NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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Column 12/19/19
December 19th, 2019

It came as no surprise to me when I heard of N-CORPE pursuing a windmill project. The Nebraska value of local government control has been abused and attacked throughout the creation of the N-CORPE interlocal. Any reasonable person after reading the interlocal agreement governing N-CORPE would conclude that its purpose was solely to “regulate/manage water to assist the State of Nebraska with compliance with the Republican River Compact and to assist with implementation of Twin Platte NRD’s Integrated Management Plan and the State of Nebraska’s responsibilities under the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program”.

The four NRDs involved in N-CORPE have 46 total board members; of those, only 9 reside in Lincoln County. 37 non-resident board members should not be making decisions affecting our way of life in Lincoln County!

We know the sales pitch: “Let’s put 100 windmills on the public N-CORPE land and garner $879,000 in nameplate capacity taxes, pick up another $800,000 for the leases and promises of lower occupation and property taxes.” But there is a problem: the majority of the citizens of Lincoln County do not want windmills in the Sand Hills. We are not willing to sell our soul or the integrity of who we are as ranchers, farmers, railroaders and power-plant workers for an ill-gotten windfall from windmills.

What we want is to have N-CORPE sell the land and put it back into private hands. We are willing to continue to be good neighbors and bail out the residents of the Upper and Lower Republican NRDs and protect their livelihoods by sharing Lincoln County ground water to augment the flows of the Republican River.

In Lincoln, we are continuing to bring legislation forward to clearly state that N-CORPE can sell the land without harming the augmentation project. The legislation has evolved to where it is ready to become law.

We have had two Nebraska Supreme Court cases on N-CORPE which clarify the present situation. In the Estermann case, the Court said the Legislature changed Nebraska common law that permitted use of the ground water only on the overlying land when it gave NRDs the power to augment streams. Therefore, N-CORPE could transfer ground water off the overlying land. In the Dundy County property tax case, the Court reaffirmed that under common law you must own the land overlying a source of ground water, reaffirming the 1985 Sorensen vs. Lower Niobrara NRD decision, where the NRD owning a ½ acre tract of land over the well site was sufficient to satisfy common law because the Legislature had exempted public ground water use for domestic purposes by enacting the Municipal and Rural Domestic Ground Water Transfers Permit Act.

I was asked by members of the Natural Resources Committee to work with the Attorney General’s office and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. I did, and gained their understanding that our latest effort would cause no harm to interstate water compacts or augmentation projects. I worked with a prominent Nebraska law professor on the language and consulted a very successful private law firm, well-known as being successful water law attorneys.

Our latest effort to clarify that N-CORPE can sell the land will protect the augmentation project from a lawsuit by defining beneficial use of the augmentation project as a public purpose, thus exempting N-CORPE from  the dictates that the ground water used is limited to the “reasonable and beneficial use on the overlying land”.  What we are attempting to do is nothing new. It has been done before when we protected municipal and rural domestic ground water use and industrial uses such as ethanol plants.

After working with legal minds in the public and private sector on this legislation, it is frustrating to be stymied by ill-informed opinions on what is tradition and what is truth about Nebraska’s water laws, mostly by NRD resistance based on the legal opinion of an attorney whose motives and loyalties are suspect.

This is a statewide issue and needs to be addressed. I see no good reason why the bill will not be advanced from the Natural Resources Committee and quickly passed into law. But, we understand, politicians aren’t always guided by good reasoning.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1107
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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