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* Funeral Service notes: (see more on the obituaries page)
* Lorene Kernan, 99, of Bassett 2 p.m. May 7
* Meeting reports located below for:
May 5 Brown County Commissioners
April 21 Brown County Commissioners
April 14 Ainsworth City Council
April 13 Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors
April 13 Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education
April 7 Brown County Commissioners
* Area students named Academic All-State by NSAA
(Posted 7:15 a.m. May 6)
Each year the Nebraska School Activities Association and the Nebraska Chiropractic Physicians Association recognize students with Academic All-State Awards who have been nominated by their schools, based on their individual academic excellence, leadership and significant contributions made to their NSAA activity.
A total of 2,311 students were named Academic All-State for spring activities. Area students include:
Brandt Murphy in boys golf, Seth Anderson and Brandt Murphy in music, Ben Flynn and Ty Schlueter in boys track and field, and Cee Anna Beel and Maia Flynn in girls track and field.
Keya Paha County
Hunter Wiebelhaus in girls track and field.
Brooklyn Buell and Carson Shaw in music, Ben Bruns and Dolan Pospichal in boys track and field, and Jillian Buell in girls track and field.
Anthony Heiser and Schuyler Mustin in boys golf, Jason Fahrenholz and Wade Paxton in music, Wade Paxton in boys track and field, and Katilynn Kaup and Cadence Kramer in girls track and field.
Jackson Butterfield and Jaxson Cadwallader in boys golf, Haley Peek and Brianna Rentschler in music, Joseph Albrecht and Aaron Kraus in boys track and field, and Landyn Mlady and Haley Peek in girls track and field.
Brett Downing in boys golf, Miriam Ganoung and Courtney Swisher in music, Matthew Dailey in boys track and field, and Madison Marten in girls track and field.
* Area students to receive degrees from UNMC
(Posted 8 a.m. May 5)
The University of Nebraska Medical Center will hold in-person May commencement ceremonies with COVID-19 restrictions at each of its five campuses. Diplomas and certificates will be conferred on 1,051 students.
Area students scheduled to graduate include:
UNMC COLLEGE OF NURSING KEARNEY DIVISION
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Stuart — Maycey Forker
Master of Science in Nursing
Bassett — Whitney Polen
UNMC COLLEGE OF NURSING LINCOLN DIVISION
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Atkinson — Shaely Thiele
UNMC COLLEGE OF MEDICINE
Doctor of Medicine
Stuart — Jordan Kunz
Valentine — Sara Marlatt
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Stuart — Samantha Sattler (with distinction)
* Commissioners approve setbacks for confinement facilities
(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 5)
By a 2-1 vote following a public hearing Tuesday, the Brown County Commissioners approved an updated comprehensive plan and changes to the county’s zoning regulations narrowly recommended by the Planning Commission.
The main zoning change involves setbacks for environmentally controlled livestock confinement facilities. The Planning Commission, by a 4-3 vote, recommended the commissioners approve setbacks based off an odor footprint tool that would keep neighboring properties odor-free 98 percent of the time.
That setback was farther than a 96 percent odor-free model the Planning Commission voted against by a 4-3 margin.
Audience members were allowed to provide the commissioners with their thoughts on setbacks Tuesday, with Jack King Sr. telling the board he would like to see the setbacks farther than what was proposed and wanted to see those setbacks begin from the property line instead of from a dwelling.
“But, you have done more than what was there in the past,” King said. “We spent money on attorneys. With good zoning, we wouldn’t have had to do that.”
Marsha King said she would like to see any approved facilities be placed away from water sources.
Gene Snyder told the commissioners he also believed setbacks should start from the boundary line instead of from a house, but he said he could go along with the proposed 98 percent odor-free setback.
“If you make them bond to decommission wind towers, why wouldn’t you also require a bond for decommissioning confinement facilities?” Snyder asked.
Kim Snyder said she would like to see more stringent setbacks, and she was still confused about some of the specifics of the proposed regulations.
“It has been a long, hard discussion over the years, but I think we are making progress,” Snyder said.
