Letters (Week of May 7, 2008)

Fight high fuel prices, drive 55 mph


So, another week of record-breaking gas prices, and with summer looming, it can only get worse. We?ve been here before, right? But this time, it really hurts. And it hurts everybody, including low-income people, commuters, truckers and farmers.

Do you want to know how to stick it to the oil companies and force the price of gas to go down? We could do it, and do it overnight. What? How?

Rather than curse the oil companies for making record profits off you (which they are right now); and rather than cursing President Bush for allowing his and Dick Cheney?s oil company buddies to get obscenely rich (which they are right now) and rather than cursing the oil brokers and OPEC for manipulating the price (which conspiracy theorists believe), there?s something you can actually do instead of banging your head against the wall.

It?s simple, it?s elegant, it?s profoundly effective, but it would take a lot of patience on our part. It?s just to drive 55.

If you look up ways to get better gas mileage, it has all the typical tips. No jackrabbit starts, tires inflated properly, avoid long idling times, no extra weight in the vehicle, watch things that cause wind resistance, like luggage racks. Most of us know all that. One Web site said if you keep your car waxed you can save 2 percent on mileage.

Some places you find big claims. One tells about a carburetor that makes 300 miles per gallon. Another describes the world-record gas mileage car, a 1959 Opal making 376 mpg. One even tells ?how to convert your car to run on water now?and double your gas mileage.? (If you?re running on water, isn?t your gas mileage zero? Just wondering.)

Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1970s remember the gas lines and 10-gallon limit at the pump. We?re not there yet. But we also remember President Ford and Congress passing a federal law limiting the speed limit to 55, even on interstate highways. The infamous ?double nickel,? as truckers used to call it. The result: an almost immediate drop in the demand for oil.

Conservation pulled us out of the oil crisis, even though we didn?t like it, and we despised the highway patrol for ticketing us.

An unexpected by-product was that far fewer people were killed in traffic accidents. Once the oil crisis was eased, speeders along the interstate and truckers tried to get around the speed limit with ?fuzz-busters? and there was a certain amount of attempted cheating.

By the time Ronald Reagan got into office, the crisis was gone, and he said, ?Oil crisis? What oil crisis? Go ahead and speed all you want.? So, the speed limit was raised to 70 on interstates, and people even cheat with that. And we started killing more people in traffic accidents again.

I?m not saying we need another law, but if we as a nation would all drive 55, it would immediately impact the demand for oil and force the price of gas down. The optimum speed-to-mileage range is 30-55 mph. You can improve gas mileage up to 15 percent by driving 55 instead of 65, according to one government Web site.

The problem is, we are in too much of a hurry. We think we have to drive 75 to get across western Kansas to get to Colorado. We think we have to drive at least 70 to get to Wichita.

No ya don?t. You can take your time to save $5, maybe $10. Try it some time. You?ll be amazed at how many people are in such a hurry and pass you like a tornado?s coming. Truckers think they have to compete with speed of delivery.

But if we weren?t in so much of a hurry, if we could be satisfied with an extra day of delivery rather than overnight, how much would that save?

Sure, in some things you may not be able to save. It takes so many gallons of fuel to do fieldwork on a farm. An airplane has to go so fast or it will fall out of the sky, but there is one airline that has already slowed down a little to save fuel costs.

If everybody on the road would just slow down, and not be so much in a hurry, it would have the same effect as a boycott. Demand for oil will go down. Instead of just complaining, you can actually do something that will make an impact.

Conservation works. Drive 55. Wouldn?t that be a great bumper sticker?

Brian D.Stucky


What does it take to get city action?


A big thank-you to the Free Press for last week?s front-page exposure to flooding problems in the 200 and 300 blocks of North Adams in Hillsboro.

The water was actually 6 to 8 inches deeper before the Free Press took the picture, according to the flood debris on the deck of the walking bridge, and in our yards.

And for a couple of hours, the rushing water covered most of North Adams, eventually requiring the police to close the street, diverting traffic and school buses around the flooding.

The house and little walking bridge in the picture with the headline ?Almost Overwhelming? is where our family (the late Elmer and Lydia Pankratz) lived since 1965. So we have seen our share of flooding over the years.

But the flooding problems seem to be more frequent, and the water is getting deeper.

I can remember only a few times since the late ?60s when the water got deep enough to completely surround our house, resulting in 4 to 6 inches of water covering our basement floor. And that was only when we had 4- to 6-inch gully washer after the ground had been saturated from previous rains.

This is the fourth time in less than a year the flooding has been this bad, surrounding my house and houses to the north and leaving truck loads of debris and trash in our yards to clean up.

And this was only after a quick 3-inch rain/hail storm. The additional 2 inches of rain fell a few hours later, allowing time for the first flood to recede before the second round of began.

The ditches in the 200-300 blocks of North Adams receive the run-off from nearly 20 square blocks of northeast Hillsboro. Do the math: 4 inches of rain times 20 square blocks results in 80 inches of flood water rushing though our yards.

Why am I telling you all this? Because asking the city council for relief hasn?t worked.

I have attended three-fourths of the meetings since last year?s May and June flooding, asking for ditches to be cleaned of silt and debris, and culverts cleaned and enlarged.

I gave them a CD with more than 50 pictures of flooding and drainage problems.

Their response: We need to have an engineer look at it.

Is this the same engineer that designed all six blocks of Second Street to drain east to a ?T? intersections at Second and Adams, causing the water to shoot through our yards and creating worse flooding?

Why wasn?t some of the water runoff diverted toward the west or north? A ditch needs to be installed on the north side of Third Street to keep it from becoming a river.

But I?m not an engineer, so how could I know? Even though we have watched 45 years of flooding come and go. Has the engineer been here for any of the floods?

Over the years our family has spent thousands of hours and dollars attempting to reduce the flooding situation and keep the water out of our basement. For 30 years my father asked the city to enlarge the culverts under Adams Street at the railroad crossing to divert more water down the railroad ditch to the east. In the ?70s my father hauled in more than 30 truck loads of dirt around the house and yard.

A few years ago, we hired Warren Dalke to dig around our basement, so I could tar the outside of the basement wall and install drain tile around the basement footer. Thank goodness we did, because the sump pump had been cycling for over a week and a half, and it?s never done that before.

Last year Jantz Construction graciously allowed me to use their backhoe to widen and clean the ditches surrounding my property. I hauled another 25 loads of dirt around the house and yard.

We try to keep the ditches around our house clear of debris, continually cutting the ever-sprouting and growing trees. But I can only do so much.

Most of the problems are up and down stream from my house, or on city or private property.

So what am I asking for? Answers instead of excuses from the city council.

I?ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on improvements, commercial developments, economic development and recently on TV ads promoting Hillsboro.

Yet no money is available for cleaning ditches? Come on!

What are my options? Should I wait for FEMA or buy a house boat?

Mark Pankratz

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