Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sneaky Politics

April 28th, 2010
Sneaky Politics.
It is really a crying shame that county politics is not as open as everyone thinks it is. County politics is a case of if you don’t ask, I won’t tell. You can say that the county is not open in their transactions on a daily basis, but they will always tell you ‘but it was in the paper.’ My answer is ‘yes, but not on a real time basis. Not everybody reads the legal section of the paper on a regular basis.’ Maybe after this article is published, your interests will peak and that answer will change.
Do you remember many, many articles ago that I said that I love conspiracies? I am going to piece some parts of the puzzle together and you might just be amazed at the outcome.
Let’s talk about property taxes. One thing that everyone is interested in is their property taxes. I’m sure the situation is the same in Iowa as it is here in Union County. Right now we are seriously strapped for money. Now the only way one can raise money in South Dakota is by property tax since we don’t have an income tax. Our taxes are frozen at 3%. Now we have two options if we want to bring in some money for expenses and overhead without going over the 3% limit. One way is to opt out and the other is to raise the valuation on the property therefore getting more money next year and not exceed the 3% figure. Union County is poised to do both.
In Union County, the commissioners have been talking seriously for the last two months about opting out of the tax freeze because the county is almost broke. Well, maybe not broke but they are running out of money to pay the cost of keeping the roads in good repair, especially the oil roads. In the ‘Big Plan,’ the county has 180 miles of paved roads and according to the highway superintendant , Ray Roggow, paved roads have a 20 year life span, and if the county redoes 18 miles of road a year then the roads will be in good state and everything is fine. There is only one problem, inflation and frozen property tax. As an example, last year the county only redid 4 miles of road because of the rising cost of asphalt. Now this puts them 14 miles behind the power curve for this year, and the expenses keep climbing. The only solution that the commission can come up with is to opt out of the tax freeze and this will bring in $248,000 to pay for the roads. They had talked about doing this in time for the primary election but didn’t get it submitted in time for the primary ballot, (on purpose??) $so it will have to be on the November ballot UNLESS they vote to opt out by July 1st. now here is the kicker. If they opt out by the 1st of July, in order to stop it, the residents of the county will have to circulate a petition and refer it to a special election. If there is no referral it becomes a done deal. Has anyone on the commission said anything to the public about this? They have but it has been really quiet. It has been published in the legal section of the papers, but evidently everyone has overlooked this because nobody is raising a question about it. Or better yet, nobody knows about this and the commissioners are keeping quiet about it. Evidently they think nobody will take the time or trouble to circulate petitions, so they are home free, and the highway department will have its money.
The other way to raise money is by raising the assessed value of your home and your land. I believe that everyone’s assessment went up by 20-25% for next year. In Beresford, all homes that are over ten years old had their assessment raised by 9%. Not much you can do about that EXCEPT go to your township board and have your assessment revised. Ah, back to the conspiracy. When the township boards met with the Union County State’s Attorney back in March, he directed that the boards scrutinize the objections very closely. He didn’t want to see any paperwork come before the commissioners on reducing the assessed values. He told the township boards that they were the “Gatekeepers” for the county and it was their job to make sure this doesn’t happen. Somebody forgot to tell Dakota Dunes. (Why do I keep picking on the people at the Dunes?) Here are a few examples of the Dunes objections to the assessments.
1. Current value $159,328 change to $132,940 (-$26,388)
2. Current value $7,916 change to $3,589 (-$4,327) purchased at sheriff sale $305
3. Current value $144,505 change to $134,348 (-$10,157)
4. Current value $144,506 change to $134,349 (-$$10,157)
5. Current value $185,000 change to $142,282 (-$42,718)
6. Current value $216,061 change to $211,000 (-$5,061) value too high
7. Current value $456,585 change to $399,120 (-$57,465) higher than cost of new construction
8. Current value $471,273 change to $433,737 (-$37,536) added an addition
9. Current value $260,080 change to $245,000 (-$15,080) sales value lower
10. Current value $316,480 change to $273,090 (-$42,390) increased above fair market value
11. Current value $213,587 change to $195,500 (-$$18078) value more than purchase price.
Now, I’m not a rocket scientist, but just those 11 properties reduced their value by a total of $269,366. Can you imagine how many more there are? Look at some of the rationale for reducing the assessed value. #8 added an addition. Doesn’t that increase the value of a home? #7 higher than cost of new construction. DUH! The housing market is way down. How about #10 increased above fair market value. I still don’t understand that one. Or #11, value more than purchase price. I thought homes appreciated at least 10% a year in value. Am I losing this somewhere in the translation?
The whole point I’m trying to show is what the county is doing. What else is going on?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Spin Doctor