Planning Commission Chair Linda O’Hare told the board she worried about bias and discrimination toward one entity.
Commissioner Buddy Small said state statute gives the commissioners the right to set and amend any zoning rules.
“We could do away with zoning altogether,” Small said. “Then the landowner could do anything and it would be up to the neighbors to have to hire attorneys to fight it. Zoning doesn’t make everyone happy. It is a compromise. It can be difficult to compromise in your own family, let alone an entire county.”
Commissioner Denny Bauer said a University of Nebraska-Omaha research paper showed there were 3,145 people in Brown County in the 2010 Census. The research paper projected the county’s population would be down to 1,748 people by 2050.
“I really worry about our future population if we stop agriculture,” Bauer said. “I don’t know what infrastructure should look like, but I don’t know if we can maintain a hospital, dentist, optometrist and other necessities with those kind of population declines.”
Bauer said declining population was not just an issue for Brown County.
“It we don’t stimulate economic growth, what will that do to the people who live here in the future?” Bauer asked.
Bauer said it would cost the same or more to maintain a school, even if there are half the kids there are now in the future.
Audience member Dave Sherman said business owners in Brown County could already employ 25 to 30 more people now with all the job openings.
“There is not a shortage of work now,” Sherman said. “We can maintain our way of life and still have employment. Many of us live here because of the way of life.”
Bauer said, if the county doesn’t add infrastructure, taxes have to be raised and it will cost people more for services.
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said farming to scale was as much to blame for the declining population in the county as anything.
“It used to be a family lived on 40 to 80 acres,” Wiebelhaus said. “Now there are farms that are 3,000 to 5,000 acres. It had to be done to make it work.”
Audience members questioned the nationality of the workers who would come to the community if more confinement facilities were to be allowed.
Bauer asked if people had an issue with the odor from confinement facilities or if it was a racial bias issue.
“You had better decide,” Bauer said.
County Attorney Andy Taylor said Hispanics in Brown County were way more likely to be the victims of a crime in the past four years than the perpetrator of a crime.
Wiebelhaus said the nationality of workers is not what the county was basing any of its decisions on relating to zoning.
Following the public hearing, Wiebelhaus moved to adopt the odor footprint tool using setbacks from the 98 percent odor-free model, with Small seconding the motion.
Bauer said he had reservations about using the 98 percent odor-free model.
“Six of the seven Planning Commission members were initially in favor of the 96 percent tool,” Bauer said. “Then one person spoke and some changed their minds. I would like to see the 96 percent odor footprint model. A lot of counties have adopted that.”
Bauer said it bothered him that the county was going to set zoning regulations for all confinement operations except for beef operations.
“Hogs are an economic driver,” Bauer said. “Hog facilities generate a lot of economic activity. If we want to eliminate those, let’s just rezone the county from agricultural to recreational.”
By a 2-1 vote with Bauer against, the board approved the updated comprehensive plan and the zoning amendments as recommended by the Planning Commission.
In addition to setbacks for environmentally controlled feeding operations, the zoning amendments addressed perpetual conservation easements, wind towers and solar arrays.
In other business Tuesday, the commissioners approved a bid from Norfolk Contracting to replace the Fairfield Creek bridge in northwestern Brown County washed out during flooding in 2019.
The lone bid was $197,584 to replace the bridge. The Nature Conservancy previously pledged $140,000 to the county to have the bridge replaced as soon as possible instead of waiting for possible cost-share assistance from FEMA.
The commissioners renewed its health insurance for 2021-22 through the Nebraska Association of County Officials’ Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan. Assistant clerk Becky Hardy said the overall plan was increasing by 3.28 percent. The board opted to keep the percentages employees pay for insurance at 22 percent, with the county paying 78 percent of the premium. The county kept the cash in lieu of insurance at 75 percent of the cost of the premium.
Bauer reported the county received six applications for the advertised emergency manager position. He said the selection committee of Kenny Turpin, Bruce Papstein, Ann Fiala and himself would review the applications and would recommend candidates to be interviewed by both the committee and the commissioners.
