Preserve the Sandhills

god's own cattle country

The Sandhills are 19,300 square miles of rolling, grass covered hills sitting atop the Ogallala Aquifer and home to Cattle Ranches that are the lifeblood of the area.

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns every animal and every bird and every beast. He owns us. For His greatness and goodness, we “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15)

Cattle n River.jpg

Cattle and the sandhills

The Sandhills of Nebraska, located in West Central Nebraska, is home to cattle ranching and cattle.  720 different species cover the rolling sand dunes that make this area.  This forage serves as food for over 530,000 head of cattle.  The cattle in this area outnumber people at a ratio of 3 to 1.  During the 1870s, Cattlemen discovered the potential that the Sandhills held.  Through failed attempts of farming due to the fragility of the soil, grazing cattle was found to be exactly what God created this area of the United States for.

Rancher.jpg

the Sandhills rancher

The Sandhills Rancher is God's steward of His great land.  Whether that Rancher be a man or a woman, their livestock, their land, their ranch, their families, are of the utmost importance in their lives.  They work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The life of a Rancher evolves around calving and enduring sleepness nights, focusing on genetics for that next calf crop, monitoring range and supplement needs of cows and calves, preparing feed for the colder months, upkeep of fences and windmills, and a plethora of jobs that each new day brings.

Branding.jpg

an agricultural community

The Sandhills of Nebraska is an area rooted deeply in agriculture.  Multi-generational families operate many of the ranches and encourage new families to become a part of their communities.  Agriculture through the raising of cattle has helped the Sandhills area endure the ups and downs of the cattle market.  It has stood the true test of time since the 1870s.  Though population and the market fluctuate, one thing holds true...agriculture is the lifeblood of this area and welcomes all that wish to experience it.

IMG_2762.JPG

Articles and Facts

Preserve the Sandhills believes in educating and learning about how transmission lines, wind farms, solar farms, hydrogen and/or biomass will affect you and the area that you live in.

WIndmill.jpg

There was distinctly unique outing for birding purposes on May 6th, 2017 to Anderson Bridge WMA along the Niobrara River in northern Cherry county, Nebraska. Along with gracious driver and compatriot Gordon Warrick, we left Valentine on a fine spring, Saturday morning. Temperatures were warm and wind was slight at the start. It was the start of a fine spring day in the Great American Sandhills.

We watched and I kept track of the wildbirds seen. Notable along the county road near the Stoner Ranch southwest of Kilgore — and just east of a proposed wind turbine facility — was an especially fine view of a Swainson’s Hawk sitting on a fence post, adjusting its wings as it basked in the morning sun. Suddenly a Loggerhead Shrike darted away to the south. This bit of roadside watching resulted in the only observation of these two species for the day. An Upland Sandpiper was also expressive here, and was an initial indication of their return for another breeding season. The environmental assessment done for the project two years ago did not record the occurrence of the Swainson's Hawk. Of course the developers consultant company did not do any May surveys.

 

Proper NameMay 1982May 2017

Canada Goose- -7

Wood Duck66

Mallard22

Blue-winged Teal29

Wild Turkey0- -

Common Pheasant0- -

Great Blue Heron0- -

Turkey Vulture64

Swainson's Hawk0- -

Red-tailed Hawk01

Killdeer0- -

Upland Sandpiper01

Mourning Dove010

Great Horned Owl1- -

Belted Kingfisher11

Red-headed Woodpecker0- -

Downy Woodpecker01

Northern Flicker01

American Kestrel01

Least Flycatcher- -1

Western Kingbird0- -

Blue Jay01

American Crow01

Cedar Waxwing- -8

Black-capped Chickadee08

Horned Lark0- -

Northern Rough-winged Swallow02

Barn Swallow0- -

House Wren08

White-breasted Nuthatch- -1

Eastern Bluebird- -2

American Robin01

American Goldfinch03

Common Yellowthroat01

Western Meadowlark01

Red-winged Blackbird025

Brown-headed Cowbird06

Common Grackle05

Song Sparrow- -1

Lincoln's Sparrow- -1

White-crowned Sparrow- -1

Chipping Sparrow06

Vesper Sparrow0- -

Lark Sparrow- -2

Spotted Towhee010

Northern Cardinal02

Upon reaching the valley of the running water river, the actual reason for this outing became prevalent. There was a greater focus on bird activity and my pencil was active on paper to denote the details. After crossing the running water river of grandeur, a true sense of time descended.

