Serving O'Brien & Clay Counties

Local county supervisors' races are primary ballot's main event

Candidates share their views on a variety of issues

Republicans voting in the June 4 GOP primary election will have to sift through contested county supervisors' races in both Clay and O'Brien counties.

In O'Brien County, incumbent District 1 Supervisor Tim Overmire, of Hartley, is being contested by Jim Thomas, also of Hartley. In District 2, incumbent John Steensma, of Sanborn, will face Barb Rohwer, of Primghar. In District 3, incumbent Nancy McDowell, of Sheldon, faces Shanelle Matus, also of Sheldon.

Also on the Republican Party ballot in O'Brien County are incumbent Sheriff Bruce Devereaux and auditor candidate Rhea Schmalen.

Clay County's GOP ballot features three candidates vying for the nomination for two at-large supervisors' seats: Sharon Johannsen and incumbents Art Hamrick and Randy Swanson, all three of which hail from Spencer.

Also on the Republican Party ballot in Clay County are incumbent Sheriff Chris Raveling and incumbent Auditor Ann Baschke.

No Democrats filed to run for any open positions in either Clay or O'Brien counties.

The Sentinel-News reached out to each supervisor candidate with a questionnaire to better inform voters about their views. Their responses are included below.

Steensma and Matus did not return any responses.

WHAT WE ASKED

1. Provide a background on yourself – family, education, career, where you live, etc.

2. Why are you running?

3. Why do you believe you're the right person for this position?

4. What issues affecting your county are a priority for you and how would you like to address them if elected?

5. CO2 pipelines have been a hot-button issue in northwest Iowa for the past three years. What is your stance on them, and do you believe anything should be done at the county level to either aid or hinder their construction? If so, what?

6. What are some concerns people have shared with you while out on the campaign trail and how do you think the board of supervisors can address them, if at all?

7. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

O'Brien County Supervisor District 1

Question 1

Tim Overmire: I'm a 2002 graduate of H-M-S and graduated from Iowa Lakes for Ag Business in 2004. I was an agronomist for Hefty Seed Company in Sheldon for eight years. I have been in my current role as a District Sales Manager with Stine Seed Company for 12 years, currently covering Lyon, Sioux and the western half of Osceola and O'Brien counties. My wife, Laurena, and I have been married for 20 years, and we have four children (Annika, Ruby, George and Caleb) that are attending H-M-S. We live three miles south of Hartley and also farm and have a nursery for pigs.

Jim Thomas: I am a graduate of Sanborn High School and Augustana College/University of South Dakota – History and Social Studies Education. My wife, Lori, and I have one son, Brenton, and reside in rural Hartley.

I'm a retired high school social studies teacher at H-M-S High School (34 years in education), farmer, part-time delivery driver and parts employee at Johnston Autostores in Spencer and Sheldon, and part-time employee at Meadowbrook Golf & Country Club in rural Hartley.

I've served as an Honor Flight Guardian and am a member of Sons of the American Legion, Grace Fellowship Church – Hartley, O'Brien County Pheasants Forever, O'Brien County Farm Bureau, O'Brien County Cattleman's, Hartley Community Foundation, Honorary FFA member. I've participated in the O'Brien County Republican Caucus, have had communications with state legislators and Congressional representatives on a variety of issues, and am well informed on political issues at every level. I have a consistent and long-time election voting history.

Question 2

TO: The reason I'm running is because I think northwest Iowa is a great place to raise a family, and I'd like to keep it that way. Every child that grows up here should have the opportunity to find a good job and raise their family here if they choose to do so.

JT: I chose to run for this position for a variety of reasons – the most significant are as follows. I want to give back to the community (I consider O'Brien County to be my community) that I have called home for most of my life. As a former American government teacher, I always taught my students the importance of a participatory democracy – this is my opportunity to exemplify that. Now, being semi-retired, I will have more time to fully devote to county issues and for communication with those that I represent. I am approachable, unbiased and objective, a great listener, and a willing learner. I'm also a capable problem solver and decision maker.