Bauer said the plan would be to complete the interviews and make a decision during the board’s May 18 meeting.
The board approved a resolution prepared by Taylor opposing President Biden’s 30 by 30 executive order that called for 30 percent of the country’s land to be federally protected for conservation by 2030.
The resolution reads that the Brown County Commissioners resolve, because of its duty to provide effective stewardship of its land, protect private property rights and ensure land is available for future generations to enjoy and use, that it objects to and resists the implementation of the 30 by 30 program.
Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin reported the roads department has been hauling clay on Moon Lake Avenue and 432nd Avenue. Harold Cheatum said the county maintainers have not been going over a road near his property and asked if the county could address it. Turpin said there are times, if a road is in good shape, that running a blade over it can actually make it worse. He said he would include the road on the department’s list as it begins pulling shoulders.
After advertising surplus items for sale, the board opened two bids for items Tuesday. Terri Van Houten bid $32 for a filing cabinet, and Sara Gurnsey bid $11 each for three electronic typewriters. The remaining surplus items that did not receive bids will be trashed.
In a final action item Tuesday, the commissioners approved a transfer of $7,000 from the county’s miscellaneous general fund to the veterans services fund.
The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 18.
* Ganser named Fine Arts Student of the Year
(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 5)
Ainsworth High School
Fine Arts Awards Night winners
Brown County Arts Council
Fine Arts Student of the Year – Josie Ganser
Fine Arts Student of the Year Alternate – Brandt Murphy
Patrick Gilmore Award – Brandt Murphy
John Phillip Sousa Award – Josie Ganser
Choir Student of the Year – Seth Anderson
Outstanding Speaker – Alyssa Erthum
Senior Oratory Award – Cody Kronhofman
Jess Duden Memorial Speech Team Member – Josie Ganser
David Streich Memorial Award – Elizabeth Smith
Outstanding Attorney – Alyssa Erthum
Most Improved – Haley Schroedl
International Honor Thespian – Brandt Murphy
Thespian of the Year – Brandt Murphy
* Location changed for Thursday vaccination clinic at Bassett
(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 5)
The North Central District Health Department has changed the location for Thursday’s walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Bassett.
Instead of being held in the Rock County High School gym, Thursday’s vaccination clinic will be located at the Rock County Fairgrounds.
Anyone interested in receiving the Moderna vaccine may go to the fairgrounds between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday. Anyone who has received a first dose of vaccine but has not yet been scheduled for a second dose is asked to contact the NCDHD office.
The health department was made aware of nine new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were one in Holt County, one in Cherry County and one new case was confirmed in Boyd County.
* Area students scheduled to graduate from UN-K
(Posted 2 p.m. May 3)
Graduate and undergraduate degrees will be conferred for 685 spring graduates at University of Nebraska at Kearney commencement exercises Friday and Saturday at UNK’s Health and Sports Center.
Undergraduate degrees will be conferred at exercises 10 a.m. Friday, May 7. The graduate-degree hooding ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 8. This marks the first time undergraduate and graduate exercises are taking place separately.
Area students scheduled to graduate from UNK include:
Neiley Arens, a Master of Arts degree in education, with emphasis in curriculum and instruction – English as a second language.
Hayley Murphy, a Specialist degree in education, with emphasis in school psychology.
Miranda Raymond, a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology. Raymond is graduating with cum laude distinction.
Sara Salzman, a Bachelor of Arts degree in education, with emphasis in elementary education and special education. Salzman is graduating with cum laude distinction.
Ashley Titus, a Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood and family advocacy. Titus is graduating with summa cum laude distinction.
Bailey DeVall, a Bachelor of Science degree in communication disorders.
Jentrie Maurer, a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. Maurer is graduating with honorable mention distinction.
Sage Osborn, a Bachelor of Science degree in sports management.
Monique Schafer, a Bachelor of Science degree in family science. Schafer is graduating with magna cum laude distinction.