It was May 6, 1982 when my first visit was made to this itty-bitty wildlife area of just 137 acres. Though small in size it is a special place with a very nice variety of wildbird species and is very conducive to an overnight stay. There are no facilities, but only weaky people rely on this aspect when they might decide on where to enjoy the natural glories of the Niobrara river.

Because this is a public place was the reason for my first visit to birding in the greater sandhills’ region on a May day in 1982. A bird list was kept but it did not include the number present for all of the 37 bird species observed. Being a complete rookie interloper from an urban setting, this visit was an initial experience to just get used to being at a wild place in newly realized Cherry county ... so different from natural areas visited while birding in eastern Nebraska — some specific outings associated with research work needed to get a M.A. degree in biology while considering the effects of habitat managment on nongame birds occurring with surveys at Twin Oaks WMA in Johnson County, NE. Further visits did ensue to this wildlife area in July with a few notes kept at Merritt Reservoir, and the eventually many more sandhill spaces of known recognition. There were many multitude of visits that occurred on a continual basis, involving a drive to multiple hundreds of distinct localities – some many times – and recording species seen and numbers present. If it was not an actual count there was a number designated based upon the presence of a species, the extent of available habitat and then approximation. It is completely impossible to count the number of Red-winged Blackbird at a expansive place like Carson Lake, but there is certainly more than one of this species present when a number is given. Wherever possible, an accurate count has been indicated.

A Legacy Visit

The 2017 visit on May 6th was not by two “spring-chickens” so we appreciated the recently established mown grass route to stroll westward from the parking area and then on the north side of the marsh.

In past years, I’d have hiked up the southern slope of the valley, after pausing to look at the cabin remains, then making sure to look and listen to anything birdly on the upland, continuing by walking a distance westward to stop and linger and relax at one of the best overlooks in this section of the river valley and then plunged down the steep hillside to the bottoms for further exploration.

Having a mown trail along nearly level land now makes it much simpler and certainly easier on aching bones. In past years it would have be a difficult to hike some areas of the WMA due to the too thick growth of invasive cedar. Habitat management has cut away invasive trees. Prescribed burns have been planned for the area.

Two notable site features noted during our outing were 1) a seemingly newly prominent cellar of stone walls and an eastern doorway very near what had been a bubbling spring until the water feature was inundated by pondworks of the beaver, and 2) cowpies and tracks of cattle though there did not seem to be any signs of any grazing, so were these transitory livestock?

Species Considerations

During our outing in May 2017, there were 35 different species observed. This visit was a bit early in the season – though it was a day with high temperatures in the lower 80s – as there are bird lists for dates later during May when there is a much greater bird occurrence, including even the Barn Swallow as well as the appreciated and so vividly expressive Yellow-breasted Chat.

The number of species noted on our outing in 2017 compare to 37 species in 1982 on the same calendar date.

Combining the results to these two particular visits, the tally is 46 species. Spotted Towhee and House Wren were prevalent among the woods. It was great to see what was apparently a male “wing-fluttering” Black-capped Chickadee courting another chickadee, which was probably a female. The prominent bird’s call was different and its behavior that neither of us two bird men had ever seen, despite conglomerate decades of experience. This instance conveys that there is always something to learn by listening, looking and giving attention to the regular activities of wildbirds. That exhibitory chickadee was incessant in its purpose; the other chickadee went nowhere as the pair — obviously a couple — kept together in their arboreal realm.

Nearby was a cavity in a box elder where a pair of these special little birds had seemingly found a home for the season. Remember that their vocalizations include a sound which can be easily interpreted as sounding everything like “hello” as they go about daily actions for their survival. If you hear this sound, it means that you will have a great day because these little songsters have conveyed a message that needs to be appreciated?

Overall for this locality there are more than 800 records available for 120 species of wildbirds, when all available records are considered.

Any visit to this area is not about deriving records to comparison. It is most essentially a hike where birds and natural land features can be seen and appreciated. Especially noted at the state wildlife management area was the “huge” beaver lodge in the marsh. The construct was been present for a multitude of years. The residents have extended their water environs from what was present decades ago. The earthworks constructed bit-by-bit by the “little paws” of busy beavers. They have done a supreme job as they are natural experts of engineering, knowing just where to place mud to constrict a flow and improve their swimmable living space. They are also know how to take advantage of landscape features, including stabilizing tree trunks to facilitate their efforts. Also enjoyed here — for a brief interlude — were the pushing activities of two small burying bettle pushing along — with their hind legs — a bigger bit of dung, as they went about their big task of the day.