Question 3

TO: I've been on the board of supervisors for 2-1/2 years. I think we have done an excellent job of managing taxpayers' money during that time – we have some of the lowest levy rates in the state and are one of the few counties in the state that have been in a good position to deal with HF718. We have no debt. While on the board I've really worked to trim down our budget – we cut nearly $250,000 from the initial budget asking for next year. We used ARPA (federal funds) to reduce future costs to taxpayers by updating many things that were near the end of their service life – things like the Jail roof, jail HVAC, courthouse elevator, phone systems and 911 repeaters. These are things that property taxpayers would have had to pay for in the next few years, but now are updated with federal funds. This alone resulted in $1.8 million in savings to our property taxpayers. In my private sector job with Stine, my territory is consistently in the Top 10 percent of sales for our company. I'm used to dealing with tight budgets and working to grow at the same time.

JT: I feel that I am the best choice in this race due to my previous and current experience and relationships within the county. I understand education and school financing. As a farmer, I am familiar with agricultural concerns and ag business issues. As a rural resident, I have experienced the necessity of maintaining our roads, bridges and other infrastructure. I understand property tax, valuations, etc. and realize the importance of keeping property taxes at the lowest possible level while continuing to provide the highest level of service and opportunities. I am an avid hunter/outdoorsman and golfer, and as such I realize that outdoor recreational activities are a vital part of the culture of our county and these opportunities need to be supported and maintained.

Question 4

TO: Economic development: We need to continue to work with OCEDC to do the things that we can do to promote economic growth. I think they have a proven track record, and we need to continue to fund them as much as possible. I really appreciate the activities that they're doing with our local schools to promote the jobs and opportunities that are here in O'Brien County.

Public health: The need for their services is increasing, unfortunately the direction that we're getting from the state tells us they MAY regionalize some of this in the next few years, so it makes it hard to hire staff or make significant updates when that entire system may change. Hopefully next year we get clear direction on this and can make the needed changes.

JT: I was raised, educated, employed and reside in O'Brien County. I am a fourth generation O'Brien County and Center Township resident. It has been home to my family and it is where my wife and I raised our son. It is vitally important that O'Brien County remain an appealing, safe, and vibrant place for families, agriculture and business/industry. The most important issue(s) are concentrating on fiscal responsibility, while providing the absolute best environment for the residents of the county. It is also extremely important to promote growth and revitalization of the downtowns/business districts of our communities.

Question 5

TO: First I think I should make my personal position very clear: In the current form, the CO2 pipeline is more about the transfer of money to well connected individuals, than it is the transfer of CO2 or the environment. We cannot change the federal laws that promote these pipelines, that makes the real issues – the use of eminent domain for private gain and public safety.

I think there is a general misunderstanding of what we as a board of supervisors can/cannot do. State law gives the Iowa Utility Board jurisdiction over these pipelines and the power to grant eminent domain to them. Our board of supervisors was one of the first counties to ask the IUB not to allow the use of eminent domain for both pipelines that were proposed at the time. We will be looking into "plume" data in June to see what the concerns are for public safety if there is a rupture along the proposed route. If the IUB approves the project, we need to make sure that it's as safe as possible for the public – I think setback requirements are a good starting point. There is a tax revenue benefit to the county and our schools for these pipelines, but we need to protect property owners' rights and put public safety first.

JT: Let me start by saying that private property rights are extremely important to everyone, particularly so in an agricultural community. I believe if a landowner makes the decision to allow access or right-of-way to their own land, that is their decision. However, I am not in favor of eminent domain for a privately owned corporation. If that entity can gain the land it needs through voluntary owner easements, so be it. If access is being sought for public utilities, etc. that do, in fact benefit the public, that is a different matter. I believe that I am correct when I say that O'Brien County has not enacted any ordinance prohibiting the construction of the carbon pipeline, at this point. I also believe that I am correct in saying to do so at this point would not be effective, as counties cannot "retroactively" put an ordinance in place after the plans for the pipeline have been made public.

Sioux County and Clay County have more specific zoning ordinances and zoning commissions. I'm not sure that this route would prove to be beneficial as preliminary mapping shows the pipeline running through these counties. I am aware of the "can of worms" that can be opened through restrictive zoning ordinances, and I'm also aware that like any ordinance or law, challenges can be mounted, revisions or exceptions made, and legal loopholes abundant.

My opinion, at this juncture, is that the pipeline issue is out of the hands of local control. It is on the plate of the governor, state legislature and court system. Several rulings have been handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court already, including one from Clay County which prohibited pipeline surveying teams from entering private property.