* NPPD has no plans to rebuild Spencer Dam
(Posted 1:30 p.m. May 3)
After an announcement from FEMA Friday that $50 million had been awarded to repair the damage done to the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River, the Nebraska Public Power District on Monday announced it had no plans to rebuild the Spencer Dam.
NPPD representative Mark Becker said NPPD provided FEMA with the cost to rebuild the hydro dam as part of the application process, but Becker said NPPD notified FEMA at the time it had no intention of rebuilding the dam but planned to demolish and decommission the hydro plant.
Becker said FEMA’s initial release indicated the funding awarded would be used to rebuild the dam. At the time the dam was destroyed, NPPD already had an agreement in place to sell the dam to a group of Natural Resources Districts. With the dam destroyed, that agreement is no longer in place.
Becker said, now that FEMA has obligated funding for the project, NPPD will put together the plan and cost estimates to demolish and decommission the Spencer Dam and will work with regulatory agencies on that approval process.
In an amended announcement, FEMA indicated funding of approximately $50 million (75 percent federal share of total project cost) was obligated to assist the Nebraska Public Power District in either its repairs to the Spencer Hydroelectric Facility and Dam to restore the facilities back to pre-disaster design, capacity and function, or toward an improved or alternate project.
The Public Assistance Program provides grants to state and local governments and certain non-profit entities to assist them with the response to and recovery from disasters.
Specifically, the program provides assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and permanent restoration of infrastructure.
NPPD will utilize the debris removal portion of the program to assist in the decommission process of the dam and hydro plant.
* FEMA awards NPPD $50 million for Spencer Dam damage
(Posted 9:15 a.m. April 30)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated more than $50 million to the state of Nebraska for the Spencer Hydroelectric plant and dam as a direct result of a major disaster declaration.
Flooding in March 2019 caused damage to the Spencer Hydroelectric plant and dam. Heavy rain on frozen ground followed by a blizzard created a record runoff, breaking up ice on the Niobrara River. Large chunks of ice floating in the floodwaters overtopped the embankment and spillway structure breaching the embankment in two locations causing catastrophic damages to the Spencer Hydro Electric plant and dam.
Funding of approximately $50 million (75 percent federal share of total project cost) was obligated to assist the Nebraska Public Power District in its repairs to the Spencer Hydroelectric Facility and Dam to restore the facilities back to pre-disaster design, capacity and function.
The Public Assistance Program provides grants to state and local governments and certain non-profit entities to assist them with the response to and recovery from disasters. Specifically, the program provides assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and permanent restoration of infrastructure.
* Highway 20 Medal of Honor dedication walk scheduled
(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 30)
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award for bravery. It is awarded by the President in the name of Congress. For this reason, it is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor. Since it was first presented in 1863, the medal has been awarded 3,512 times to 3,492 recipients.
In February of 2020, Governor Pete Ricketts decreed that U.S. Highway 20 shall be known as the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway to honor Nebraska’s greatest military heroes.
American Legion members Ken Hanel of West Point and Daryl Harrison of Thurston will begin Walk the Walk, a 432-mile dedication of The Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway May 11 at the Nebraska/Wyoming border. Hanel,74, and Harrison, 66, will be supported by their wives, drivers, and back-up walkers. They will alternate walking six-mile segments for a total of 36 miles a day, and then join together in walking the 37th mile at the end of each day. Each segment is dedicated to a specific Nebraska Medal of Honor Recipient. There are currently 74 Nebraska Medal of Honor Recipients.
The entourage will be stopping in 11 communities – Crawford, Hay Springs, Gordon, Cody, Valentine, Wood Lake, Bassett, Atkinson, Orchard, Osmond and Laurel – to spend the night across 12 days. At each community, the entourage will join those of a patriotic nature for a supper. It is the purpose of the walkers to raise funds for further signage along the highway and introduce Nebraskans to their largest veteran memorial.
The Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway will eventually become part of a National Medal of Honor that stretches from Newport, OR to Boston, MA.
* Walk-in vaccination clinic available next week
(Posted 6:15 a.m. April 30)
The North Central District Health Department will have walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations available next week.
