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City of Muscatine Communication Blog

Hello and welcome to our blog. As the Communication Manager for the City of Muscatine, Iowa, I know the importance of communicating with residents and providing them with an understanding of the different functions of the City, why these functions are important to our residents, and what the City is doing for the future of our community.

Many times the story of the various activities, accomplishments, and happenings within the City are not told and we want to make sure that the people behind these activities, accomplishments, and happenings are duly recognized. We also want to explain our vision of the future for the City of Muscatine, something that we take great pride in.

Please check back in periodically to see updates on what's going on here in Muscatine! Please feel free to leave comments on individual postings--the comments will not be displayed here, but they will be emailed to me so that I can collect your thoughts and make adjustments based on the feedback and suggestions. Moderated comments are an option as we progress. Thanks for reading and I hope you find this to be an effective tool!

Apr 14

Blocked railroad crossings frustrating but who to call?

Posted on April 14, 2021 at 4:20 PM by Kevin Jenison

See the ORIGINAL POST

RR Emergency Sign - 33rd Street -croppedMUSCATINE, Iowa
– Blocked railroad crossings can be a nightmare for drivers especially if they are in a hurry and the blockage lasts for more than 10 minutes. Most cars and personal trucks have the ability to turn around and seek another “open” crossing but larger semi-trucks, like those hauling grain, are not able to turn around and must wait, rather impatiently, for the train to clear the crossing.

Complaints concerning blocked crossings in Muscatine have been centered along the Grandview Avenue corridor and extending south past Dick Drake Way. Blocked crossings, however, is not a problem limited to Muscatine … it is a problem across the United States.

Canadian Pacific Rail Road (CPRR) has installed information signs at each crossing that provides the crossing location number and the telephone number to call (1-800-716-9312) to report extended blockages.

This is the number that individuals should call first to file a complaint of a blocked crossing.

“You will need to know the crossing number, the engine number if you can see it, and the length of time the crossing has been blocked when you call the 800 number,” Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager for the City of Muscatine, said.

All information goes directly to the CPRR safety office who is able to communicate directly with the train crew to determine why the train is stopped, how long it has been stopped, and inquire if assistance is needed.

Individuals can also call the Muscatine Police Department (MPD) at 563-263-9922 to report a blocked crossing (do not call 911 to report a blocked crossing). MPD will relay the information to CPRR through the 800 number.

 “We have developed a good working relationship with CPRR and they work hard at resolving these issues,” Jenison said.

Iowa Code prohibits the blocking of a crossing for more than 10 minutes with four exceptions: (1) when necessary to comply with signals affecting the safety of the movement of the train; (2) when necessary to avoid striking an object or person on the track; (3) when the train is disabled: and, (4) when necessary to comply with governmental safety regulations including, but not limited to, speed ordinances and speed regulations. These four exceptions cover most of the extended crossing blockages.

Railroads are moving to longer trains in order to reduce costs and that is one of the reasons for the increase in the number and duration of blocked crossings. Sometimes trains have to sit due to safety protocols while at other times a part of the train will block a crossing due to switching operations.

Enforcement options are limited, however. Iowa Code does allow a local jurisdiction to issue a citation to the train, however, that power has been limited or removed by many courts in the last several years. These courts cite the fact that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 gave the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over the speed and movement of trains. The Act abolished the Interstate Commerce Commission and replaced it with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) within the Department of Transportation.

The Act effectively makes Iowa Code unenforceable as well as a municipality’s ability to cite a train for blocking a crossing.

Neither the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) nor the STB have written any code or rules restricting the duration or timing of trains blocking a crossing.

“While there are limited options to reduce the timing of these blockages, we have found that keeping the lines of communication open and working with CPRR has been the best solution,” Jenison said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) echoed that sentiment noting that by reaching out to the railroads directly with specific complaints can help mitigate a particular issue.