This being said, we very much need the alternative fuel sector to remain a strong part of rural Iowa, including O'Brien County. There is a strong push for increasing environmental regulations for the alternative fuel industry. I feel there are viable alternatives to carbon pipelines, if those mandates are indeed enacted. CapCO2 produces "methanol modules" – these convert carbon dioxide to methanol. Methanol can be sold directly by the ethanol plants and can be shipped by existing rail. There are several ports in the U.S. that have methanol storage capacity for ocean going liners. These systems allow the plants to receive federal tax credits as well. Construction is underway presently at a facility in Illinois. Methanol is used to make a variety of products and can even be used to power ocean-going ships. Of course, like the pipeline, there are some hurdles to overcome here, as well. In a rapidly changing world of technology and environmental regulation, perhaps the worst-case possible scenario would be to construct these pipelines at a tremendous cost and impact to landowners only to have them be obsolete in a matter of years.

Question 6

TO: The main concerns I've heard have been around the CO2 pipeline, public health and conservation. Since I've already mentioned the others, I think we're making strides with conservation. We had a good talk with them while we put together the budget, we came to a workable compromise that allowed them to complete some of the projects they needed, while reducing costs to taxpayers. I really appreciate them working with us. I think we have a good staff in place and their board is doing a good job.

JT: It has been extremely interesting and educational to visit with people around the county over the past several weeks. I've also been able to attend a couple of supervisor meetings in person. I spent a great deal of time reading board minutes and articles from the past several years and visiting with those that have a pretty good handle on county issues. I have heard concerns on county conservation issues, land acquisition by the county and DNR, mandates from other governmental levels, county health service, VA department, road maintenance and construction, and of course property taxes, amongst others. I look forward to learning more about the aforementioned and to delving more deeply into the many other concerns as a supervisor. I will keep an open mind about all topics until I fully understand the complexities and potential consequences of the proceedings and decisions to be made.

Question 7

TO: I've really learned a lot over the past 2 1/2 years. I've enjoyed working for the citizens of O'Brien County. I think we're heading in the right direction; I would appreciate your vote.

JT: N/A

O'Brien County Supervisor District 2

Question 1

Barb Rohwer: I have lived in O'Brien County since 1976. My parents farmed northeast of Sutherland. I graduated from Sutherland High School and then went to college for accounting and have an associate degree in accounting. In 1982 I was hired at the O'Brien County Auditor's Office and in 1988 I was elected as the county auditor. This is my 35th year as County Auditor. Primghar has been my home since 1996.

JS: N/A

Question 2

BR: I want to stay involved in O'Brien County government, but I'm also ready for a bit of a change. Coming from the auditor's office, I know how county government works and I believe I can be an asset on the board in the finances and I also have a lot of historical knowledge with the county.

JS: N/A

Question 3

BR: I have a strong background in county government. As the county auditor, I have been the secretary to the board for 35 years. I have been present during the discussions and decisions on the issues so I am very aware of what the position entails and the responsibilities involved. I also feel that I am best qualified when it comes to budgeting and taxation issues.

JS: N/A

Question 4

BR: Currently the counties and cities of Iowa are under legislation limiting taxation. I feel it is very important for the board to watch the legislation that will be proposed in the Iowa Legislature in the coming years. It seems the state likes to limit the local governments finance while at the same time, pass state financial obligations to the local entities.

JS: N/A

Question 5

BR: I don't believe that the pipeline is a complete solution to the CO2 problem. I've read things both pro and con on carbon capture. In my opinion, it seems like the pipeline creates a large carbon footprint to reduce the carbon footprint. I also question the sequestration process. Do we really know the impact long-term of sequestration? As for the county's role I feel this project – like the wind turbines – should not be allowed to use eminent domain. Beyond that stance, the county really only has control of the road right-of-ways as this is private property and the control should stay with the landowner.

JS: N/A

Question 6

BR: I haven't been given any concerns. The only comments I have received are in regard to my stepping away from the auditor's office. Those who have talked to me are pleased that I'm not planning to jump completely out of county government. The question that I have had is regard to my being county auditor. As of Jan. 1, 2025, I will no longer be county auditor. I can assure you that the office will be in very capable hands!