<$BlogMetaData$>April 20th, 2010

“The Spin Doctor”

If you remember last week I mentioned that Mr. Dick White from Hyperion was speaking at WIT on Thursday and I would let you know what he had to say and if there was anything new to report. He didn’t have anything new to say, but he did put a new twist on what he did have to say about the refinery project.

He spent about 20 minutes talking blah blah blah about the causes of global warming and we need to be prepared for this. To my knowledge, this is the first time that he has admitted there is a problem, and linked it to Hyperion.

He went into a long spiel about the fact that the economy is in a slump and this is not the time for Hyperion to be spending $13 Billion dollars for a refinery in Union County, (the numbers keep getting bigger and bigger) therefore he is here to convince the landowners holding options to extend their options for one to two years until the economy begins to recover, and then they will buy the land and begin construction. That is the biggest load of you know what I’ve ever heard however, that is the first time that Hyperion has backtracked and admitted that there is a problem. If you read between the lines, he is telling me that they don’t have the money to buy the land and that they can’t find venture capital to buy the land either. (How long have we been saying this?)

One of the other things that came out in this speech is that he admitted for the first time that one of the reasons for the delay is due to the permitting process and the litigation in the courts. Well, who would have thought of something like that? There is an old saying in this world that if you start a project this big and you don’t end up with years of lawsuits you did something wrong. They got their wish. Here we go again, to my knowledge the only permit they have applied for of the 12 or so permits that will be required is the air permit. Hoo-Rah, what do you think is going to happen when they get to the water permit? Oh my God, more delays. Shucky darn. This time they will be dealing with the feds, and I can almost guarantee you they will be required to submit an environmental impact statement. Then the fit will really hit the Shan.

One interesting thing he did mention was about an article in the papers on Monday about Sineopec paying $4.6 Billion to Conoco Phillips for their interest in the Athabasca Tar Sands. What he didn’t say is that the 6% of the tar sands that Sinopec bought is further reducing Hyperion’s access to tar sands. I’m sure that Hyperion was planning on tapping into the TransCanada pipeline for tar sands, but now that has gone up in smoke. (a little play on words there)

Mr. White spent the rest of the hour talking about international marketing and the intricacies of dealing with Europeans in their home territory.(Gorilla) He mentioned that you have to go in and establish an open relationship with the people.(Gorilla) You need to hire someone who is familiar with the local people and the territory.(Gorilla) You need to learn the local language and gestures. (Gorilla) Does this all sound familiar?

When he was finished I raised my hand and asked this question or maybe made a statement. It sounded like a question. “Mr. White, your speech is full of contradictions. You talk about global warming and being prepared yet you support a refinery that will be emitting 19 million tons of carbon dioxide. If that isn’t an oxymoron, what is it?” he replied that he is merely a consultant and that if I want an answer to that I will have to talk to the oil experts.

Since he was speaking at WIT he did talk about 1800 permanent and 4500 temporary jobs that will be added as a result of this refinery. Now let me ask you a question, would you feel safe knowing that this refinery would be built by men and women with absolutely no experience in building oil refineries? I’m not only talking about the laborers, I’m talking about the supervisors as well. Do you think for one minute that people will leave their wonderful homes and climate in Houston to come to Elk Point to build a refinery? They know what happens when it’s -20 below zero. Nothing happens. It’s too cold to do anything. You need a minimum of five years of working as a welder or pipe fitter in the oil field to become certified to make a safe product. That means they had better get started working now if they want to come back in five years and apply to work here because it is going to be that long before anything happens. This is starting to sound like a broken record.

So, did we learn anything new yesterday? Only that Mr. White has really been working on his tan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Enough Already

<$BlogMetaData$>April 13th, 2010

Enough Already

I really wanted to title this article ‘What a crock’. After the commissioners meeting on the 6th of April, it is apparent to me that your county commissioners absolutely don’t have a clue.