Public inquires can be directed to Canadian Pacific Rail Road’s Community Connect service at 1-800-766-7912 or emailing CPRR at community_connect@cpr.ca.  This information, along with answers to some common questions about rail operations is also available through the CPRR website at www.cpr.ca

The Federal Railroad Administration has a dedicated webpage for the public and law enforcement to report blocked highway-rail grade crossings. (http://www.fra.dot.gov/blockedcrossings)

Additional resources can be found at the Federal Railroad Administration (https://railroads.dot.gov/) or the Surface Transportation Board (https://www.stb.gov/stb/index.html).


Feb 11

Indian trail stone marker becomes part of riverfront memorial

Posted on February 11, 2021 at 11:37 AM by Kevin Jenison

marker riverside park 800 (JPG)

(Article provided by Rick Bierman)

MUSCATINE, Iowa – A stone Indian trail marker is, once again, on display at Muscatine’s Riverside Park. The memorial was placed during the summer of 2020 thanks to the efforts of the Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department.

In May of 1936 the trail marker was put on display at Riverside Park to honor E.L. Koehler and his efforts to beautify the park. The memorial was removed during landscape redesign and trail construction along the Mississippi riverfront.

The Indian trail marker and two similar markers were placed along an Indian trail that travelled from the Mississippi River to Rocky Ford on the Cedar River. One marker was placed close to the Mississippi River bank and was used as fill during levee construction prior to 1936. A second marker was placed at a point to the northwest of town and probably somewhere close to where the 61 Bypass and Mulberry Street intersect. This marker disappeared many years before 1936. The marker now on display at Riverside Park was removed from a spot close to Saulsbury Road and not far from the Cedar River.

indian trail muscatine 1000 (JPG)

Although no trace of the trail remains, research has revealed a likely path through the county. The map above, courtesy of Virginia Cooper, shows the town of Muscatine and the path of an Indian trail that passed through the area well before Muscatine was settled.

The trail starts at the Mississippi River where there must have been a ford across the river from the Illinois side. 

east trail 800 (JPG)

The trail continues across town to what is now Cedar Street and by Jefferson School. You will notice in the center of the map above that the trail crosses Mad Creek at the spot where the 9th Street Bridge was built.

This crossing is mentioned by one of our earliest settlers, Err Thornton.

mid map 800 (JPG)

During the spring of 1834, Thornton was looking for land to settle when he came to the trading house at the future site of Muscatine. He left the trading house with the intention of travelling east along the Mississippi River. He walked from the trading house to Mad Creek and then up to the Indian trail crossing. Because of high water, he was unable to cross the creek so he took the trail heading west and found himself lost and at a point a few miles northwest of the trading house. One of the three stone trail markers was placed close to the Mississippi River and probably marked the direction to go to find this main trail. 

nw map 800 (JPG)

This map to the left shows the northwest section of the trail where it moves along Papoose Creek and toward the junction of what is now the 61 Bypass and Mulberry Street. If you look at the center of the map, you will see a 7 with the words bent tree and a small stick drawing showing a vertical line with two 90 degree angles in it. The Indians had a way to manipulate the growth of a tree so that it formed two 90 degree angles. They used these trees to mark trails, campsites and other important features.

bent tree (JPG)

This tree looks like it might have been by Papoose Creek and close to the intersection of Cedar Street and Logan Street.

In a Muscatine Journal article of May 30, 1936, the Indian trail is described as starting at the Mississippi riverfront and extending to the Cedar River and then in the direction of Iowa City.

iowa 1846 cropped (JPG)This 1845 map shows a road going from Bloomington (Muscatine) to a town named Lucas on the Cedar River and then on to West Liberty and Iowa City. Many of the early roads followed Indian trails because the Indians went from one place to the next following the most convenient route.

Lucas occupied the site of the abandoned village of the Indian leader Poweshiek. Poweshiek's village was on the west bank of the Cedar River and by a natural rock bottom ford across the river. This river crossing was about a quarter mile upstream of the old Saulsbury Bridge.

Here is an excerpt from the accounts of another early visitor to Muscatine County during 1835, James Mackintosh.

"He stopped that night near the Iowa River, and spent some time the next morning in Black Hawk's village, where Wapello now is.  He visited the old Chief's tent; the Indians were out on a hunt.  He crossed the Iowa River at some risk - stopped that night at Thornton, but found no food for man or beast, and left at day-break next morning for the trading house, now Muscatine.  

