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Archive for April 23rd, 2008|Daily archive page

Boondoggle Cedar Rapids buses sold for salvage may have new life as buses yet

In City Hall on April 23, 2008 at 5:52 pm

Charles Bacon, the owner of C.J. Bacon & Sons Salvage in Hopkinton, isn’t as revved up as a month ago about ripping apart nine, little-used, experimental electric buses he purchased in an online auction from the city of Cedar Rapids.

Bacon bought all nine buses – four electric and five electric hybrids – that had sat in a city of Cedar Rapids storage lot, some a couple years, some several years, waiting for the federal government to allow the city to get rid of them.

The buses are a testament to a $10-million experiment, which was funded in large part by the federal government and which turned into nothing less than a boondoggle.

The buses never worked very well. None of the nine every logged many miles.

On Wednesday, Bacon said the price of gasoline these days has had him thinking that he can make more money selling some or all of the nine buses for use as buses rather than breaking them apart for salvage. A month ago, he figured he could make a couple thousand dollars of profit on each bus via the salvage route.

“I’ve got some interest in them,” Bacon explained.

He pointed to one fellow with operations in California and southern Missouri who has been “deviling me” to purchase the four all-electric buses among the nine.

Sufficiently strong has the interest been that Bacon now doubts he will bust up any of the buses just for salvage value.

Suddenly, he said he finds himself in a “speculative situation,” where he is willing to sit back and wait to see what the buses may yet bring.

“I don’t get too excited,” Bacon said. “The buses are mine. I’ve paid for them.”

He said he has a salvage yard full of things to tear apart without needing to hurry and salvage the buses.


A little red tape, not tilling, is Oakhill’s first task to make new community garden in a city park take root

In City Hall, New Bohemia on April 23, 2008 at 3:19 am

The Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association already has had its master gardener lay out the 20-by-30-foot garden plot on a piece of city park that the neighborhood and the New Bohemia group named Poet’s Park back in 2005.

Tilling is set for the next day or two, reports Michael Richards, the articulate advocate for the neighborhood and the part of it called New Bohemia.

Probably. City Hall still has a question or so.

No doubt, Richards and the neighborhood association are enthused about the idea of creating a brand new community garden. They want to use it as a demonstration plot for those in the neighborhood and elsewhere, including youngsters. They see it as a place to learn and to come to love gardening.

Two weeks ago, Richards attended the City Council meeting to talk about his garden plans, asking the city to let the neighborhood use one of the many vacant lots in a part of Oakhill for the demonstration garden

The part of the neighborhood he was talking about is the site for an emerging City Hall initiative called HAND – Housing and Neighborhood Development – in which the city is in the process of buying up a significant number of vacant lots. The plan is to provide incentives for builders to build on the lots.

Richard’s idea is that some if not many of the lots will remain vacant for a number of years, so why not put one of them to use in the meantime as a community garden.

Understand, the season has changed, the sun is up and the rain is coming down, and Richards wants to get to gardening.

City Hall doesn’t move quite so fast, nor should it, Sandi Fowler, the city’s neighborhood liaison, explained on Tuesday.

The city can’t just start tilling on public property. If the city gives the OK for Richards, what’s to stop 20 others from coming in and asking for permission to get other city-owned property for gardening? she explained.

In fact, the city follows policies that have been crafted by its policymakers, the City Council, Fowler said.

One of those policies has created a community gardening program in the city, a program that follows certain procedures.

The city, Fowler noted, has decided that it did not want vacant lots in Oakhill that it is planning to have builders build on tied up with a community garden.

Initially, she said, the city proposed one site off Otis Road for the neighborhood association’s community garden, a site which Richards said had too little direct sunlight. Fowler didn’t disagree.

Richards then decided to put the garden in Poet’s Park, a city-owned triangular space on 12th Avenue SE where the neighborhood association has maintained beds for prairie flowers the last couple years.

He said Tuesday he would have preferred a site a couple blocks away at 12th Avenue and Eighth Street SE with better sun. But he said Poet’s Park will do.

“We’re not trying to feed masses of people,” Richards said. The idea, he said, is to get more people caught up in the gardening bug.

By late Tuesday, Richards was talking about tilling, and City Hall’s Fowler was saying that no one had yet signed on the bottom line.

If the garden goes ahead – it sounds like that is likely – Richards said he will be a little disappointed and will move on from there.

“There are battles worth fighting,” he said, adding that fighting City Hall about being denied a first choice for a garden spot isn’t one of those battles.

Richards pointed to an earlier battle in the last year that proved successful. In that instance, the city finally required Penford Products to stop running a steady stream of semi-trailer trucks down Third Street SE in the heart of Oakhill and New Bohemia simply to have them park at the old Sinclair site to wait to unload corn back across the river at the Penford plant.

Richards, the neighborhood association and New Bohemia just two weeks ago also saw the City Council move ahead with a stalled plan to renovate Third Street SE between Eighth and 14th avenues SE. The section of street is the heart of the New Bohemia arts and cultural district.

But battles over that remain.

The New Bohemia group backs a modern street design, while some of the property owners want a more historic approach. And just two weeks ago, the council decided that it expected property owners to contribute to the cost of the project. When initially conceived several years ago, the Third Street SE renovation was going to be paid for by the city as part of the city’s plan to create a special arts district.