Question 7

BR: Win or lose, I want to thank the people of O'Brien County for allowing me to serve them for all these years. If elected to the board of supervisors, I will continue to do my best to serve all of our citizens.

JS: N/A

O'Brien County Supervisor District 3

Question 1

Shanelle Matus: My husband, Dan, and I will be married for 17 years. My son, Todd, is a homeowner in Sheldon and works for FCS in Boyden. My daughter, Trista, and her husband, Austin, just moved back to Sheldon and bought a home. Trista is the chamber director in Sheldon, and Austin will be teaching for the Sheldon Community School District in the fall. Our youngest, Tamsyn, attends Sheldon Community School and is active with FFA and plays the piano.

We reside in Sheldon and love our community. Currently I am filling in as the interim Chamber director at the Sheldon Chamber and Development Corporation, a position that I held for 12 years.

Nancy McDowell: I grew up on a family farm outside of Archer and graduated in 2000 from Sheldon High School. After high school, I attended and graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in Criminology. I was fortunate to then serve as a legislative secretary for state Rep. Royd Chambers from 2006-2010. In 2010, I got engaged and my future husband Brian and I chose to move back to Sheldon.

While in transition, I took the opportunity to learn something new. I'd always been interested in welding and so I enrolled at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon. I graduated with honors from NCC with a welding diploma. I ran for county supervisor in 2012 and have since been dedicated to serving the citizens of O'Brien County on the board of supervisors. My husband and I live in Sheldon with our dog, Angus. My parents, Dudley and Carol, continue to live on the family farm by rural Archer. Two of my brothers, Andrew and Don, live in Des Moines. My other brother Steve lives in North Liberty with his wife and two children.

Over the years, I have worked at local small businesses, taught welding for NCC, substitute taught at Sheldon Community Schools, and now I currently farm with my husband and parents in addition to my supervisor duties.

Question 2

SM: Running for O’Brien County Supervisor has been a goal of mine for the past five years. With the State of Iowa redistricting, I had to wait patiently for the redistricting to take place before I could request papers for O’Brien County Supervisor.

Personally, I am running for O’Brien County Supervisor because I feel that promoting O’Brien County as a whole is beneficial for everyone. We live in a great county and I would be proud to serve as your O’Brien County Supervisor.

NM: I am running because I care deeply about O'Brien County. I was born and raised here, and my husband and I have chosen to make our home here. O'Brien County offers an incredible quality of life, and our communities are filled with people who care deeply about their neighbors.

I am grateful every day to be in O'Brien County and I want our county to be a place where families can thrive and businesses can grow. I have always been someone that believes that instead of waiting on someone else to take action or leadership, the best way to get results is to actively step up and become involved yourself. I've demonstrated my commitment to O'Brien County and have proven myself to be an effective leader that gets results. Serving the citizens of O'Brien County is something I am passionate about because this is a place that I love. We have more work to do, and I am ready to roll up my sleeves to continue serving you over the next four years.

Question 3

SM: With my current and past experiences of being on various boards and committees, as well as being Chamber director in Sheldon, I feel that I am organized, have good communication skills, I am a good listener and approachable. I know how to roll up my sleeves and get work done.

NM: I have been actively involved throughout my community and O'Brien County through my whole life. I do my research and I am thorough. I am a strong conservative who has not only put those principles into practice as an elected official, but I have become a grassroots leader who knows how to advocate for our priorities. I am very dedicated, and I prioritize my role as a supervisor in my daily life. I love O'Brien County and want it to continue to grow and prosper.

Question 4

SM: To listen to the concerns of the citizens of O’Brien County, to do research on issues that affect O’Brien County, and to make sound decisions.

NM: As a county supervisor, we have many responsibilities, but I think the fundamentals are critically important. As we look at the state of our economy and the effects of inflation, we must make sure we are budgeting responsibly while also keeping taxes low. Yet, even as we keep taxes in check, we also must provide the taxpayers of O'Brien County with the services they expect and the quality of life we have grown to appreciate.

As a county, we've been working hard to share expenses among departments, be proactive, and make tough sacrifices and decisions. There are still more ways we can reduce overlap, and I want to focus our funds towards results-driven programs.