“Some miles below, a family were encamped, and they having plenty of corn, the traveler's horse was fed, and the saddle-bags filled in case of need.  The family were faring sumptuously on honey, from a bee tree they had cut.  An invitation was given, and gladly accepted.  That was an interesting group, sitting around the stump of that tree, with chips for plates, and nothing but honey for breakfast.  

“The next station was the trading house, and our traveler, who intended reaching Pine Creek that night, unfortunately took the wrong trail, and found himself on Cedar River, near Poweshiek village.  The weather turned suddenly cold, and being wet, having waded a creek full of floating ice, the only hope left was to get to the village.  But that proved impossible.  The river was open, and being unacquainted with the ford, to attempt it would have been madness, and to go back was equally difficult, as the creek was to cross, the bottom wide, and the trail two feet deep in water.  

“There was no alternative but to camp, without fire or food.  Matches were not common in those days - the fire-works had been lost, and the grass too wet to strike fire with the pistol.  He made a bed of leaves and grass, wound himself in his blanket, and lay down at the foot of a stump, to which he tied his horse, who fared the best, as his supper was in the saddle bags.  That was a night to "try men's souls" - the howling of the storm, and the still louder howling of the wolves, made the night terrific.  Sleep was out of the question.

“It froze hard enough by morning to cross the creek, or the river.  He arrived at the trading house by noon, nothing the worse of his cold lodging, with a good appetite for dinner, having eaten nothing but the honey for three days and two nights.  Resting there that night, he proceeded next day to Pine Creek, where the accommodation was good for that period, and the next day he arrived at Frank's claim, below Rockingham, which he purchased."

Mackintosh's account shows the existence of a trail from the trading house by the Mississippi River, moving to the northwest and ending at the Cedar River across from Poweshiek's village. He also mentions a ford across the Cedar River and a creek that was probably Chicken Creek. 

We know that one of the three stone trail markers was at the bank of the Mississippi River, but where were the other two placed? Thanks to the research of Anne Wieskamp Collier, we know that the stone marker, now on display at the riverfront, was taken from the farm of T.M. Barnes, just this side of the Cedar River and by Saulsbury Road. The third marker, that sat northwest of town, might have been placed at the junction of two Indian trails, the trail going to the Cedar River and another trail that connected the Indian camps on the Iowa River by Wapello and the camps on the Mississippi River by Davenport. 

Thanks again to Muscatine Parks and Recreation for displaying this historic artifact.


Jan 14

Fire Department urges caution when using portable heating devices

Posted on January 14, 2021 at 5:53 PM by Kevin Jenison

010321 Space Heater Fire (JPG)

MUSCATINE, Iowa – During the New Year’s weekend a trailer fire in Muscatine resulted in fire damage to one room and smoke damage throughout the trailer. The resident was lucky. The quick response of the Muscatine Fire Department prevented a much bigger tragedy.

The investigation into the fire determined the initial cause was a heating device left too close to combustibles. The investigation also found several other space heaters plugged into extension cords, placed in close proximity to combustibles, and smoke detectors present but the batteries taken out.

“This fire brings up safety topics of smoke alarm maintenance, use of extension cords, and the use and spacing of space heaters,” Mike Hartman, Muscatine Fire Department Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal, said.

Heating, cooking, decorations, and candles all contribute to an increased risk of fire during the winter months. The National Fire Protection Association says that it is important to pay careful attention to the proper use and maintenance of heating equipment, which are one of the major causes of residential fires.

The primary culprits in home heating fires are open-flame space heaters, portable electric heaters, and wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. Improperly installed or maintained central heating equipment can also be a cause of fire in the home, although not as often.

Heating is the second leading cause of residential fires, deaths, and injuries in the United States with December, January, and February the peak months. Space heaters are the cause in two out of every five home fires.

Hartman said fire code does allow space heaters but they are required to be plugged directly into the outlet.

“Space heaters pull a lot of power and can overheat extension cords and multi-plug adapters,” Hartman said. “The heaters need to be properly listed (kind of a given anymore), and spaced at least three feet from combustible materials.”

Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the invisible killer. This odorless, colorless gas is created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, etc. do not burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO. Carbon monoxide incidents are more common during the winter months, and in residential properties.

The Muscatine Fire Department suggests a few simple precautions to help reduce the risk of a home heating tragedy, either by fire or deadly carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning:

  • Open-flame space heaters: Maintain at least three feet of clearance from the front and sides of the heater to any combustible materials, such as curtains, drapes, furniture, and bedding. Make certain the heater burns with a clean blue flame across the entire burner. If it does not, a plumber or heating expert should clean the burner and adjust the flame. Avoid the use of any type of unvented fuel burning heating device, and if absolutely necessary use only if the space is equipped with both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Portable electric heaters: Should always to be placed on the floor, not in a chair or on other objects. The portable electric heater should have an automatic shut-off device to turn it off if tipped over. Its electrical cord should not be in an area where it will get walked on repeatedly, without being protected by a cord protector, mat, or rug.
  • Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves: Maintain at least three feet of clearance from the front and sides of the fireplace or wood-burning stove to any combustible materials (see open-flame space heaters above). The flue or chimney should be checked periodically (optimally once a year) for creosote buildup, cracked, or broken flue tiles, loose mortar joints, and corroded or leaking flue pipes. The flue or chimney should be checked before use to be certain it isn’t blocked. These are attractive locations for birds and squirrels to build nests.
  • Fresh air: Be sure to allow some fresh air into the area where the stove or fireplace is in use. A lack of fresh air can cause incomplete combustion and/or interfere with the unit’s ability to draft properly, either of which can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the home.
  • Type of wood: The type of wood burned in a fireplace or free standing woodstove is important. Your best bet is to use hardwood, such as oak, maple, beech, or ash. It should be properly dried or seasoned for about one year. We also advise removing ashes regularly for maximum air flow. Disposal of ashes should be in a non-combustible container such as a metal bucket. Hot ashes or coals can smolder for days, and if placed in a cardboard box, or plastic garbage container the results can be disastrous.
  • Avoid burning trash: Homeowners should avoid burning items such as trash or gift wrapping paper.
  • Fireplace screen: Also, when leaving a room while a fire is burning, a fireplace screen or glass door should be closed to protect the room from sudden sprays of sparks.

SMOKE & CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are two essential tools every resident needs to protect their families and their homes. Working smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire and allows residents to exit the home quickly and safely according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Carbon monoxide detectors are also a life saving device, notifying residents of the odorless gas that could be fatal.

Residents should check the batteries in each device located in the home at least twice a year and replace each device after 10 years (always write the date of installation on the device).

EXTENSION CORDS & POWER STRIPS

102520 Power Strip Melted (JPG)Most extension cords and power strips are meant to handle lower amounts of current and cannot handle the high currents space heaters draw. Extension cords and power strips are also a tripping hazard in the home and that could be harmful to a person and also cause the space heater to fall over.

Space heaters need to be plugged directly into the wall as heating elements can reach 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also keep an eye on them when it is in use.

“There is a common theme in space heater fires,” Hartman said. “They were left unattended.”

Other common safety tips:

  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand: Having fire extinguishers – and knowing how to use them – is an important part of maintaining a safe home for you and your family. When seconds count, having a fire extinguisher nearby is crucial for rapid response. Fire extinguishers should be stored where they are easily reachable and in key rooms where there is a higher risk for fires such as the kitchen and garage.
  • Practice candle safety: When burning candles for festive lighting, keep them at least a foot from anything flammable, never leave them unattended and place them out of reach from children. Make it a routine to check that all flames are extinguished before you go to bed or leave the room.
  • Play it safe in the kitchen: Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home injuries, so it's important to know what you can do to help keep your friends and family safe while entertaining during the winter season. The primary cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended stovetops and ovens. If you are simmering, baking or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the kitchen and use a timer for reminders. When cooking for longer periods of time, don’t forget to use the exhaust fan or vent above your stove to help prevent carbon monoxide (CO) from collecting inside your home.

Additional Information:

Winter Fire Safety video

Portable Heater Fire Safety video

FEMA Up In Smoke – Space Heaters video