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4 inch topsoil – Des Moines Register – Editorial Position

The Des Moines Register took an editorial position in yesterday’s edition supporting the 4 in topsoil rule as it applies to new construction under the headline: “Don’t erode topsoil rule for new homes”.

The editorial notes:  “Last year, more than 140 Iowans wrote to the state asking that the four-inch rule be retained.  At the same time, just over 100 individuals — almost all of them employed by construction, development and real estate industries — wrote in opposition to the rule.  (A full 12 percent of those opponents are executives of Hubbell Homes and its affiliates.)”

The editorial closes by noting “[the four-inch rule] not only protects consumers from unwittingly buying properties that have been stripped of their topsoil, but also protects what is arguably Iowa’s single most valuable resource.  And without this rule individual homeowners, as well as our cities and counties, will incur costs that dwarf the expense associated with topsoil preservation.”

We’ve got very little time to make a difference

The Iowa DNR held its last public hearing on the proposed change to the 4″ topsoil rule last Friday.  The existing rule requires builders to replace four inches of topsoil to development sites.  Developers and homebuilders have lobbied hard to change the ruling.  The change would remove the four inches or more topsoil requirement and replace it with language requiring topsoil to be replaced unless it is “infeasible”.  The proposed change is vague, at best, and will leave it to builders to decide how much, if any, topsoil to replace.  With the current discussion about impaired waters, run-off, erosion, a nutrient reduction strategy and nitrates in our drinking water – the EPC needs to hear Iowans expect better.


Above: sod is placed directly on top of compacted clay, no topsoil

To establish healthy landscapes, improve on-site storm water retention, lessen runoff and soil erosion, and improve water quality – we need to retain four inches of healthy topsoil.  We need every Iowan to submit comments to the Iowa DNR before this Wednesday, April 1.  Tell them you support the existing Four Inch Topsoil requirement because it makes sense for Iowa.

ACTION #1:  Submit your comments to the DNR

Comments may be submitted to the Storm Water Coordinator orally, by fax or by email by April 1, 2015. At the March 6 Administrative Rules Review Committee, the Topsoil Rule was on the agenda. The DNR was only allowed to answer questions and wasn’t requested to make a presentation except to briefly describe the rule. When writing comments to the DNR, it is worthwhile to ask basic questions the DNR can answer, so the information gets published in the public record. Ask those burning questions and offer your opinion on the importance of keeping the existing rule in place.

Storm Water Coordinator
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E. 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: 515-725-8417
Fax: 515-725-8202

Additional information:
Administrative Rules Review Committee
EPC Notice of Intended Action
Additional background on the issue, including public comments, from the DNR

ACTION #2:  Contact your legislator and members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee

Once the EPC holds hearings and makes their final rule, the rule will advance to the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee.  They will make the final ruling on the rule.  Take the opportunity to contact your legislator – even if she/he is not on the Administrative Rules Review Committee.  Tell your legislator about the impending rule and what you want to see happen – a uniform rule across Iowa requiring developers to leave 4 inches of topsoil on development sites.

Legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee

Senate Members

House Members

7 Best Practices for Smart Growth in Iowa

BDA 2014 Communities with compact, connected metro areas offer their residents longer, safer, healthier lives than cities with greater sprawl, according to a recent study. Smart Growth America’s Measuring Sprawl 2014 report outlines economic and social costs of sprawl. It also states that compactness has a strong direct relationship to upward economic mobility. With a mission focused on responsible land use, 1000 Friends of Iowa promotes ways to keep our urban areas fit while preserving Iowa’s farmland, open spaces and natural habitats. The nonprofit announced its 2014 Best Development Awards winners last month, showcasing projects that champion smart growth planning principles. How the winners achieved success offers some valuable insights. Below, recipients share practical advice that may help your next project.

1. Pursue the impossible “Who would have ever imagined that our town could do this?” is a common question voiced by West Union community members and former residents. With a population of 2,500, the northeastern Iowa town’s ambitious streetscape initiative is one of the most innovative, sustainable community demonstration projects in the country. In Des Moines, the Madison Flats apartment building is located on a former landfill site with major drainage issues. When the Neighborhood Development Corporation was originally looking at the location people “politely said we were crazy,” said executive director Glenn Lyons. The nonprofit’s priorities and resources like Iowa’s Brownfield/Grayfield Tax Credit Program enabled NDC to persevere. Noting that they dug up a fully buried dump truck, Lyons said, “We’re able to work in areas the private sector deems too risky, and provide a catalyst for getting them interested.” Dubuque’s Green Alley Program is retrofitting 240 alleys with permeable pavement to reduce storm water runoff by up to 80 percent. “We cannot ignore issues simply because they might appear to be too big,” said Deron Moehring of the City of Dubuque. Instead, the program applies a city administration mantra “plan your work and work your plan” to address matters head on, quantify the issue, and be broad-reaching when seeking funding options.

2. Invest in existing neighborhoods After a dilapidated building collapsed, the City of Slater was left with a clean up bill exceeding $120,000 and an empty lot to own. It opted for a proactive approach with a similar property. The city purchased 421 Main Street in order to access renovation resources such as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Brownfield Redevelopment Program and Derelict Building Program. Financial support for addressing asbestos, replacing the roof and completing structural renovations enabled the city to do basic restorations then resell the property to a couple who now has a home and business in the historic building. City of Slater’s Jennifer Davies said, “For someone starting a business, salvaging a building or constructing a new one is a serious expense they cannot take on. It is easier for us to sell a useable shell than an empty lot.”

