Week in review: Notable local stories from the past 7 days

Flights return to Dubuque in January

Commercial flights will return to Dubuque Regional Airport in about two weeks.

The airport and Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday that American Airlines flights will resume on Jan. 6. The schedule initially will feature one flight from Dubuque to Chicago O’Hare International Airport per day and one returning flight that same evening.

“We are absolutely thrilled about the news,” said chamber CEO Molly Grover. “The COVID-19 relief package means services returning. It is critical to our economy. It’s critical to our business community, having the return to service. We are very excited.”

Flights out of Dubuque starting on Jan. 6 can be booked at aa.com.

In the new $900 billion economic relief package, $16 billion will be allocated to support airline employee and contractor payroll, and another $2 billion will support airports. This funding will allow the Dubuque airport to resume commercial flights through March 31 with hopes that passenger interest will allow flights to continue.

County plans vaccine priorities

With the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines now arriving in Dubuque County and being given to health care workers, public health officials are planning ahead for the next groups in line.

But regardless of the order of those subgroups, it will be months before doses are available locally for the general public.

The first shipment of 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Dubuque County last Thursday at the two Dubuque hospitals. It went to the group first prioritized by national, state and local officials — the health care workers caring directly for COVID-19 patients.

The Iowa Department of Public Health identified 4,857 such people in Dubuque County.

Vaccinations at long-term-care centers could begin next week. Next groups would include: residents of residential care facilities, assisted-living programs and elder group homes, as well as independent-living facility residents older than 65; emergency and law enforcement personnel; food-packaging and -distribution workers, teachers, school staff and child care providers; adults with high-risk, pre-existing medical conditions.

Behnke Enterprises expands

FARLEY, Iowa — Only two years after completing a major expansion, a Farley manufacturer will construct two more additions as it continues to bolster its product line and advance its operation.

Behnke Enterprises will add 96,000 square feet to its current facility as well as build a 9,600-square-foot facility. The company manufactures a variety of trailers for customers in the agricultural, construction, heavy haul and commercial industries.

“It’s been a very busy year,” said Chad Behnke, an officer with Behnke Enterprises whose parents, Margie and Jerry Behnke, run the company. “Demand has been very high. We have diversified our product line and came out with some new models and entered new markets. It’s just a result of that demand that’s driving it.” The company started in Holy Cross in 1987 and moved to Farley 11 years later.

Relief bill to restore Medicaid eligibility to Marshallese

A longtime health care barrier for Dubuque’s Marshallese community is poised to come to an end.

The massive pandemic relief package that Congress pushed toward passage on Monday included a provision for which the Marshallese and other local leaders have long advocated — the restoration of their Medicaid eligibility.

“It’s a big relief,” said the Rev. Stan Samson, who pastors at Dubuque Paradise Church and is from the Marshall Islands. “This has been a longtime struggle, and I have been one of the advocates for the Marshallese community in town and in Dubuque, Iowa, and this is one of the main points and main issues that we’ve been trying to resolve.” Marshallese people residing in the U.S. have been unable to access Medicaid since 1996, when a federal welfare reform bill stripped eligibility for the health care program from people living in the U.S. under a Compact of Free Association.

Gary Collins, CEO of Crescent Community Health Center in Dubuque, said the move is a “game-changer” for local Marshallese community members who have lost jobs during the pandemic or have family with no insurance.

Cuba City apartment fire displaces 8 families

CUBA CITY, Wis. — After instructing her kids to get dressed, Amber Droessler grabbed her phone and purse and scooped up the two cats. They didn’t have much time to evacuate and needed to grab the essentials.

Chloe, 12, Droessler’s eldest child, struggled to put on pants. It seemed she had forgotten how in the chaos of the moment.

As they ran out the front door, Droessler glanced back over her shoulder. Smoke had engulfed everything.

A fire in an upstairs bedroom at Willowbrook Glen Apartments in Cuba City ignited Tuesday night, destroying two units and leaving eight families displaced.

Fire Chief Ryan Gerhards said he was the first responder to arrive at 420 E. Kelly St. at about 9:25 p.m. and saw the smoke pluming from an upstairs window.

No injuries were reported, but the upstairs unit and Droessler’s apartment, which sits directly below it, were destroyed.