Those 18 and older who have not yet been vaccinated may go to the Rock County High School gym between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday, May 6. The clinic will dispense the Moderna vaccine.
If you have received a first dose of vaccine through an NCDHD clinic and have not received a call to schedule your second dose, please call the office to schedule an appointment. Still have questions regarding the vaccines? Getvaccineanswers.org is a resource for those wanting to know more and get informed.
The NCDHD was made aware of 10 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting period on Monday. Of the 10 new cases, seven were confirmed in Holt County. NCDHD reported 48 people have recovered from the virus during the past week. Among the recoveries are 18 people in Holt County and one in Boyd County.
Test Nebraska Clinics will only be held in O’Neill on Mondays from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. at the O’Neill Armory.
* All-Sports Tailgate Party returns after year absence
(Posted 7 a.m. April 28)
After missing a year due to the pandemic, Ainsworth High School athletes were recognized Tuesday during the All-Sports Tailgate Party.
With a meal hosted by the Ainsworth Lions Club, coaches and sponsors recognized their teams and presented year-end awards.
Cheer coach Juli Murphy and Pom coach Caren Fernau recognized their squads. Murphy recognized seniors CeeAnna Beel, Josie Ganser, Adriana Hood, Cailin Orton, Elizabeth Smith and Madison Welch, all of whom were either three-year or four-year members.
Fernau recognized seniors Moriah Beel, Mila Pozehl, Molly Salzman, Madison Welch and Ellie Welke, all either three-year or four-year members of the team.
Cross country coach Jared Hansmeyer kicked off the fall sports presentations by naming Katherine Kerrigan and Ty Schlueter the cross country most valuable runners. Both were district champions and earned top five medals at the Nebraska State Cross Country Championships.
Hansmeyer recognized senior girls CeeAnna Beel, Moriah Beel and Molly Salzman for being a part of three state championship teams and a state runner-up team during their four years in cross country.
CeeAnna Beel and Ben Flynn were presented with the Team Player awards.
Girls golf coach Heather Lutter named senior Josie Ganser as the team’s most valuable player.
Football coach Jesse Owen recognized Caleb Allen for setting school career records in passing yards at 2,650 and rushing yards at 1,900. Owen named Allen the team’s MVP and the offensive MVP.
Traegan McNally received the defensive MVP award, and Riggin Blumenstock was named the special teams player of the year.
Owen presented a plaque to Cash Reynolds for being voted by his teammates as the Teammate of the Year.
Volleyball coach Jeri Graff recognized team members for setting several season and career records. Katrina Beel set the single season and career digs record. Summer Richardson set the single match set assists school record, as well as assist records for a season and career. Kaitlyn Nelson set the school’s career kills record.
Graff named Katrina Beel the team’s MVP, with Madelyn Goochey receiving the Hustle Award, Cameryn Goochey the Heart Award and Kendyl Delimont the Most Improved Player Award.
Turning to winter sports, wrestling coach Todd Pollock named Mila Pozehl the MVP of the newly created girls wrestling team. Pozehl finished sixth in her weight class at the Nebraska Girls State Championships.
Isaac Hood was named the boys wrestling MVP.
Girls basketball coach Stephen Crile recognized Bria Delimont for setting the school’s single season 3-point record with 50.
Crile named Kendyl Delimont the team’s MVP, with Bria Delimont the Offensive Player of the Year and Kaitlyn Nelson the Defensive Player of the Year. Crile presented Saylen Young and Tessa Barthel with the team’s Most Improved Player awards.
Boys basketball coach Jake Nelson recognized Carter Nelson for setting a school record with 11 blocks in a game.
Carter Nelson was presented with the team’s MVP Award. Caleb Allen received the Defensive MVP Award and Traegan McNally was named the Offensive MVP. Ben Barrow received the team’s Most Improved Player Award.
Ty Schlueter was selected as the recipient of the Bryent Wilkins Most Valuable Teammate Award.
Track and field coach Jake Nelson and boys golf coach Julie Micheel updated the audience on the teams’ seasons. Typically, the spring sports coaches present MVP awards from the previous season, but since those seasons were cancelled last year due to the pandemic there were no awards to present.
