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Senator Tom Brewer
This week I attended a “Public Comment Period” meeting in Thedford put on by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. After two previous meetings had been canceled under questionable circumstances, the public finally got a chance to voice their concerns about Nebraska Public Power District’s “R Line” project. This is a 225-mile long, 345kv high-voltage power line. The line is routed right through the heart of the most environmentally sensitive part of our State from the Gerald Gentleman Power Station near Sutherland to a new substation planned for Holt County. Providing connection to wind energy projects is listed as one of the reasons for this project in NPPD documents on their website. I am strongly opposed to wind energy in the Sandhills for a host of reasons.
More than one hundred people attended this meeting which lasted over three hours. Once again I saw the gut-wrenching passion people have for their land, many the fourth or fifth generation of the same family. Once again, I heard a government agency basically tell people “we hear you” but we can’t do anything. To be fair, USFW is east of the rock and west of the hard place on this. All things considered they ran a good meeting, but “hear” people and be neutral on this project is really all they can do. The simple fact is, if NPPD checks all the blocks and legally satisfies all of the USFW requirements, that agency is then obligated to issue NPPD an incidental “take permit” for the threatened species that is jeopardized by the R Project. In this case, the species that needs a “take permit” is the North American Burying Beetle.
At the moment, the only thing holding up the construction of the R Line is not the hundreds of citizens begging a sub-division of State government to reconsider their plans. It’s not a State Senator asking for other routes for the line be given a second look. The only thing holding up the R Line is the federal government giving NPPD permission to accidently kill an endangered bug.
Concerned citizens have until November 7th to submit information to the US Fish and Wildlife Service concerning the R Project, and I strongly encourage them to do so. After that date, further public comment on this issue cannot be considered. I am very concerned about this. If NPPD were to submit plans or documents related to the project AFTER the USFW public comment period has ended, will citizens have an opportunity to review that information and submit comment that rebuts or questions the voracity of the information? Will USFW extend and re-open the public comment period (as they have in the past) in that event? I’m waiting on an answer to this.
There are 11 members of the NPPD board of directors. Mr. Thomas Hoff is the NPPD Board Member that represents Subdivision 5, the area most of the R Line is routed through. I have requested a meeting with him. The only check and balance on the vast power and authority given to public utilities in Nebraska is the fact their board of directors are popularly elected. Concerned citizens, State Senators, the Governor, even the US Fish and Wildlife Service can do nothing to stop or change a public utility project like the R Line – only the board of directors can. I urge people concerned with the R Line to contact Mr. Hoff. 308-872-3352 or email him: email@example.com. Mr. Hoff is 1/11th of the reason why the R Line is where it is. I therefore hope he takes an opportunity to speak to local media, address the many issues being raised and help inform citizens on the project he voted for.
I learned this week Nebraska State Law allows a public utility like NPPD to use it’s power of eminent domain to build feeder lines that connect private wind energy facilities to the power grid. The wind company can build these lines itself but if they face a land owner who refuses to grant them an easement, the wind power company can have NPPD build the feeder line and use it’s power of eminent domain to do it. The idea a private company can use a Nebraska Public Utility to forcibly take land from its neighbor’s shocks me. I’m stunned thug tactics like this are actually legal in Nebraska. I’m drafting legislation that will stop this.
Speaking of travesty in the law, currently Nebraska law does not prohibit an elected official from personally benefiting from something they vote on. If a county official is also personally invested in a Wind Energy company, for example, he can vote on a zoning ordinance that will result in his own financial benefit so long as he publically discloses this fact before the vote. Again, I was astonished our laws allow this. The law should require elected officials to recuse themselves from such votes. I’m drafting legislation that would stop this nonsense as well.
All of this stuff is far from over. I’m going to engage the NPPD board of directors. They have the power to change the route of the R Line. I’m going to find out why a “take permit” for an endangered bug was needed, yet one for the Whooping Crane wasn’t included in the Environmental Impact Study. The R Line goes right through their fly-way. I’m drafting legislation to correct some serious problems with Nebraska law. I’m engaging more and more Senators everyday who share my concerns with these issues. I’m watching the deadline for the USFW Public Comment Period very closely. If NPPD delivers documents to USFW after that date, I will ask USFW to re-open the public comment period so the public can evaluate them. Even though I’m convinced they solved all the easy problems long before I got here, I still count my blessings. I am so grateful for the kind of people I have in my district. They make being their Senator such an honor and privilege. They are well informed. They give of themselves so much. They care. I’m so lucky to represent such incredible people. They truly are the best in Nebraska. They remind me of Ulysses S. Grant. When President Lincoln was asked why he had hired General Grant he replied;
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.