3. Do the unexpected When David Barzen of Sterling Investments drove by a dilapidated house on Urbandale Avenue in Des Moines he didn’t see what everyone else saw. Instead of tearing it down, Barzen bought it to turn into a rental property. Rather than cutting corners or making quick fixes, he chose to do custom restoration work. Barzen said, “I have found the nicer qualities I put into a property, the nicer it’s taken care of by tenants.” He sacrifices short-term investment gain for taking satisfaction in a job well-done.

4. Get personal Woodbine participated in a study that called for “kitchen table conversations.” Woodbine Main Street’s Deb Specker said the result of gathering a mix of ages and backgrounds in a comfortable setting was “a real list of priorities drawn up by real citizens, and a tremendous groundswell of support followed.” In Stanton, graduates of the local school are included in communications about the town’s new Viking Center and how it serves the community. Mickey Anderson of Stanton Friends gratefully acknowledged that “funding from graduates coast to coast helped make the project become a reality.”

5. Be shovel ready Dubuque learned readiness gives projects a helpful edge. “Many new programs are looking for ‘shovel ready’ projects because they want to effect change in short order,” said Deron Moehring, a civil engineer for the city’s Green Alley Program. “Dubuque has found that if you are ready, the funding programs will come.” The Stanton community experienced similar findings with its Viking Center project. Despite the financial crises in 2008, Mickey Anderson said, “We kept going because we knew we’d be one of the few ready when the economy bounced back.” Perseverance and preparation empowered the town of less than 700 residents build a multi-use community center that now boasts 200 members and 500 end users.

6. Respect the future Foreseeing a time when homes are held accountable for the resources they use, Chaden Halfhill of Indigo Dawn and Silent Rivers Design + Build renovated a home in Des Moines’ historic Sherman Hill neighborhood to be a replicable model. He found ways for historical charm, modern conveniences and sustainable building aspects to coexist. “This is a small house that lives large,” Halfhill said. “We traded square footage for quality, and demonstrated that comfort does not have to be compromised.”

7. Communicate, communicate communicate. Ambitious plans often involve private-public partnerships. Deb Specker of Woodbine said, “Partnerships are most effective if everyone has all the information.” Furthermore, she suggests taking extra effort to provide background information and regular updates to new collaborators. “It’s rather time-consuming work, but absolutely necessary,” she said.


The Best Development Awards are selected from a pool of applications each year and judged by an independent group of jurors.  The 2014 jurors included Ryan Peterson of Impact7G, Iowa State University graduate student Kristen Greteman, and City of Ankeny Community Development Director John Peterson.  Plaques commemorating each 2014 Best Development Awards recipient will be presented to the winners individually.

1000 Friends of Iowa, founded in 1998, is a statewide nonprofit organization focused on land use education.  Its mission is to unite Iowans in efforts to protect farmland and natural areas, revitalize neighborhoods, towns and cities, and improve quality of life for future generations.

Additional details about each winning project and 1000 Friends of Iowa’s smart growth priorities can be found at

Gas Tax Bill – Passed

The gas tax bill passed through the legislature on February 25.  The Senate File 257 passed with 28 votes to 21.  The House took the bill and voted 53 for and 46 against.

Visit Bleeding Heartland’s website at for the roll call list.

Governor Branstad didn’t wait until July 1 to sign the law but signed it the same day.  The new 10 cent gas tax will become effective as soon as Sunday, March 1st.

It is important to hold legislators accountable to the Fix-It-First initiative.  Existing structures and fixtures need to be fixed before constructing or installing new ones.


Ask your legislator to add Fix-It First language to any gas tax increase!

Legislative proposals to increase road funding through raising the gas tax, SF 257 and HF 251, are being debated.

Many who support raising the gas tax cite our crumbling roads and structurally deficient bridges, but can Iowans be confident with the existing system that new road money will be spent on fixing roads and bridges?

Regardless of how Iowa legislators approach road funding, they should adopt “fix-it first” language to ensure any new money goes toward repairing existing roads and bridges FIRST, rather than funding new roads or adding lanes to existing roads.

A Fix-It-First strategy prioritizes maintenance and upgrades of existing structures and facilities before constructing or installing new infrastructure.

A Fix-It-First strategy maximizes the value of past investments, minimizes the use of state funds on new projects, stretches limited resources and reinvest in existing communities.

Please ask your legislator to add Fix-It-First language to any bill asking for an increase in gas tax. Iowans need assurance their gas tax dollars will actually go to fixing our state’s decaying infrastructure FIRST before adding additional lanes to existing roads and building new highways.

Fix it first

2015 Environmental Lobby Day/REAP Day at the Capitol

1000 Friends was pleased to attend the 2015 Environmental Lobby Day/REAP Day at the Capitol on February 17. The annual event is co-sponsored by the Iowa Environmental Council and the Iowa REAP Alliance. Their hard work and planning brings people from across the state together to talk with legislators about the importance of protecting Iowa’s natural resources. 1000 Friends was one of the 35 organizations, and more than 250 people to attend.

Iowans showed their support for programs and policies that protect Iowa’s natural resources, and spoke with legislators about the need to commit long-term, sustainable funding to expand conservation and water quality initiatives in the state. Visit Iowa Environmental Council’s website to read more about the event and for additional images!

Smart Growth America Best 2014 Complete Streets Policies

Each year, the Best Complete Streets Policies report recognizes the exceptional work of communities and promotes solutions others could replicate in their own communities. Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition announced the Best 2014 Complete Streets Policies and released the full report yesterday.  Take a moment to read through the report, and recognize the hard work of these communities.