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Regional agencies brace for more infrastructure damage

Officials across Northwest Missouri are once again preparing for a battle they can’t win against flooding, plunging the fate of the region’s infrastructure into doubt once more.

The Missouri Department of Transportation already has closed four bridges in the area, alongside several other roads, with more closures expected as water levels rise.

One bridge on U.S. Highway 159 near Rulo, Nebraska, and Fortescue, Missouri, still is impassable because of flooding this spring. Water already is nearing the base of the bridge once again, which effectively blocks access to the state line in the area. Fields in the area also are flooded, and railroad employees could be seen testing the nearby tracks on Tuesday afternoon.

“I understand accessibility is a major concern,” Tonya Lohman, a MoDOT engineer, said. “There’s just a time period where you have to go and close a roadway.”

Other road closures are more of a frustrating inconvenience than a major collapse. U.S. Highway 59 is closed from Atchison, Kansas, to the Missouri side near State Highway 45. A MoDOT truck could be seen driving around the barriers early Tuesday.

“We don’t want anyone to get washed off, any vehicles to get damaged,” Lohman said. She added that U.S. Highway 59 has so far avoided major damage despite the flooding, and might be a candidate for one-way traffic while minor repairs are made.

“The largest impact our community will see with the predicted water level and 59 Highway being closed is longer commute times, both for our citizens living here and our workforce that live east of Atchison,” Wesley Lanter, the emergency management director for Atchison (Kansas) said.

There’s also several road closures closer to the state line with Iowa. In Holt County, State Highway 111 and State Route T are at least partially closed. State Highway 111 also is closed in Atchison County, as are State Routes Z, D, U and E.

One of the main roads through Watson Township, State Route BB, is closed. Two roads that run up to the Iowa line, State Routes V and CC, also are closed.

Rhonda Wiley, the emergency management director for Atchison County, Missouri, said some people are are just getting back to their homes from the last round of flooding.

“They’d just gotten to where they could access homes they couldn’t access since March,” she said. “And now they’ve lost access to these homes again.”

Wiley said updates for Atchison County will be posted on the emergency management Facebook page.

The main thoroughfare in the area, Interstate 29, remains open as of Tuesday evening. A full list of road closures can be found on MoDOT’s website.

Lohman said road closures can lead to consequences outside of basic infrastructure damage. She said some railroad companies are actively trying to raise their tracks above the flood plain, which causes damage to roads due to the heavy equipment needed for the job. Other state and federal agencies also are conducting repairs of levees, putting more stress on roads.

“Every year is different, depending on how the storms come in,” Lohman said. “This past year we had such an intense winter there’s a lot of water being released into the Missouri River.”

“This round of storms that came through in the last couple weeks hit Iowa pretty hard, so all that water is coming downstream,” she said.


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Air traffic experts cite certainty of funding as priority

Only in Washington, a witness told a Senate hearing Tuesday, would decisions be made on the assumption that Congress could not do its job.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran had set up the response by explaining possible opposition to his legislation providing alternative funding for the Federal Aviation Administration in case of a government shutdown.

Some colleagues, the Kansan said, had mentioned that the elimination of risks about diminishing air traffic control could actually lead to more shutdowns.

“I would hope that we could do our jobs better than we’ve done them to date,” Moran said.

Ed Bolen, a University of Kansas graduate and head of the National Business Aviation Association, agreed with the Republican senator and offered a rueful reply.

Air traffic by the numbers

“Your explanation on why not to pass your bill is an only-in-Washington explanation,” he said. “Everywhere else, people know our economy, our safety, depends on a strong and robust air transportation system.”

The exchange took place during a Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee hearing on the nation’s air traffic control system.

Those testifying spelled out a variety of merits and shortcomings in the system, but all agreed with the need for Moran’s bill, the Aviation Funding Stability Act. To assure all air traffic operation in a government shutdown, the measure would allow funding to come from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

“We ought to be able to work through our challenges, not requiring a disaster, a catastrophe or even just difficulties for the American traveling public, just to get us to do our work,” Moran said.

According to the FAA, the nation’s air traffic control system handles more than 16.1 million flights annually, or more than 44,000 a day. Nearly 2.8 million passengers fly every day in and out of American airports.

There are 14,695 air traffic controllers.

Trish Gilbert, the executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told the subcommittee that the absence of a “stable, predictable funding stream” comprised the greatest challenge to the FAA and the National Airspace System.

“What I’d like not to see is another shutdown to convince people to sign on to this legislation,” she said to Moran. “ We can not afford to suffer another government shutdown.”

The witnesses also decried any renewal of efforts to privatize the air traffic control system.

