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The Elbert Files: Odds and ends


Mount Rainier is going bald.


I was 14 when I first saw the western Washington volcano’s snow-covered peak on a family vacation in 1961. The 14,417-foot mountain is visible in clear air from more than 100 miles, including in Seattle where Rainier’s snowy crust was ever-present back then. 


I didn’t see Rainier again until 1975, when my wife and I honeymooned on the Olympic Peninsula. At that point, little had changed.  


Not so in 1999 when I drove daughter Holly to Seattle for an internship. By then, Rainier was often hidden by industrial smog. Still, on rare days when conditions were right, the mighty snowcap could still drive conversations.


Earlier this month Amy and I visited Washington and Oregon, flying in and out of Seattle, but smoke from forest fires hid the mountain our entire trip. 


That was disappointing, because I wanted to see what the now nearly naked peak looks like.


News reports earlier this year said an unprecedented heat wave in late June, when Seattle temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for four days in a row, melted 30% of Rainier’s snowpack.


The same is true with other area volcanoes that we were able to see, including Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson in Oregon and Mount Adams in Washington. All are 10,000 to 12,000 feet in height, and today gray is the dominant color on their once-white peaks. 


Cities and farms in the Pacific Northwest depend on melting glaciers for water and to keep forests from turning into tinder boxes. Needless to say, that is not working out well these days.


Car alarm: Our trip to the Pacific Northwest included five days in the San Juan Islands northwest of Seattle, which we reached in a rented Audi Q5 SUV. 


The hourlong ferry to Orcas Island is typically a leisurely trip, but our crossing was marred by the Q5’s anti-theft alarm, which repeatedly went off. 


The gentle rolling motion of the ferry as it crossed the bay triggered the Q5’s alarm time and again, prompting the captain to twice announce on the loudspeaker: “Would the driver of the Q5 please return to your vehicle and shut off an alarm?”


After the second announcement, I opted to remain below deck with the car’s key fob control in hand, so I could quickly kill the alarm as soon as it sounded, which it did three more times. 


Once we reached Orcas Island, Amy Googled “Q5, panic alarm, ferry” and learned this is apparently a common enough problem that it has been written up and solutions suggested. On the ferry ride back, I tried two of the solutions, and the second one seemed to work. 


CyTown follow-up: Earlier this month I raised some questions about the CyTown entertainment district Iowa State University athletic director Jamie Pollard wants to build in the flood plain between ISU’s football and basketball venues. 


Pollard compared the district to successful private ventures in Kansas City and Green Bay. The purpose, he said, is to generate money for maintenance and operation of Iowa State Center facilities, which include the football and basketball venues and C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. 


I wrote that there might be legal and environmental questions about the proposal, which prompted an email from my former boss Michael Gartner, whose resume includes stints as editor of the Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune — where he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing — president of NBC News, and chairman of the Iowa Board of Regents during the early 2000s. Until recently, he also owned the Iowa Cubs and wrote Cityview’s “Civic Skinny,” a who’s-who column that occasionally ruffled the feathers of local leaders. Gartner also has a law degree and is an avid reader of legal texts.


His email began: “I don’t see any exceptions in the Iowa Code for Cy-Town.” 


Gartner went on to quote at length Section 23A.2 of the code, which is titled: “State agencies and political subdivisions not to compete with private enterprise.”


It lists a few exceptions, none of which appear to include CyTown.

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