This all started with the public hearing to grant a liquor license to Sean Brady for a club at Garryowen. This was already a done deal because he paid the $25,000 two weeks before for the license, so this was just a legal formality. Anyway, I implied to the commissioners, (naw I accused the commissioners) of using the zoning ordinance as a convenience for either enforcing or disregarding the ordinance to suit their purposes. I reminded them that they cannot continue to use the excuse that it is the jurisdiction of the planning and zoning commissioners not the county commissioners to enforce the ordinance. I reminded them that in the comprehensive plan of 2005, they are ultimately responsible for its enforcement. I said that I have previously been to both the p&z and to the commissioners and that their handling of this issue with the exit 31 grille is in violation of the 2008 zoning ordinance. It says specifically in the ordinance that the landowner must request a conditional use permit. Sean Brady did not then and still does not own the property, yet the p&z rezoned the property to commercial. Sean Brady is purchasing this property contingent upon it getting rezoned commercial, approval of the conditional use permit and obtaining a liquor license.

Here is another slam against the citizens of the county. Ms. Merrigan sent the commissioners a letter requesting a reply by them about the Garryowen property and during the course of the discussion about the permit, Mr. Jordan replied to me that the letter from Liz was merely a personal letter in his correspondence packet and did not require a response. So what Mr. Jordan was in effect saying is that unless you are on the agenda and appear in person before the commission, whatever your concerns are is merely conversation and they don’t need to respond to you. (Now comes my headline) “What a Crock.”

Anyway, back to the liquor license. Mr. Karpen and I were discussing who was responsible for requesting a conditional use permit when the States Attorney interrupted and said this was not on the agenda. What they were there to have the hearing for was the license for Mr. Brady. So, Mr. Karpen cut the conversation short and took a vote to grant the license, and it was 3 yeas and 1 nay (Mr. Ustad) and the license was done. Marv Schemp wasn’t there. So much for following the ordinance.

One of the next things on the agenda was to visit the property that was purchased for a parking lot for the court house. I don’t think any of the commissioners other than Mr. Karpen had ever seen the place. My comments when I walked through the door was” Holy Moses, this place is about to fall down.” I have never seen a place in such condition. Talk about a dump. I could not believe they paid $45,000 for this place and they still have to pay to have it demolished. I mean I can understand they never intended to use the building, but they still have to have the building demolished. The plan is that this will be filled in, paved and either use it for court house parking or lease it out. That last statement really threw me for a loop. I thought the whole idea for a parking lot was because Main Street is being torn up and they need parking for customers. Main Street is already being torn up and here they are talking about demolishing the building. They have to list it in the paper as surplus property and then put it out for bids. Mr. Jordan remarked that there might be wood, windows etc. that an antique dealer might want, so they are going to advertise it in area papers and do whatever. Main Street will be done before they decide what to do with it. One of their concerns is that there is as lean-to within 2 feet of the property line that surely would not survive an excavator tearing down the building, so they are going to talk to the property owner and offer to repair any damages or maybe even building him a new lean-to to save time and money trying not to damage it when they demolish the building. I’m not kidding folks, this is what really happened. I was there. (Kinda like Walter Cronkite and “You were there.”)

Okay now we are back in the commissioner’s room and they are talking about what it is going to cost to have this building knocked down. Best guess is that it will be somewhere between $7500 and $9500 to get the work done. The City of Elk Point is going to help towards this cost. (I wonder if the people of Elk Point know this.) Speaking of cost, I wonder where this $9000 is going to come from. Is this a budgeted item for 2010? Will they use contingency funds again? Who’s on first?

I always like to wait until Sunday to submit this article because there is always something surprising that pops up at the last minute. Sure enough, in the SCJ today is an article about Hyperion and Dick White speaking at a seminar at WIT tomorrow. It is an international trade summit. (International Trade Summit???) Dick White is the guy that spearheaded all the land options for the HEC. Dick has been back in the area for the last few weeks negotiating extensions to the options signed 3 years ago. These are the options to extend for one to two years at no cost. The seminar on Thursday is going to show how Hyperion ties into international trade. Does this mean the oil is going overseas instead of the local area? Hum-m-m-m-m

Monday, April 5, 2010

Amazing, Simply Amazing

<$BlogMetaData$>April 7th, 2010

Amazing, Simply Amazing

You know, the longer I research and write about oil, the more confused I get. This last week has been a plethora of oil news, and if you believe half of what you read you just want to go out and shoot yourself in the foot and get it over with.