Last year, the then-chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, gave up on his long-running effort to sever air traffic control with the FAA and the federal budget and make it a more flexible not-for-profit corporation.

Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that privatization has not worked well in other countries.

“Of all the issues that we hear about from our members, I can tell you that our ATC system is not one of them,” Baker said. “Privatizing the system will not reduce the delays, will not reduce the ticket prices, will not make seats larger.”


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WATCH: On the river with the Department of Conservation

The Missouri River has seen flooding since March and the waters still remain high into the fall months.

The river has sat at about 20 feet for most of the summer, which is 8 to 10 feet higher than average. When it’s raised, the current flows at a faster pace than the typical 6 to 7 miles per hour.

Parker Rice, conservation agent with Missouri Department of Conservation, said the recreational use has slowed down due to the changes in the river.

“People don’t want to get their $70,000 fiberglass boat out here and hit a stump that they don’t see under the water,” Rice said.

There are maps of the river that boaters should study if they’re not familiar with the channels and want to avoid damaging their boat.

“Just like on land, speed can kill, so if you don’t know where you’re going, maybe don’t go quite as fast,” Rice said.

The flooding has caused there to be a large amount of debris and trees in the water that boaters need to look out for as well.

“There can be huge trees floating just inches under the water and if you don’t see them it may be really expensive to your motor,” Rice said.

The flooding has affected a large amount of bottom-land farmers and the population of homeless individuals who call the edges of the river home.

“People that are unfortunately having to live along the river bank are having a rough time right now,” Rice said.

Even though the river is continuing to stay at a high level, Rice said it’s safe for recreational use.

As the weather cools down, more people have started boating and setting trout lines along the river. The only aspect boaters and fisherman aren’t able to take advantage of is the sandbars that are still covered with water.

“The river does what it wants to and there’s no way you can control this thing,” Rice said.


National
Pelosi orders impeachment probe: 'No one is above the law'

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, yielding to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.

The probe focuses partly on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own re-election. Pelosi said such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared: “No one is above the law.”

The impeachment inquiry, after months of investigations by House Democrats of the Trump administration, sets up the party’s most direct and consequential confrontation with the president, injects deep uncertainty into the 2020 election campaign and tests anew the nation’s constitutional system of checks and balances.

Trump has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.

Meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, he previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”

Pelosi’s brief statement, delivered without dramatic flourish but in the framework of a constitutional crisis, capped a frenetic weeklong stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump burst into the open and momentum shifted toward an impeachment probe.

For months, the Democratic leader has tried calming the push for impeachment, saying the House must investigate the facts and let the public decide. The new drive was led by a group of moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts, many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time. The freshmen, who largely represent districts previously held by Republicans where Trump is popular, risk their own re-elections but say they could no longer stand idle. Amplifying their call were longtime leaders, including Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon.

“Now is the time to act,” said Lewis, in an address to the House. “To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”

At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.

Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president “will leave Congress ... with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” He said that would be a tragedy of Trump’s “own making.”

The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of the whistleblower’s complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege. Trump has authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to be made public today.

“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump said.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there have been no charges brought against either the former vice president or his son.

While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.

Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.

But details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi addressed the nation on Tuesday, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.

The burden likely will now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.

Building toward this moment, the president has repeatedly been stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in the variety of ongoing investigations.

After Pelosi’s Tuesday announcement, the president and his campaign team quickly released a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like the speaker and Rep. Ilhan Omar discussing impeachment. It concluded: “While Democrats ‘Sole Focus’ is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Pelosi’s well-known “efforts to restrain her far-left conference have finally crumbled.”

Pelosi has for months resisted calls for impeachment from her restive caucus, warning that it would backfire against the party unless there was a groundswell of public support. That groundswell hasn’t occurred, but some of the more centrist lawmakers are facing new pressure back home for not having acted on impeachment.

While Pelosi’s announcement adds weight to the work being done on the oversight committees, the next steps are likely to resemble the past several months of hearings and legal battles — except with the possibility of actual impeachment votes.

Tthe House is expected to consider today a symbolic but still notable resolution insisting the Trump administration turn over to Congress the whistleblower’s complaint. The Senate, in a rare bipartisan moment, approved a similar resolution Tuesday.

The lawyer for the whistleblower, who is still anonymous, released a statement saying he had asked Trump’s director of national intelligence to turn over the complaint to House committees and asking guidance to permit the whistleblower to meet with lawmakers.

Pelosi suggested that this new episode — examining whether a president abused his power for personal political gain — would be easier to explain to Americans than some of the issues that arose during the Mueller investigation and other congressional probes.

The speaker put the matter in stark terms: “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of his national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”


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