Mayor Ron Corbett urges cooperation, not lawsuits, for water quality

Cedar Rapids mayor asks Linn County farmers to support tax for natural resources

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CENTRAL CITY — What’s good for agriculture is good for Iowa, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett told Linn County farmers Tuesday night, saying lawsuits and burdensome regulations are good for neither.

“What is good for you is good for Cedar Rapids,” the mayor told the annual meeting of the Linn County Farm Bureau. The city sees the impact in more than 1,000 trucks of grain processed in Cedar Rapids each day, jobs created by the processing and property taxes the industries pay.

But Corbett said he senses some “angst … and finger-pointing” between urban and rural Iowa. Much of it stems from concerns about the environment, especially over water quality.

“That’s not healthy for our state,” he said, calling for a “new era of understanding … appreciation … cooperation” among urban and rural.

Corbett, who has formed a conservative think tank called Engage Iowa and many think is contemplating a run for governor, outlined stark choices for Iowa farmers. One way to address water quality is the Des Moines Water Works approach — suing northwest Iowa counties over pollutants in the Raccoon River, a source of the city’s drinking water.

“Lawsuits divide people, draw lines in the sand and develop bitterness,” he said.

If Des Moines is successful in the suit, he asserted, it will mean heavy-handed regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Corbett, who spent 13 years in the Iowa House including five as speaker, said Farm Bureau members, based on their track record in the Iowa Legislature, may feel they have enough clout.

“The timber industry felt that way once. The coal industry felt that way once,” he said.

A better approach, he said, would be a collaborative process, with farmers and landowners joining forces with cities, the state and philanthropists to raise resources to address water quality.

A key to finding the funds to make meaningful improvements would be Farm Bureau support for a three-eighth cent increase in the state sales tax to support a sustainable, constitutionally protected natural resource fund, he said.

“It starts with you,” Corbett said. “It’s time to close the door on lawsuits and regulations and open the door to cooperation.”

Farm Bureau members didn’t make any commitment, but applauded the mayor.

“Personally,” outgoing President Jason Russell of Monticello said, “I like the three-eighths cent (tax) as long as it’s not used for land acquisition instead on infield and edge-of-field projects.”

The possible tax, which was part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy voters approved in 2010, could be considered by the Farm Bureau later this summer, according to Brian Lensch of Marion, the county’s voting delegate to the association’s summer policy conference.

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