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We got trouble, right here on the northeast beltway


Out northeast of the city, we’re getting ready for trouble.

It’s always been a fine area with one problem: not many places to buy stuff. They wouldn’t let us have a NorthRidge Mall, so we waited patiently while they went west of Des Moines and built roughly one retail outlet per household. Only a couple of decades later, they came back and built enough stores on the east edge of Ankeny and in Altoona to supply our plywood and fast-food needs. So now, finally, we’re kind of satisfied.

And if everybody who moves to the metro area thinks they have to buy in West Des Moines or Waukee, that’s all right, too. If they want to pay a premium to live 10 feet away from their new neighbors with trees no taller than cornstalks, we wish them all the best. Gives us more room to drive.

Out on the less fashionable side of town, we’re a few minutes from downtown and living on farms and acreages the way God and Thomas Jefferson intended. When we get the uncontrollable urge to visit someplace more exotic than Wal-Mart, we usually can make our way to the west-side malls, as long as we pack a lunch, use the buddy system and refuse to panic.

But now it’s time for Elkhart, Bondurant and Polk City to take their turn in the great struggle between conservation and development. The highway builders are getting closer and closer to approving a northeast beltway that would shoot north from Altoona, swing left at Elkhart and connect with the mile-long bridge at Polk City.

Oh, hello, Trouble. Pull up a chair. Can we get you a cool drink?

There is, after all, a catch. Every now and then, it does occur to us that if our ancestors hadn’t been such knuckleheads, if they had traveled a few miles farther before settling down, we could have turned our dirt into shopping malls by now and we’d all be rich.

And that’s the fingernail Trouble likes to stick needles under.

To paraphrase the late writer Nelson Algren, quality of life is the thing that matters most – but money matters more.

On one side of the issue, government bodies wait for the results of a feasibility study, to be followed by an environmental impact study and so on. Chances are it will be five years before they start moving dirt if they decide dirt should, in fact, be moved. Which they will. They figure development is going to take place out there anyway, so why not prepare?

On the other side you find worried citizens such as the members of 1,000 Friends of Iowa, who think a northeast beltway would destroy small towns, worsen flooding problems, cost a fortune and eliminate some of the finest farmland on the planet.

And where would the beltway run just north of Ankeny? Possibly through the pasture of Craig and LaVon Griffieon, leaders of the 1,000 Friends group and huge fans of leaving Iowa alone. Trouble couldn’t have arranged that on his own. He must have held a conference call with Showdown and Ongoing Crisis.

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