As a supervisor, I sit on many local boards that deal with law enforcement and judicial issues. We've seen a slight uptick in crime in O'Brien County, and that's something we need to be proactive about. We have outstanding law enforcement in O'Brien County, and I want to continue to support them and give our prosecutors the resources they need. O'Brien County must remain a safe place to live, work and play.

Question 5

SM: I personally feel that individuals have the right to decide if they want something on their property. At this point I do not have a stance. I will continue to listen to the concerns of the citizens of O’Brien County and will continue to do research on this issue.

NM: Protecting private property rights is foundational to our existence as Americans. Agriculture is the bedrock of our economy. We can support ethanol production without sacrificing our rights. I recognize the importance of livestock, crop production and biofuels to our economy and communities. Ethanol has been a significant driver of demand for our corn while also creating high quality jobs. I want ethanol to continue to be successful as we increase its demand both domestically and internationally as well as tap into the emerging markets for sustainable aviation fuel.

If we are going to capture and sequester carbon, it should not be accomplished by trampling on private property rights or through deploying lucrative federal tax credits. Instead, markets should dictate our direction. CO2 has many uses that could create more value for the ethanol plants and the farmers that produce the corn, which in turn could create more jobs and opportunity. Innovation has always been at the core of agriculture, and we need to keep that in mind. From carbonated beverages to welding to meat processing and much more, CO2 is needed throughout those supply chains. We should be looking at every opportunity to create a market instead of paying investors to stick it miles underground hundreds of miles away.

Fundamentally, I do not believe that private companies should have the right to abuse our eminent domain rights. At the county level, our board has expressed our concern to the Iowa Utilities' Board. I have spoken to our legislators regarding setting limits for the use of eminent domain, as that is the best avenue in protecting the property rights of our citizens. I have directed many constituents to contact their state senator and state representative as well as express any support or concern on the Iowa Utility Board's website.

If the CO2 pipeline project does get approved, it is in our best interest as supervisors to stay diligent during the construction phase. This was a lesson we learned with the construction of the wind turbines and Dakota Access Pipeline, as we must hold the construction companies accountable for any damages.

Question 6

SM: Veterans Affairs, fair compensation of wages, CO2 pipeline, public health. I feel that the board of supervisors can address these issues by making sound decisions.

NM: I've appreciated hearing from the citizens of O'Brien County and I believe we have a responsibility to make a difference where and when we can. Time and again, the top issues I hear about are concerns regarding the economy, inflation and taxes. We want to ensure we can attract the workforce we need, and that starts by ensuring we have adequate housing, affordable childcare, reliable broadband and many other community development essentials.

The carbon pipeline and the use of eminent domain are also significant issues, and I hear about crime and the judicial system. Although many of these issues originate because of federal and state decisions, there are often steps we can take locally to address these concerns. It's also our duty as supervisors to take the initiative to speak with our federal and state officials on behalf of our citizens.

Question 7

SM: N/A

NM: For the past 11-plus years I've enjoyed the challenges that come with being a county supervisor. I know I can contribute so much more in the years to come. I would appreciate your vote on June 4.

Clay County Supervisor At-Large (2)

Question 1

Art Hamrick: My wife, Mary, and I live and farm in Spencer. We have two daughters. I am a current board member of the county board of supervisors. This is my sixth year serving and second time as chairperson. Along with farming I worked for 39 years at Eaton Corporation.

Sharon Johannsen: I've lived in Clay County since 2007. I grew up on a farm southeast of Ruthven and graduated from there. After a few years of college at Augusta and USD, I was part of a farming/cow/calf operation and continue to be involved in my family's farming operation. My two brothers are still farming. My husband is Ryan Johannsen from Spencer. I have three grown children, four grandchildren and three Boston Terriers that join me everyday at my upholstery business in Spencer called Helfire Upholstery.

Randy Swanson: I was born and raised in Clay County. I graduated from Spencer High School in 1979. I have two adult sons that are both married and two beautiful grandkids. I started my business in Spencer in Nov. 1998, Audio Video Connection. I recently retired from the Spencer Fire Department after 37 years. I've always been very active in my community.

Question 2

AH: I would like to continue with the projects and initiatives that I have worked to improve the last six years to further benefit Clay County.

SJ: Growing up on a farm, I've always known the role of a county supervisor. There are several important issues currently facing our county and we need to make sure our voices are heard on those subjects. I want to make sure our county residents feel like they have a voice on what is affecting them. Instead of just complaining about the problem, I hope to be part of the solution.

