REGIONAL—The past year certainly had its fair share of tremendous gains and staggering losses.
If N’West Iowa was not getting hit with excessive moisture from the sky, then it was celebrating the welcome water from the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.
Other than water, there was a lot of news in 2018 for people to ponder.
In no particular order, the top stories in N’West Iowa in 2018 were:
N’West Iowa got hit with flooding not once, but twice in 2018 — in June and September.
The flooding began when the town of Hartley in O’Brien County received 6.5 inches in more than two hours on June 14, which created a flash flood.
More flooding occurred on June 21. The affected area stretched from Rock Rapids to Hartley as locations received 3 inches or more of rainfall. Parts of the town of Rock Valley were evacuated, the second time in four years such an event occurred due to flooding.
Restrictions were placed on the Iowa Great Lakes, preventing no-wake zones within 600 feet and any boaters from traveling faster than 5 mph.
President Donald Trump declared a state of disaster for 30 Iowa counties impacted by the June flooding, of which all N’West Iowa counties were included. Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola and Sioux counties sustained $2.8 million in flood damage from the June events alone.
The floodwaters returned in September and closed Highway 60 south of Alton in Sioux County after Sheldon received 5.3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Flash flooding east of Paullina caused damage to the city’s water main.
Natural Food Holdings of Sioux Center announced a $29 million expansion in August. The pork plant will build a two-story, 50,000-square-foot addition and create 50 new jobs. Construction is slated to start this month.
Diamond Vogel in Orange City in October announced a $24 million expansion, which will include a new research and development center, a 6,000-7,000-square-foot addition to the Peridium Powder Coatings manufacturing facility and an upgrade of the office area.
The Hegg Health Center in Rock Valley opened a $28.8 million addition in January. The hospital addition features three new emergency rooms, new patient rooms, a new surgery suite and more.
Northwestern College in Orange City received a $6 million donation in April from Jack and Mary DeWitt for its $24.5 million health and natural sciences facility. The 61,000-square-foot Jack and Mary DeWitt Family Science Center opened in August.
The $32 million Sioux County Regional Airport northeast of Maurice opened for business for the first time on Nov. 14.
The regional facility was the result of a partnership between the cities of Orange City and Sioux Center, and Sioux County. The grand opening brought Gov. Kim Reynolds and Boeing CEO and Sioux Center-native Dennis Muilenburg to the event.
The airport sits on 493 acres and features a 5,500-foot runway, multiple hangars, a terminal, a parallel taxiway, fueling systems, a weather observation station and more. The 35 aircraft that were housed at Orange City and Sioux Center are now at home at the Sioux County Regional Airport.
Discussions for the airport began in 1999 after the Federal Aviation Administration determined the airports at Sioux Center and Orange City were limited.
Two trains derailed in N’West Iowa in the span of four months.
The first occurred on June 22, near the town of Doon. Heavy rains and flooding — 5-7 inches in 48 hours — led to 33 railcars from a 98-car BNSF Railway train to be derailed. The cars were carrying crude oil from Canada, and 160,000 gallons were leaked from 10 derailed cars. Four homes south of the Lyon County town were evacuated early that morning. The week following the oil spill, 250 people worked in round-the-clock shifts to clean up the mess.
A Union Pacific Railroad bridge stretching across the Floyd River near Alton collapsed on Sept. 23, with a 95-car train on top of it. Thirty-seven cars were derailed and leaked soybean oil and sand. The derailment occurred days after the Floyd River crested almost 10 feet above flood level. Union Pacific got the bridge operational again in October.
Curtis Van Dam
Former Sioux Center Christian School teacher Curtis Van Dam was found guilty in state and federal courts to charges he sexually abused children.
The 37-year-old pleaded guilty on Nov. 30 in the Sioux County Courthouse in Orange City to state charges of one count of second-degree sexual abuse, five counts of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of sexual exploitation by a school employee. The charges all stem from acts Van Dam engaged in connection with several young boys. Initially, he faced 143 charges, such as lascivious conduct with a child and lascivious conduct with a minor. A plea agreement reduced the number. Sentencing has been scheduled for Jan. 11. Van Dam is facing 80 years in prison.
The two federal charges he faced were sexual exploitation of a child and possession of child pornography. Van Dam was found guilty of federal charges of sexual exploitation of a child, which took place between November 2013 and October 2017. He used various electronic equipment to record the acts. Van Dam was sentenced to 15 years in a federal correctional facility.
He came under investigation after a complaint was made to the school in October 2017 that Van Dam persuaded a child to remove his clothing and urinate into a bottle.
A mother, Artis Kattenberg, and her teenage son, Nicholas, opened fire on homes belonging to members of the Rock Valley Netherlands Reformed Church in December 2017. The homes were in Sioux County and Lyon County.
