehey Family Student Success Center at Iowa Central Community College. ”Fort Dodge is just really moving on a lot of great activities.”
She said she was already passionate about one issue presented Wednesday – child care.
Fort Dodge, according to information presented Wednesday, is a child care desert, which is defined as an area that has three or more children for every available child care space.
”We definitely meet that definition,” said Chad Schaeffer, the city’s chief development officer.
He said there is a shortfall of about 2,000 child care spaces in Fort Dodge.
Ernst said she has worked with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, on ”trying to close up some of these child care deserts.”
She added that she is pushing to get $20 billion for child care included in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
Called Iowa’s Crossorads of Global Innovation. the ag industrial park is home to the Valero Renewables ethanol plant, the Cargill corn milling plant and the CJ Bio America amino acid and fertilizer plant. The area is served by both the Union Pacific Railroad and the Canadian National Railway. Connecting the two railroads there to improve service to the park has been a goal for years.
Last year, Webster County unsuccessfully applied for a $16.8 million federal grant to pay for some rail work. The county plans to apply again if the grant program reopens.
Ernst said she is sure that the program will reopen, and added that she will provide a letter of support for the county’s application.
She also urged local leaders to make sure the project is a priority for the Iowa Department of Transportation, because federal officials will look to see if it is supported by the state.
”Stay on DOT,” she said.
Schaeffer said the industries at the ag park consume about 5 million gallons of water daily.
”As the ag park continues to grow we need to continue to grow our supply of water,” he said.
”The No. 1 resource they need to do what they do is water,” he added.
He said a water survey is under way to potentially identify new sources.
Ernst asked to be updated on it.
The city of Fort Dodge could begin building a new broadband utility featuring fiber optic lines in conduits passing by every home and business next year. The project is estimated to cost $26 million and will be paid for by revenues generated by the system.
”We’re doing this because our incumbent providers are not,” City Manager David Fierke said to Ernst.
He said a low interest loan program from the federal government could be helpful.
Ernst said broadband should be part of an infrastructure bill being developed in Congress.
On an unrelated matter, Jim Kersten, a vice president of Iowa Central, told Ernst that the school has received $6.4 million from the last COVID-19 relief package and is awaiting guidance on how it can be used.