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Wet season is keeping certain pests at bay

This year’s wet weather patterns may be temporarily pushing horticultural and agricultural pests to the background.

That’s a preliminary assessment from officials familiar with certain pests that troubled growers just a year ago, in a time that featured the stark contrasts of drought.

“The Japanese beetles like it on the dry side,” said David Laderoute, a Missouri master gardener in St. Joseph. Master gardeners receive training in horticulture that they then transmit to their communities. “They just started showing up about two years ago.”

Laderoute said many pests prefer to burrow out of dry ground to wreak havoc on plants. Japanese beetles typically occur in an area over six weeks before their life cycle concludes, he added. Some of the beetles have been appearing in a garden tended just outside the University Extension office off Mitchell Avenue. The insects prefer to munch on rose bushes and ornamentals, and they also feast on the leaves of linden trees. Yet the beetles aren’t so awful this year because of the constantly wet conditions. Saturated soil isn’t conducive to their reproductive processes, in essence drowning them.

“We have been relatively pest-free this year,” he said.

Other pests that have cropped up recently include cucumber beetles and cucumber bugs. Those pests, can destroy about 25 percent of all the plants.

“Those are starting to come out now and do some damage,” Laderoute said.

And when it comes to corn, earworms are the concern this year. Extension officials are shepherding along a small patch of corn outside the office.

“They like the hot weather, big time,” Laderoute said. “We can have a lot of devastation in the corn.”

He, other master gardeners and extension leaders are aiding the students in learning about common pests during the gardening class.

Tom Fowler, a horticulturalist on extension’s Buchanan County staff, said he’s preparing to set traps to collect Japanese beetles, just as he and his colleagues across the state did last year. Fowler said each trap can lure up to 300 of the beetles inside its compartment.

Based on his observations, it’s so far a down year for the beetles, and the drought of 2018 and the cool spring may be the reasons. But they aren’t completely absent from northwest Missouri. Fowler said he’s received reports of them from all around the county.

Another extension horticulturalist, Tim Baker in Daviess County, told News-Press NOW he’s also sensing a delay in the start of pest season, but he has begun to receive some reports of Japanese beetles.


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Foundation highlights higher-education scholarship opportunities

Paying for higher education can be an expensive proposition, which is why a local organization is helping to ease the burden.

Last year, 139 students across 25 high schools received scholarships from the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri. As some students prepare for their final year in high school, they can apply for scholarships through the foundation from January to March 2020.

The organization’s scholarship coordinator, Alicia Saunders, said the scholarships offered through the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri cover a variety of counties, from Buchanan to Atchison and even as far east as Putnam. As a result, students received $128,000 altogether this past school year.

“We have so many students applying, and I think that as the cost of education goes up each year — whether it’s a vocational technical school, community college or a university — I think it’s just sad to see parents and students go into so much debt,” Saunders said. “So if they can find ways to help put some money toward that education to reduce that debt, I think that’s great.”

Scholarships can be from an individual or even created in honor of someone through the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri. While the donor may set the criteria — be it high marks or interest in a particular major — the foundation handles the administrative aspects. Businesses may also host scholarship opportunities.

Currently, the foundation has scholarships available for students planning to attend a two-year or four-year college, a university or vocational technical school. And while many of the scholarships are for seniors preparing for graduation, there also are some for current college students.

“I would say the majority are one-time scholarships … but some are renewable for four years,” Saunders said. “As the student continues through their sophomore, junior or senior year if they maintain the grades or whatever the criteria may be, then they can renew that scholarship.”

Interested parties can apply on cfnwmo.org and use the ScholarLink link to apply for scholarships through the foundation from Jan. 15 to March 1. Scholarship donors and a selection committee will select their recipients and notify them in May 2020.


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Law stymies collection of traffic fines

Maybe John Boeh isn’t the kind of guy you find riding a motorcycle down Missouri’s country roads. But the St. Joseph municipal judge has his own reason to feel deflated after Gov. Mike Parson vetoed a bill that would have repealed the state’s helmet law for motorcycle riders.

A provision in the bill would have allowed the state to suspend the driver’s licenses of motorists who refuse to pay penalties imposed for minor traffic violations like speeding and running a red light. Without the threat of a possible license suspension, some drivers are refusing to pay traffic fines.

“There’s a lot of irresponsibility,” Boeh said. “You shouldn’t be able to profit for doing the wrong thing, for not taking responsibility for the moving violation.”

The city of St. Joseph estimates that 17 percent of police-related traffic citations remain unpaid, amounting to $168,000 in unpaid fines last year. It’s not from a lack of enforcement. The St. Joseph Police Department issued 16,168 traffic summonses in 2018, a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

“The whole purpose of traffic enforcement is to change behavior,” said Sgt. Chris McBane of the St. Joseph Police Department. “The purpose of a summons to court is not to punish you, but to modify your behavior.”

