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I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made the effort to attend one of the interim study hearings the Natural Resources Committee held this past month in Scottsbluff and McCook. I appreciate everyone who testified and brought information to the attention of the committee members.
Despite Senator Groene trying to make a case in the Legislature for selling the land owned by NCORPE, the Natural Resources Committee has done a very good job of sifting through the innuendo we have heard about the project and its management. As state senators, it is our job to become informed on the issues, learn the facts, weigh the risks versus the benefits, and make the best decision for all of the affected parties. Passing legislation to placate one small group of individuals does not justify making a change in water law that could have far-reaching consequences for decades to come. It is important to remember that the NCORPE land was for sale to anyone before the NRDs purchased it. I, for one, am grateful the NRDs had the vision and guts to step in to solve a State of Nebraska issue and save a majority of the irrigated economy within their jurisdictions. It is a fact that up to 60% of the irrigated land in the Upper, Lower, and Middle Republican NRDs would have been shut down if NCORPE were not in place. In the area within Lincoln County that is covered by the Twin Platte NRD, a similar amount of irrigated land would have had to be idled to make sure a sufficient amount of water was flowing down the Platte River to meet Endangered Species Act requirements.
The locally elected NRD boards control the situation, as it should be. They understand that a decision to dispose of the property cannot be made in a vacuum. There are multiple factors to consider, including the legal risks of new legislation that has not been tried in the courts. The future of the project must be considered, in relation to managing the local aquifer and the project’s infrastructure. New easements would have to be obtained if the property were sold. If it became necessary to expand the project, there are significant expenses that could arise that do not exist now. Any benefits of owning the land would be lost, including revenue from leases, and access for the public to hunt. The NCORPE board must also consider the value of grassland that is not fully established. Although most of the NCORPE is well on its way to becoming productive range land, the native grasses need to establish and that takes time. There would also be nuisance factors to deal with, since there would be neighbors overlapping the project’s operations, by not owning property on which the project operates. I also applaud the NCORPE board for working to consolidate its holding into a solid block to reduce its impact upon neighbors. Selling distant parcels and replacing those acres with others closer to the main block is good management of the project.