Bria Delimont and Kendyl Delimont shared the female Lifter of the Year Award, and Logan Hafer was named the male Lifter of the Year.
Katrina Beel and Moriah Beel were recognized as 12-sport athletes, competing in three sports during all four years of their high school careers.
The John Nelson Sportsmanship Award was presented to seniors Madison Welch and Logan Hafer.
* Two Highway 20 projects delayed, including in Ainsworth
(Posted 3 p.m. April 27)
The Nebraska Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that two projects on Highway 20 have been delayed.
District 8 Engineer Mark Kovar said concrete reconstruction of 1.5 miles in the Ainsworth city limits has been pushed back from this summer to next summer at the earliest.
“We did not receive any bids for that project,” Kovar said. “We have never had a project before that received no bids. I presume the contractors’ schedules were full and they couldn’t build it this year.”
Kovar said the NDOT will let bids for that project again this summer, with construction to commence in the summer of 2022.
With the Highway 20 reconstruction project in Ainsworth delayed until 2022, Kovar said the NDOT made the decision to delay the Highway 20 bridge repair project near Long Pine over Pine Creek until 2023. That project was scheduled to be bid this year for 2022 construction.
“We delayed the bridge project because we didn’t want it under construction at the same time as the project in Ainsworth,” Kovar said. “Most of the gravel for the Ainsworth project will come from the Atkinson area, so we wanted to avoid the contractor having to haul that gravel on a detour.”
Construction for the bridge project is now anticipated to begin in the summer of 2023 instead of the summer of 2022.
A project on Highway 83 through Valentine has also been delayed. That project is scheduled to reconstruct more than a half-mile of Highway 83 from the Highway 20 junction north to the Highway 12 junction.
That work was also scheduled to begin this summer but will instead begin either this fall or in the spring of 2022.
Kovar said the NDOT did receive bids on the Highway 83 project, but the bids all came in higher than the estimate so the bids were rejected.
If the Highway 83 project is awarded this summer following bid letting, the contractor will have the option to begin work on the detour improvements this fall or wait until the spring of 2022 to start the project.
“They could start on the Cherry Street detour route this fall if the project is awarded,” Kovar said.
* Walk-in vaccination clinics available this week
(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 27)
The North Central District Health Department has walk-in COVID-19 vaccination times available this week.
Anyone age 18 and older who resides in the nine counties covered by the NCDHD may come in for vaccination without an appointment from 3 until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Rock County High School Gym, from 1 until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Butte Community Center, or from noon until 2 p.m. Friday in the Atkinson Community Center. The clinics use the Moderna vaccine.
The health department was made aware of 10 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases confirmed were three in Holt County and one in Cherry County.
More than 93,284 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered during the past week in Nebraska. As of Sunday, more than 1.27 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Sunday, 601,946 Nebraskans have completed vaccination, which represents 40.6% of residents aged 16 years of age and older.
Nebraska is scheduled to receive 28,080 first doses and 28,080 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, and 20,700 first doses and 19,200 second doses of the Moderna vaccine.
* Local Pheasants Forever chapter awards scholarships
(Posted 6:15 a.m. April 23)
The Sandhills Chapter of Pheasants Forever awarded eight scholarships to the graduating class of 2021. Those selected are Ellie Welke and Moriah Beel from Ainsworth High School, Hunter Wiebelhaus and Adyson Linse from Keya Paha County High School, Zack Dickau and Grace Olson from Rock County High School and Michaela Keller and Haley Hesse from Valentine High School.
The Sandhills Chapter started its scholarship program in 2008 and has awarded a total of 63 scholarships for a total of $31,500. The program is able to offer scholarships thanks to the support of the area during its annual banquet.
* Commissioners set public hearing on zoning recommendations
(Posted 7 a.m. April 21)
The Brown County Commissioners on Tuesday set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. May 4 in the courthouse courtroom to hear comments regarding an updated comprehensive plan and changes to the county’s zoning regulations recommended by the Brown County Planning Commission.
