Omaha World-Herald. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: A National Heritage Area in rural Nebraska is an opportunity, not a threat

Edward Dunn, the Perkins County GOP chairman and Grant city administrator, told a gathering of fellow Republicans this week in McCook to beware of the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility at Kansas State University.

The $1.25 billion lab is being built by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be the nation’s leading center for animal disease research. Dunn, who believes that the coronavirus leaked into the world from a lab in Wuhan, China, warned that the Kansas facility “will be vulnerable to a tornado, and diseases such as hoof-and-mouth, Ebola and mad cow could be spread by a storm,” the McCook Gazette reported.

Interesting theory lacking a factual basis.

Others at the meeting urged opposition to a proposed National Heritage Area designation for a large swath of north-central Kansas and south-central Nebraska. Kathy Wilmot of Beaver City, a former State Board of Education member, said the Heritage Area “opens the door to more regulations by other government agencies that will take away the rights of local landowners,” according to the Gazette.

Another interesting theory lacking factual basis.

But opposition to heritage areas, created under President Ronald Reagan and championed ever since by lawmakers of both parties, is growing among Republicans.

Gov. Pete Ricketts this month, joined by his economic development and agriculture directors, announced opposition to the push by the all-volunteer Kansas-Nebraska Heritage Area Partnership to seek a study of its idea. Ricketts, who incorrectly pinned the idea on the Willa Cather Foundation, whose land would be included in the much-larger area, said the designation would require a national environment policy plan that could act as “a significant barrier (to) infrastructure and other important projects.”

“This designation poses the risk of federal overreach in our communities,” the governor said.

It is correct that heritage area plans must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. But the track record of the nation’s 55 National Heritage Areas suggests that the governor is conjuring monsters under the bed while pandering to paranoia that the feds are coming to take away the good life, starting with Red Cloud.

It is illegal, under a 2009 act of Congress, for the government to use eminent domain to acquire land, impose local zoning changes or change water rights for heritage areas.

In dedicating the Illinois and Michigan Heritage Corridor, the nation’s first National Heritage Area, Reagan (hardly a wild-eyed environmentalist land-grabber) described the designation as creating a “new kind of national park” marrying preservation, conservation, recreation, education and economic development. The Government Accounting Office, 20 years into the program, found no effect on private land ownership.

The entire state of Tennessee is a National Heritage Area focused on Civil War sites. And yet the state has not been stymied by the designation. Rich States/Poor States, a product of the conservative ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index, in 2020 ranked Tennessee as having the nation’s eighth-best economic outlook. Nebraska was 36th.

The heritage areas are spread around the country, including in Nebraska neighbors Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Iowa.

Iowa’s lawmakers celebrate their National Heritage Area — Silos and Smokestacks — established in 1996. Iowa’s two Republican senators are working to reauthorize it so the area “can continue to share the story of agriculture and highlight the rural communities that are and will continue to be the backbone of our country.” They say it’s a “great resource” that provides educational opportunities for both residents and tourists.

In Nebraska, the governor sees a similar designation as an “unquantifiable and unknowable risk” to the state and its economic prospects. Of course, we can never know the future, so it might be wise to reject every idea because something bad might come of it. Then again, doing nothing also comes with unquantifiable and unknowable risk.

But one certainty is that politicians who oppose the Kansas Nebraska Heritage Area will retain the support of people who think tornadoes will unleash mad cow disease.

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Lincoln Journal Star. April 23, 2021.

Editorial: Investing in flood project wise choice for Lincoln

In the 1960s, a levee system was installed on Salt Creek, designed to stand up against a 50-year flood, or a flow that had, based on history, a 2% chance of occurring.

Since then, Lincoln has had three floods equal to or exceeding a 50-year flood level. And in May 2015, nearly 7 inches of rain fell in Lincoln over a 24-hour period, creating flash flooding and forcing voluntary evacuations in the city and sending the rapidly rising Salt Creek to its highest levels since 2008.

