Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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April 2, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 4/6/10

In this edition:

*A different look
*Happy Birthday Jordan!
*Pancake Day
*Sutliff Bridge
*Did You Know?

*A Different Look
You will notice a new look to Salvos beginning this week. A friend who is well versed in this type of communication suggested that I needed a table of contents and headings for new topics.

So, I am trying it out. I have some concerns about Mediacom’s ability to support what I am trying to do, but we’ll see. Please let me know what you think!

*Happy Birthday Jordan!
Happy Birthday to my daughter Jordan, who turns Sweet Sixteen on April 8! Jordan is a strong, smart, beautiful young lady who knows right from wrong. I am awfully proud of the young woman she has become. I love you honey!

*Pancake Day
The ICCSD is holding its annual Pancake Day fundraiser April 10 from 6AM-6PM at West High. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.

This is the biggest annual fundraiser for City and West High athletics; please support their efforts!

*Sutliff Bridge
The debate over whether or not to rebuild the Sutliff Bridge raises several deep questions for both society and government. Let’s explore some of them.

As most of you probably know, I have biases here. I grew up at Sutliff. My younger sister lives within 200 yards of the bridge. My family has lived in the area since before Iowa was a state. My friends and family fought to keep the bridge in the early 80s. My senior class picture was taken on the bridge. The bridge is tied up in family, friends, childhood memories, current relationships, and more. I want to state that in the interest of full disclosure.

The Sutliff Bridge was built a couple decades prior to the advent of motorized vehicles. It is the longest Parker Truss Bridge in the US. It is listed on the National Historic Registry. To people in the area, it defines the place they call home.

As for those deep questions - What is history worth? What is ANYTHING worth? If we get rid of an old bridge because it does not function the way it used to, should we apply that logic across the board? Should we quit spending tax dollars on senior citizens, many of whom no longer function the way they used to? Should we have torn down the Old Capital Dome after it burnt, and instead built a new office building? Should we preserve the ruins in Athens and Rome? Do Iowa’s Century and Heritage Farm programs make any sense? Why do we mark graves? Should history be taught in our schools? What is history worth?

Frankly, it is impossible to place a value on history. I have been in the Old Capital probably ten times in the past year – almost certainly five times more often than most Johnson County residents. Do more people visit the Old Capital, or do more folks visit Sutliff? (My guess is Sutliff by a 20:1 margin.) Should attendance matter? Must history focus only on government, or is there value in preserving the people’s history? What makes one thing historic and worth saving, and another less so?

The Sutliff Bridge is a destination for cyclists, motorcyclists, snowmobilers, farmers, anglers, hunters, boaters, birdwatchers, people exploring their Czech backgrounds, history buffs, and more. What is that worth? Can we accurately measure the economic impact of such a place? Is it worth more than a 2 mile road resurfacing? Is it worth more than a new Secondary Roads shed?

As of this writing, it appears there will be ZERO local match required to restore the bridge. So no County dollars will go toward the project. The cost of future maintenance would be a County expense, but given the fact that FEMA would be bringing it up to code, there should be very little in the way of maintenance expenses for 10-20 years.

Even the future maintenance looks good from a taxpayer’s perspective. The Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA) has raised tens of thousands of dollars over 25+ years to maintain and insure this bridge. They are willing to put roughly $10,000 toward the future maintenance right now, with more to come very shortly. $10,000 should cover the maintenance costs for a long, long time. Plus, they have pledged to continue to raise funds into the future. I trust them and believe in them. History is on their side.

So the people of Johnson County are getting this replaced courtesy of the federal government. I can already hear the familiar refrain – “they are still our tax dollars!” Of course. No one wants to see the federal government waste money.

But this is an issue with any and every tax expenditure. If it benefits me, you think it is wasteful. If it benefits you, I think it is wasteful. People complain about waste in federal health programs, but ignore billions of waste in defense. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There is little agreement as to how federal tax dollars are spent. That will not change any time soon.

Interestingly, the State of Iowa, Polk County, Des Moines, and Principal have combined forces to build a $12 million pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Des Moines River. Local tourism and economic development folks are calling this a huge draw. The DM project is 1/3 the length of the Sutliff Bridge, and spans a much smaller river. Why don’t we market our own treasure?

Johnson County has 59 structures on National Historic Registry, 41 of which are in Iowa City. These recognized structures include the Old Capitol, Plum Grove, Old Brick, the old Coralville Schoolhouse, the Johnson County Courthouse, the Englert Theater, Bethel AME Church, St. Mary's Catholic Church, and yes, the Sutliff Bridge. Federal, State, and local experts determined years ago that the bridge was one of 59 historic things in Johnson County worthy of saving. Can you imagine tearing any of these other structures down over a fear of future maintenance expenses?

My general inclination is to lean toward preserving things. I think we benefit from having a connection to and understanding of history. Too much of our past is gone, never to return. Do I think everything is worth saving? No. But I happen to believe that the investment in the Sutliff Bridge is worth it.

DID YOU KNOW? 31 million of Iowa's 36 million acres are dedicated to agriculture. (Source: Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey.)

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



Anonymous linda herman said...

I love your perspective of the Sutliff Bridge. I too grew up near there and it is truly a special piece of Iowa.
Linda Herman

April 7, 2010 at 8:18 AM  

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