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Candidates scattered on environmental issues

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | OCTOBER 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Sustainability took the front seat at an Iowa City City Council candidate forum on Wednesday night, in which many issues garnered most of the discussion.

Advocacy groups and Iowa City citizens gathered in City Hall to discuss candidate views on issues such as sustainability, cleaner water, and raising Dubuque Street.

The candidates in attendance included Councilor Susan Mims, Catherine Champion, Rockne Cole, Kingsley Botchway, and Royceann Porter. Councilor Terry Dickens was absent from the forum but provided a written statement on environmental issues.

Iowa City residents will vote on Nov. 5 to fill two at-large seats on the council, with an additional seat open in District B. Dickens and Porter are the only two candidates eligible for the seat in District B.

Environmental Advocates, Iowa City Climate Advocates, Iowa River Friends, Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, and the Iowa Sierra Club sought answers for the environmental issues.

Some candidates agreed sustainability — an ongoing commitment in the community — is a prominent issue. However, Mims is unsure of how achievable the 100 percent sustainability in the city might be.

“I think we can certainly be a leader, and I think it’s a fantastic goal,” she said. “How feasible it is, needs to be analyzed.”

Cole said Iowa City has some catching up to do with some other cities, such as Cedar Rapids, in terms of sustainability, and Champion said this could be aided by better informing citizens.

“I think one thing we can do, which is such an easy fix, is put out an easy one-pager on programs citizens can take advantage of,” she said. “We as community members [want] to do a good job, [but we need] access to information.”

Cleaner water — an issue proposed by the audience — is something all candidates agreed needs to be addressed.

But many candidates felt they needed to educate themselves on further.

“Obviously, with being someone who is a newcomer, I need to do more research,” Botchway said. “Make sure you hold me accountable. This is something I’m saying I’m going to do, so make sure I stand by that.”

And another felt she did not know much beyond the practical aspects.

“Water to me, I drink it and take a bath in it,” Porter said. “It is important and I would like to learn more about it.”

Mims noted that although the issue needs to be addressed, getting legislative support will be a challenge.

“I will tell you the practical aspects are going to be very, very difficult because the farm lobby is incredibly strong in the state,” she said. “Is it an uphill battle? Yes. Is it one we should still fight? Absolutely.”

Raising Dubuque Street to prevent flooding has been an ongoing topic of discussion. There are currently three proposals on the table. The first option calls for raising the street to the level of the 500-year flood plus 1 foot. The second option, though similar, would raise the street to the level of the 2008 flood, plus an additional foot. The last option would raise the street to the level of the 100-year flood level, plus 1 foot.

All but one candidate agreed that the 100-year plan was the best option. Porter did not have another idea but simply said she does not feel consensus in the city on the issue.

“These are major decisions, and additional consideration needs to happen,” she said.

With all the talk on these issues, one advocacy leader was thrilled at the results of the forum.

“We have an opportunity to actually be progressive,” said Martha Norbeck, a board member of Environmental Advocates. “We have some candidates who can push that agenda, and I’m excited about that.”


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