They were arrested in January at their Brandon, SD, home. Before the Kattenbergs’ arrest, the mother and son were displaying odd behavior, according to authorities. Artis reportedly told church members computer chips had been implanted in their skulls, giving her knowledge of names of people on government hit lists. Nicholas had brought a gun to the sanctuary.
Inside their home in Brandon, authorities found 80 guns, ammunition, shields, ballistic armor and more. Artis was indicted by a Minnehaha County, SD, jury on two counts abuse or cruelty to a minor and was given credit for time served.
Artis, 51, on Dec. 21 filed an Alford guilty plea to second-degree criminal mischief, a Class D felony, and reckless use of a firearm, an aggravated misdemeanor. In an Alford plea, the defendant asserts innocence but admits that the evidence presented by the prosecution would be likely to persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a simple misdemeanor, will be dismissed as part of a plea agreement. Sentencing has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7, in Lyon County District Court in Rock Rapids.
Murder and arson
Santos Rodriguez Jr. of Rock Valley, who turned 21 on Friday, pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder and first-degree arson on June 4. He was sentenced to 50 years for the murder and 25 for arson, to be served consecutively and not exceeding 75 years.
On Oct. 29, 2017, Rodriguez stabbed his 84-year-old grandfather, Luis Barrios Luevanos, multiple times and set fire to the home in an attempt to cover up the crime. Seven other people were inside the house Rodriguez shared with his grandfather at the time. Afterward, Rodriguez fled to Utah, but was apprehended by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents. He was held in Sioux County Jail in Orange City with a $1 million bond.
Rodriguez originally was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree arson.
The family of Carrie DeJongh of Hull on June 13 won a $29.5 million lawsuit against Sioux Center Health.
Filed in Sioux County District Court, the family sought damages in wrongful death lawsuit. DeJongh went to the hospital for a computerized tomography scan on June 9, 2015. She had an anaphylactic reaction to the contrast dye and had an anaphylactic reaction, sending her into shock. The attending physician, Roland T. Slice, administered Benadryl to DeJongh, which had no effect. After DeJongh’s heart stopped beating, epinephrine then was given. DeJongh, who was 40, left behind her husband, Jeff, and four children — Adrianna, Beau, Mandi and Jaelyn.
Before the jury decision, MMIC Insurance Inc. offered to settle the case for $1.35 million, and would have required all parties to sign confidentiality agreements. That offer expired on May. 21.
On July 20, attorneys for the hospital and Slice filed a motion seeking a remittitur of damages, which either lowers the amount granted by a jury or sends the verdict into civil litigation.
Lewis & Clark progressing
The Iowa Legislature in May approved $4.75 million federal funding advance for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, specifically for a segment of pipe starting at Sioux Center and heading west.
The city of Rock Rapids finally connected to the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System on June 19. The Lyon County town is receiving 550,000 gallons of water daily.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Nov. 7 announced $15 million in federal funding for ongoing construction for the tristate water project. Originally, $100,000 in federal funds were allocated for the project. However, U.S. Congress members from Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota helped secure an additional $98.7 million for the Rural Water Supply Program administered by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Other N’West Iowa towns slated to join the water system is Hull by the end of 2022, Sheldon in 2024 and Sibley by 2027.
Iowa Information grows
Iowa Information Publishers and Printers of Sheldon grew physically and digitally in 2018.
On Oct. 1, the 56-year-old family-owned company purchased the Hawarden Independent/Ireton Examiner, adding a fourth weekly newspaper to the fold. Other community weeklies are The N’West Iowa REVIEW, The Sheldon Mail-Sun and Sioux Center News.
“We know, we understand and we appreciate the value of local journalism,” Iowa Information president Jeff Wagner said. “This is why we thought the Independent/Examiner would fit nicely with our current portfolio, and we are excited about having a much larger presence in Ireton and Hawarden.”
On the digital front, nwestiowa.com, the online home of Iowa Information’s print products, generated more than 2.8 page views in 2018, more than double 2017’s numbers, according to webmaster/editorial designer Briana Harrell.
“There were a few factors affecting this increase,” she said. “The largest one was a story that had a lot of traffic in 2017 ‘Trafficking hits close to home.’ It started to resurface again in 2018 when Mollie Tibbetts went missing, it was all over social media. This trafficking story got more page views in 2018 than it did in 2017.”
Harrell also noted increasing the company’s web traffic was a goal throughout the year.
“We accomplished that by adding new online features such as Take 5 and Athlete of the Week,” she said. “Take 5 is a fun segment in which the reporters get to write about what they want. It could be anything from their favorite takeout to the best Halloween candy or how soon is too soon for Christmas music. For Athlete of the Week, we ask our readers to vote for their favorite athlete. We are enjoying the interaction with our readers resulting from these features and we are hoping for more.”