The Port Authority met in open session on Wednesday. This was their first meeting since June, so we figured this would be a good time to update our readers on what they’ve done, and what they’re doing.
What they’ve done
In case you don’t remember, or if you never quite understood in the first place, the Port Authority is basically a body of government created by Winnebago, Worth, Cerro Gordo and Mitchell counties.
Essentially, Iowa law allows this “Port Authority” to have different abilities than it allows an individual county board of supervisors to have, for example.
So in 2016, these four counties decided it was in their best interest to create this entity to enable them to work together on what ever projects they identified in the future.
One of the first things the new board identified was the lack of natural gas infrastructure available to industry in our area.
Based on that reasoning, they decided to commission an engineering study to come up with a plan, a proposed route, and what the price of building a pipeline would cost.
They sent out bids, and ended up commissioning the study from a company called Montana-Dakota Utilities at an estimated cost of $800,000.
To help pay for the study, Port Authority chairman Merlin Bartz and the Port Authority managed to get $250,000 from the state legislature.
The Port Authority will get this money once they sign a contract with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The rest of the cost will be split between Mitchell and Worth Counties.
What they’re doing
Simply put, they’re waiting for the study to be finished. Drafts of the study have been completed, but the Port Authority is waiting until it’s complete before releasing the information to the public.
“Usually if it’s a draft or in preliminary stages, there isn’t anything put together to where it’s an actionable item for the board to look at, then it’s not subject to the open records law.” said Michael Moeller, an attorney representing the Port Authority.
The study could be finished as early as the end of 2018, and preliminary cost estimates for the proposed pipeline are between $35 million and $40 million.
A portion of the public has been skeptical about the Port Authority’s motives, with some believing that the entity is engaged in corruption or is at least acting unethically.
These concerns have manifested in a series of conflict of interest complaints filed by Al Winters, who also happens to be on the ballot for Mitchell County Supervisor on November 6.
The complaints were filed against Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk, Mitchell County Supervisor Stan Walk, and Worth County Supervisor Merlin Bartz.
As previously reported in the EJ, the Bartz complaint was dismissed after being reviewed by Worth County Attorney Jeff Greve back in July.
More recently, Mark Walk had sent the complaint against him to he Bremer County Attorney, Kasey Wadding, for review.
In the complaint, Winters had accused Walk using his “duties of office” to twist facts and conceal the actions of the Port Authority, and therefore created a benefit for Bartz and the Port Authority.
However, Wadding’s review dismissed the complaint, and pointed out that County Attorney Walk does not provide legal representation for the Port Authority, he is mentioned nowhere in any of its minutes, and essentially has had no involvement with the Port Authority since its inception.
Winters’ complaints against the three officials did not meet the form requirements by the state, and while the complaints are filed as violating Iowa Code Chapter 68B, Winters fails to identify what part of 68B any of the officials have violated.
Mark Walk said during last week’s supervisor meeting that he has contacted Dunton Brown Law Firm for a possible filing of a defamation of character law suit against Winters.