First is the news that Iowa gets more than half its oil from Canada. Gary Mar who represents Alberta at the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. says "We're your friends, and we are a good, dependable source of oil compared to the Middle East," However The environmental battles in the Upper Midwest and Canada over extracting oil from Canadian oil sands and expanding pipelines could have a strong impact on the region's energy economy. (Oh right, like this is causing gas prices to skyrocket!)

The Alberta oil is refined at the Flint Hills refinery in the Twin Cities suburb of Rosemount, Minn., and the BP refinery in the Chicago suburb of Whiting, Ind. It's sent to Iowa directly from Minnesota or west through Wood River, Ill., near St. Louis, through central Missouri and then north to the BP terminal in Clive.

The Minnesota and Indiana refineries, along with most others in the Great Lakes area, have retrofitted themselves in recent years to refine the heavy crude that comes from Canada instead of the lighter oil from Texas.

Long-term planners would like to build a refinery at Sioux Falls, S.D. The proposed Hyperion Refinery already has passed a local vote but still has legal and financial hurdles."But Hyperion would also refine Canada's heavy crude, which would serve the Iowa market," said John Kerekes, central region director for the American Petroleum Institute. (Is NOT IN MY LIFETIME a good definition of long term?)

On the 28th, comes an article in the Denver Post – Energy Company eyes Utah’s oil sands. Earth Energy, A company from Alberta, Canada wants to start mining tar sands in the Uintah county of Utah. (OK what’s going on here?) Now get this. This company is trying to raise a paltry $35 Million to finance mining of tar sands in Utah but admits it could be tough because private equity groups turned skittish after the 2008 economic meltdown. (And Hyperion is trying to raise $10 Billion ????) they said “Until we raise our capital, we are unable to proceed with the project in any major way, but the minute we do, we are fully prepared and committed to advance,” said D. Glen Snarr, President and Chief Financial Officer. (Sounds like a quote from Al Huddleston, except that he told Elk Point mayor Trobough he had the money and she believed him.)

Now hold on here, the United States (Hyperion) is going press-to-test to import tar sands from Canada and here is a Canadian company wanting to mine tar sands in the United States. This is just getting goofey. University of Utah chemical engineering professor Phillip Smith says ‘Wringing oil from hard rock or oil sands is technically possible, but nobody has proven it economical on a large scale yet.’

Bear in mind now, these guys are talking about tar sands in Montana and Utah. These reserves have been estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to contain over one trillion barrels of oil. Starting in 2006 the federal government awarded small plots of lands for experimental works that have yet to produce any meaningful quantities of oil. Oil shale is said to be ‘rich’ when it contains 30 gallons of petroleum for each ton of rock, but pound for pound that amounts to only 1/10th of the energy of liquid crude oil.

And one wonders why those of us who are against Hyperion keep saying this will never happen.

Now here is the Coupe de Gras. In Saturday’s Sioux City Journal, buried back in the local/business section of the paper on page A5 is an article - Study: US. Refineries have bad safety record: (Oh My God, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?)

U.S. oil refineries have an ongoing problem with accidents that turn deadly, losing four times as much money from such incidents than refineries in the rest of the world, according to an insurance company report obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The problem is highlighted by a deadly string of explosions, including one that killed four people Friday at a Tesoro Corp. refinery in Washington state, federal officials said. (actually it was 5 killed and 2 injured, but the article is about how much money was lost – Really?)

The blast at the Tesoro plant north of Seattle killed 5 people and injured 2.the blast was felt more than a mile away. Folks, this is a refinery that only produces 20,000 barrels a day and the blast was felt a mile away. There was a refinery explosion in Utah last November that was felt 18 miles away. I think this is getting close to home now. I don’t know about you, but I only live 6 miles away from the proposed site and this bothers me even more. These accidents seem to be a regular occurrence and the one on Good Friday wasn’t even in the Sioux City Journal. Come on guys, let’s get going here. BP had an explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 170. Oh, but this is just normal routine in this risky business right? And people want to have a refinery built in Union County?

I’m going to close with a quote by Charlton Heston when he was elected president of the NRA. “I’ll give up this rifle when they pry if from my cold, cold hands.”