The waters from a 100-year flood overtopped the levees along the creek that runs from south to north through the west side of the city, swamping the South Bottoms neighborhood. But, overall, the levee system held.

Those flood defenses, however, are likely to face even greater challenges in the future.

Based on floods in 2014 and 2015, updated rain models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and climate change that is predicted to increase heavy rain events in the region, Salt Creek could see almost a foot rise in floodwaters during a 100-year event, which could create a levee-breaking disaster that could flood much of west Lincoln.

To prevent that, and bolster the city’s flood defenses, engineering service Olsson has in its Salt Creek Floodplain Resiliency Study recommended the construction of 16 dams or reservoirs in and along Salt Creek that could drop elevations by 2.6 feet for a 100-year flood event under current conditions at a cost of about $140 million.

The construction of the dams and reservoirs was not included in the city’s just-adopted City Climate Action Plan, which addresses the flooding risk through changing policies that affect new housing construction and subdivision development

Those changes, if approved, will, as the city intends, immediately address flooding risk and set out non-structural ways to mitigate the risk going forward.

But, because it will take years to design, fund and construct the new dams and reservoirs, the city and Lower Platte South Natural Resources District should begin the process now.

That start, which is critical to obtaining federal funding for the project, could also lead to a step-by-step construction of the new system starting with dams and reservoirs on the south end of Salt Creek.

As City Councilman Roy Christensen points out, that piece-by-piece construction would yield immediate dividends, gradually increasing the flood protection until the much needed project is complete.

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Kearney Hub. April 22, 2021.

Editorial: Join flock during Nebraska Bird Month

So you say you’re a bird lover? If so, you owe it to yourself to see what the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and its bird-loving partners have in store for the 2021 BirdBlitz. The events coincides with Nebraska Bird Month. The goal is to educate, inspire, spread awareness and empower all Nebraskans to conserve and protect Nebraska’s bird populations.

More than 400 feathered species live in Nebraska. Our state’s habitat is well-suited for birds. The variety of habitats include grasslands, wetlands, woodlands — and even your backyard.

Jamie Bachmann, Game and Parks wildlife educator, said birds cast a spell on humans. The creatures have a way of helping us feel welcome and inspired in the great outdoors, Bachmann said. “The accessibility of birds can serve as a bridge between people and nature, inspiring everyone from children and adults to feel connected and excited about the natural world.”

More than a dozen events are part of Nebraska Bird Month 2021 BirdBlitz, and each event provides opportunities for all skill levels. Here are five ways to get involved:

1) Get iNaturalist trained: Learn how to use this online-based, community science platform to document Nebraska’s birds and help collect real scientific data; this program will be integral to participating in the BirdBlitz. The free Zoom presentation is 6:30-7:30 p.m. April 29. Register at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.

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2) Nebraska Bird Month 2021 BirdBlitz: Join others in your community to identify as many bird species in a specific area during May. When you see a bird, take a photo or record the sound, then upload it to iNaturalist under the “Nebraska Bird Month 2021 BirdBlitz” project. Once confirmed by two others, your sighting will be considered research-grade scientists can use for research.

3) Nebraska Bird Month at Schramm: Look for birds from the Schramm Education Center birding area the entire month of May. New to birding? Rent a Birding Backpack, complete with binoculars and bird identification books, from the front desk, and then explore Schramm Park State Recreation Area to spot a few.

4) Fort Robinson State Park Birding Hike: Join the Game and Parks, U.S. Forest Service, and the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies in a bird hike from 9 to 10 a.m. May 15. Hikers will learn tips and tricks for bird ID in the field. This event is open to all ages. Register by May 15 at 308-436-3777.

5) Wildcat Hills Bird Hike: Take a hike from 9-10 a.m. May 22 and discover the plethora of birds that call Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area home. Uncover cool adaptations, local research projects and birds common to the area. Register by May 21 by calling 308-436-3777.

Find other events to participate in at NebraskaBirdMonth.org, or tap Buchanan’s natural knowledge by emailing jamie.bachmann@nebraska.gov.

END

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