RS: I enjoy local government. I enjoy working with people and problem solving. I believe it's another way to give back to the community.

Question 3

AH: I feel that I work well with the public by listening to their concerns and sharing those with the rest of the board. We work together to make the most informed decision for Clay County. I will continue to help the community in a positive way.

SJ: My background in farming and owning my own business brings a well-rounded level of fiscal, management skills and a get-it-done, work-hard mentality that would be beneficial to the board. I can communicate where I stand, but I do it in a way that is open minded and approachable.

RS: Experience is my No. 1 reason. I'm willing to listen and feel I'm easy to approach and talk to. I'm in my eighth year of being a Clay County supervisor. Prior to that I was on Spencer City Council for 14 years.

Question 4

AH: Emergency Medical Services – I am currently working to find a location for an EMS building that is central, saves taxpayer dollars and helps to alleviate the concerns of lower volunteer numbers.

Mental health and Upper Des Moines Opportunity – We work with outside agencies and have allocations to budget. These are two of my top priorities when I work on the budget set for our community.

Secondary roads – I focus on repairs, culverts and bridges.

SJ: Agriculture and what's happening with our land. We need to be very informed and clear as to who and what entities are interested in the land and what their intents and purposes are. Verbage needs to be very clear, no hidden agendas.

Economic development: Clay County has to grow. What can we learn from other counties that have been successful in attracting industry with quality paying jobs? Looking at all the aspects of development, housing, childcare, etc.

Infrastructure is always top of mind.

RS: Keeping taxes in line is very important to everyone. We are an aging community with a lot of fixed incomes. The tax levy has remained constant and not gone up in my eight years in office. Clay County is not growing in value, so we need to work harder on economic development. That's tough because every community in the U.S. is vying for the same thing. With economic growth in jobs, housing and more daycare, this will draw some young adults to the area – thus a growing tax base.

Question 5

AH: I worry about the safety of my community. This is an ongoing problem and we are still working on the right solution.

SJ: Personally, I don't think anything good can come with eminent domain. That's where we need to be very clear on what these companies coming in are trying to do and how it's done. There are thousands of miles of pipelines running across our country and most of the time the general public doesn't realize it. My concern with the CO2 lines is safety. If you talk to any local fire chief and ask if they have the training, knowledge and equipment to deal with a leak or explosion, they would say no. We just aren't there yet to safely put this product in the ground and wish it well.

RS: I believe Clay County is doing everything they can at this point to address the pipeline. Whether for or against the pipeline, the board of supervisors will do everything possible to keep our people safe. The Iowa Utilities Board has all the power in saying whether the CO2 pipeline happens. They still have not ruled on it. Eminent domain is the biggest issue that can't happen with the pipeline. It's the landowners that should have 100 percent of the say in whether it crosses their land or not. I know as a supervisor I have sent emails and talked with the state legislatures to express my feelings.

Question 6

AH: I have been approached by several rural people with concerns about repairs on hard surfaced roads and bridge repairs or replacement. This has been something I've been working on and will continue to work on going forward. We allot funds for this every year and work with our local engineer to fix as many as the budget will allow us to.

SJ: The CO2 pipeline is a big one. It is beyond the supervisor board to stop the forward progress on it but the board can continue to be vocal about the concerns the citizens have with safety and eminent domain so the Iowa Utilities Board makes informed decisions.

Mental health services and how we can make things more accessible to our citizens in need. We have some great resources in Clay County and I'd like to see those continue to grow.

Economic development. I pay taxes like everyone else does and with the budget restrictions we are facing, it gets more and more difficult to meet those budgets. If we can grow our county and get more industry in, that will help our budget/tax situation, too.

RS: I would like to thank everyone for the previous support in electing me. I would just ask the voters to please vote to reelect me for another term. I will work hard for what is in the best interest of the citizens of Clay County.

Question 7

AH: N/A

SJ: I'd like to thank everyone that has shared their thoughts with me and supported me along this journey. It's been very interesting to learn about the whole process. I'd also like to thank the current supervisor board for their kindness and information, they've been very welcoming. If elected, I hope to be an approachable resource to our residents that will go above and beyond the status quo of the job.

RS: N/A

 

 
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