All too often, motorists are learning a lesson, but it’s not the importance of safe driving. The state used to suspend a driver’s license if a motorist failed to pay fines on minor traffic violations, but that threat was removed in a 2015 law designed to curb municipal court overreach in the wake of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

As Boeh sees it, the city has little leverage, especially if an out-of-town motorist is ticketed. The city will issue a warrant if the fine is unpaid, but the motorist not only keeps the license, but no points are assessed against it because the case remains unresolved.

“Of course, the city of St. Joseph is not going to come down and pick you up for speeding,” Boeh said. “They don’t have the resources. So you think it over and say, ‘Well, I’m going to profit by not showing up.’ There’s no consequences.”

The seeds of this debate were planted in 2014, when massive street protests erupted after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. A subsequent investigation found that Ferguson relied heavily on fines and fees as a primary source of revenue, putting financial pressure on low-income residents.

The state responded with a 2015 law that sought to prevent cities from using municipal courts to generate revenue, including the decision to no longer suspend licenses for minor traffic violations.

“They did a lot of good things,” Boeh said. “One of the provisions they had was nobody could sit in jail for more than two days for a municipal violation. There were places where someone had a plate ticket and they sat in jail for three weeks or a month because they only had court once a month.”

Boeh is no stranger to the tension between city enforcement and a low-income population that struggles to pay fines. The City Council has sought to increase fines for code violations while the state Supreme Court issues mandates for judges to consider alternatives when a person is unable to pay.

“So, I can levy big fines and I don’t have a problem doing that,” he said. “Or I can waive fines and forgive fines. That’s not hard to do, either. But I can’t do both at the same time.”

Across the country, some advocates for low-income communities are beginning to question the fairness of suspending licenses for failure to pay traffic fines. Some believe the loss of driving privileges makes it harder to keep a job.

“A state suspends the license even though a person cannot afford to pay, which then makes the person less likely to pay once he or she cannot drive legally to work,” according to a report from the Legal Aid Justice Center of Virginia.

But Boeh said there’s no excuse for not showing up in court, especially since St. Joseph’s Municipal Court has a history of providing options for low-income residents. Allowing some people to walk away from their tickets, with no immediate impact on points or a license suspension, seemed unfair to those who do pay the fines, he said.

“That would make me very angry,” Boeh said.

The state will suspend or revoke license for more serious offenses, like driving while intoxicated. In Buchanan County, 2,462 drivers have a suspended or revoked license.


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SJPD to offer active shooter training to businesses

A new report from the National Threat Assessment Center, a division of the Secret Service, shed more light on mass shootings across the United States last year.

According to that report, entitled “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces,” 27 different sites were attacked in 2018. And while northwest Missouri didn’t contain any of those sites, the St. Joseph Police Department is still offering free training to any business that wants to prepare for an active shooter incident.

“It’s all about how to recognize it (an active shooter situation), what to do if that situation occurs whether you’re at work or out and about in your public life,”said Sgt. James Tonn, an officer with the St. Joseph Police Department.

According to the NTAC, 20 of the incidents in 2018 took place at businesses. Four took place in open spaces like parks, and three happened at schools. One occurred in a place of worship.

Tonn said that the main thing individuals can do is to be vigilant of anything out of the ordinary. He said most people become complacent, and that can be dangerous as attacks can happen anywhere.

“Just look for things that are outside the norm,” Tonn said. “We’re very good at going through the motions of life everyday. Anything outside of the ordinary you should pay attention too.”

According to the NTAC report, two-thirds of attackers exhibited symptoms of mental health issues. At least ten of the attackers possessed a gun illegally.

Tonn said it’s important to keep an eye on friends, family and coworkers and reach out to some sort of authority if concerns arise. According to the report, 93 percent of attackers “engaged in prior threatening or concerning communications.”

Almost as many attackers made “some form of communications that did not constitute a direct threat but should have elicited concern,” the report said.

Tonn said that it’s also important to remain vigilant in public, watching for things that seem odd.

“I was attending a movie with my kids and these two males came into together like they were friends but they sat at opposite ends of the theater,” Tonn said. “I wouldn’t normally pay attention to that, but that’s not normal. So I moved to where I was in a better spot should something happen.”

Luckily nothing did happen that day, but as the NTAC report points out, the attacks can pretty much happen anywhere. If you do find yourself in a mass attack situation, Tonn recommends a three step method: run, hide and fight.

“The loss of life and traumatic nature of these attacks had a devastating impact on the victims and their families, local communities and the entire nation,” the report said.

According to the report, a total of 91 people died in U.S. mass shootings last year.

Tonn said any organization looking to schedule active shooter training should call the police department at 816-271-4777 and ask for Tonn. He said the training isn’t limited to just the city limits, as he will travel to other locations in northwest Missouri.