After a public hearing and two subsequent meetings, the Planning Commission recommended changes to the county’s zoning regulations related to environmentally controlled livestock feeding operations, wind towers and other updates. The Planning Commission also recommended the commissioners adopt an updated comprehensive plan.
Zoning Administrator Tom Jones presented the board with those recommended updates, and the board voted to schedule the public hearing during its next regular meeting May 4.
In other business Tuesday, the board approved a request from Weed Superintendent Scott Erthum to allow him to use 15-day noxious weed spray notices to landowners in addition to 10-day notices.
Erthum said the 15-day notice allows for fees to be issued for non-compliance after the 15-day period.
“I only issue two or three notices a year,” Erthum said. “It is not something I like to use.”
The weed superintendent said he was asked to help control noxious weeds in Ainsworth, Long Pine and Johnstown, and he ran into three situations where landowners were not compliant.
“We currently use a 10-day notice for non-compliant landowners,” Erthum said. “After that, we do a force spray and the landowner is charged for the cost.”
He said the 10-day notice does not work well for the small lots in town, and asked the board to allow him to use the 15-day notice that includes a fee for non-compliance. The board approved the request.
Erthum reported a grant was received to have yellow flag iris sprayed on the Long Pine Creek watershed. Though not listed as a noxious weed, Erthum said a lot of yellow flag iris is growing along the creek and it is invasive.
“It chokes off the water,” he said. “It is not good to have it in there.”
Erthum said a helicopter will be utilized through the grant funding to spray the Long Pine Creek watershed to control the plant.
The commissioners approved allowing county-owned land east of the Brown County Hospital to be utilized for the construction of a community fishing pond.
Graig Kinzie made the request to the board, and said he was working with the Ainsworth Lions Club to establish a fishing pond in the community so youth would have close access to a place to fish.
Kinzie said he had already received an outpouring of support from organizations and businesses interested in assisting with the project. He said a site for a supplemental water well was identified, but a waiver from a property owner who has an irrigation pivot near the site would be needed before a shallow well could be developed to provide water to the pond.
“The Lions Club has agreed to handle the funding for the project, and I will pursue grant opportunities on the Lions Club’s behalf,” Kinzie said.
Andrew Glidden from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission discussed design aspects for the project, telling the commissioners one-third of the pond would need to be developed to a depth of 12 feet to ease the threat of winter kill to a fish population the Game and Parks Commission would stock.
He said bentonite or other clay material would be needed to line the sides of the pond to keep seepage to a minimum.
Kinzie said one business owner had agreed to donate some of the excavation work in exchange for the topsoil, and he asked if the county would also be willing to provide some of the excavation and material removal work.
The board indicated its support, and Commissioners Denny Bauer and Reagan Wiebelhaus told Kinzie and Glidden to design the pond as large as possible. Bauer asked that a picnic shelter area also be included as part of the design.
The board approved the use of the site for the project.
During his report, Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said the roads department had completed a grading project on Meadow Lark Road, and is currently working on areas of Moon Lake Avenue that continue to wash out.
“We are putting cedar trees in there and trying to build it back up,” Turpin said.
Turpin said he visited with the Brown County Rural Fire District Board about placing a diesel fuel tank at the Raven Fire Hall for the roads department to utilize. He asked if the county would assume responsibility for the tank, which the board indicated it would.
The board heard an update by phone from Eric Kamler with Third District Rep. Adrian Smith’s office.
Kamler provided an update on legislation Smith was working on through his committee assignments. He said he had been hearing from numerous counties in the Third District regarding the 30×30 executive order that set a goal of having 30 percent of land under federal environmental protection by 2030.
He said Smith was opposed to the plan, and his office was trying to obtain information from the Department of the Interior on how the administration planned to carry out the directive.
“We are keeping a close watch on it,” Kamler said. “There is likely nothing that is going to happen quickly. They may try to beef up the CRP program. That would get them there. There will eventually be an online public comment period.”
County Attorney Andy Taylor asked Kamler if the congressman had considered holding a town hall of his own to gather comments to present to the departments tasked with carrying out the directive.
“I will share that with the congressman,” Kamler said. “I like the idea. The resolutions a lot of the counties are passing can also be presented.”
Taylor told the commissioners several counties and local governments have passed resolutions condemning the directive.
“If the plan is to seize private property, that is definitely something the county should oppose,” Taylor said. “But, we don’t know what they are planning at this point.”
Taylor recommended the county reserve taking action until its May 4 meeting to see if more details about the directive are released.
Wiebelhaus said any federal land grabs would be in opposition to the county’s comprehensive plan that protects land in the county for agricultural use.
Bauer said the county could probably not step in if it is a situation between a willing buyer and a willing seller.
“I would like to have some kind of resolution May 4,” Bauer said. “I have had a lot of calls wanting us to oppose this.”
The item was placed on the board’s May 4 agenda, as was a decision to install WiFi in the courthouse.
Clerk Travee Hobbs said having the state install WiFi was more expensive than she anticipated, but there may also be options Three River could provide for a wireless network.
Both Bauer and Commissioner Buddy Small said the county needed to provide the wireless network in the courthouse, and asked Hobbs to have a recommendation to the board May 4.
Treasurer Deb Vonheeder presented the board with a sheriff’s department distress warrant report. Vonheeder said all distress warrants had been collected with the exception of one property, which was currently in bankruptcy proceedings.
Vonheeder also said she set up a separate account to handle the federal funds the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Small said the county needed to be careful on how that money is spent or it runs the risk of having to pay it back.
“Some counties are already spending it,” Small said. “If it is not spent on the right things, it has to be paid back.”
Small addressed a potential pest issue, as the courthouse has had an ongoing issue with bats getting into the building.
“If a bat bites someone, it is a liability issue,” Small said. “I talked with Olson Pest Control, but that would be rather expensive. We don’t need to do anything tonight, but do we want to pursue something?”
Wiebelhaus said he didn’t believe the courthouse had an infestation of bats.
“We could throw a lot of money at this and not fix the problem,” Wiebelhaus said.
Bauer said he has seen the guano above the ceiling tiles in the building.
“We could have them at least get us an estimate,” Bauer said.
Prior to adjourning, the board approved an additional list of surplus items to be advertised and sold from the clerk’s office and the BKR Extension office.
The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 4.
* Jerry Allen receives Lions Club Member of the Year Monday
(Posted 7 a.m. April 20)
During its meeting Monday, the Ainsworth Lions Club presented Jerry Allen with the Lions Club Member of the Year Award. Allen, who has been a Lions Club member for 60 years, has rarely missed a meeting during that time and has participated in almost all of the club’s volunteer events during the time he has served.
Allen was presented a plaque by the club Monday.
The Board of Directors approved a request from Dave Sherman from the Brown County Agricultural Society to run the concession stand at the fairgrounds during a Rough Stock Rally June 5.
The club also approved a request from member Graig Kinzie to have the Lions Club serve as the sponsoring organization for the construction of a community fishing pond in the Ainsworth area. Kinzie said he would handle any grant applications for the project, and asked if the club would serve as the sponsoring organization on any grant application. Kinzie said his family was donating $5,000 in memorial and estate money to get the project started following the passing of his father Gary Kinzie, a 50-year member of the Lions Club and an avid fisherman.
The Board of Directors approved serving as the sponsoring organization and agreed to handle donations that are made toward the project.
Marcus Fairhead updated the board regarding the upcoming Ainsworth High School All-Sports Tailgate Party. The Lions Club sponsors and serves the meal during the event, which will be held April 27 in McAndrew Gymnasium.
The club also discussed its annual Highway 20 cleanup project east of Ainsworth, with club members asked to meet at 3 p.m. May 2 at the Carquest parking lot.
The board also approved the slate of nominees for officers and directors for the 2021-22 year. Bob Beatty will serve as Club President for the upcoming year, with Dale Hafer the club’s vice president.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Lions Club Board of Directors is scheduled for May 17.