Hand Exclosure, McKelvie Division

While in the area, we also visited the Hand Exclosure at the McKelvie Division of the Nebraska National Forest. It is just a relatively short distance of travel eastward down the country road. Along the way we noted the occurrence of additional species. They were prairie birds vibrant along the way and near the Forest Service property. We added a Western Kingbird sitting on a fence wire, more than one Grasshopper Sparrow, a Vesper Sparrow in the same space and some Horned Lark of the prairie. It seemed that each time that a bird on the fenceline became an intent of our attention, it flew away. Thankfully some of the "little brown jobs" stayed stationary long enough. A special appreciation for one of us birders was enjoying a so subtle tinge of the feather coloration of a Grasshopper Sparrow.

At the forest service property, there were as least two strident Red-breasted Nuthatch in the pines south of the Niobrara valley wetland space on Forest Service property. On the river bottom was a vivid flycather of the willow sort. A Red Crossbill flew above the place while we took a few minutes to rest at a place where the most vibrant plant colors of this day of the season were bits of moss clinging to a tree trunk on the edge of the marsh. A Common Yellowthroat was heard as it sang among the thick vegetation.

There were some distinct colors of bryophytes on a fallen snag on the southside of the marsh. It was too mucky to traverse the few feet to get a photo. Any temptation to collect a specimen was thwarted by the thought that it might be too much of an imposition on someone else to rely on an identification, and it would take years of study from some unknown guide to identification to learn the minutia essential to personally indicate a proper name.

After the trek at this public property with too many cedars and steep terrain, and trying to adhere to property boundaries, we had to go back up the valley slope. We found what may have been a former roadway, so hiking was easier as it had become quite warm. Upon getting back to our ride, there was a working water pump right there and our thirst was slaked and surely eased the rigor and dry mouth from strenuous hiking. We also realized the best route to take if any future visit occurs?

It was a great day of birding amidst distinct Niobrara valley spaces. It was done because two Valentine guys cared enough to travel, look and listen, and partake in natural learning.

During our time outdoors we pondered what this place might have looked like in 1857 when the Warren expedition travelled traversed the north side of the valley. Certainly the mighty men of local tribes could have readily ridden their horses along through the valley. Any such effort would now be impossible due to a relatively uncontrolled invasion of red cedar trees as well as an increased growth of pine trees.

 

This chatter has meant further personal ponderings. What will this habitat space look like in a century? Will it be such a distinct natural haven that a permit will be required for anyone wanting to make any sort of visit? Will access be available only to certain approved scientists on governmentally approved tasks and restrained to only approved activities? What is the preferred condition of the wild land habitat, and what metrics will be used to determine its condition? There is no steady-state in nature and so any indicated situation has to be dynamic and changing on a timeline of several years! Will regulations constrict the use of controlled burns, as they degrade air quality and might be a hazard to country resident with breathing problems? This could effectively shut down the use of this well-used habitat management tool during 2017. What funds will be available to ensure that federal and state areas get the attention they require?

Certainly modern-era tools will have to be used. Will aerial drones be used to present a view of wildlands to the public because a place is off-limits in order to conserve the resource and avoid any possible degradation? Will these drones have acoustical recognition equipment able to listen to ambient sounds to a degree that bird songs can be recognized? It would be relatively easy to have a grid established where the drone would hover for a specified amount of time, record sounds and then move to the next spot of a survey area, as breeding residents obviously sing to express their claim to a territory. Imagery could be kept to denote species that may not be heard. A technician in a laboratory would then do an analysis to determine specifics. There would be software available to analyze bird songs and readily identify the species. Technology could readily and regularly denote a consistent record of wildbird occurrence, and this could be done much easier than what is now being done by human efforts. Significantly, there would be aberrant visitors allowed because the natural havens would have to be strictly protected from any environmental degradation because so much of the natural world has been ruined.

Conservation of wild lands is a long-term proposition, and it needs to be done in a manner to ensure long-term survial of their myriad features. The question is, how is this essential goal being addressed now by the state and federal agencies which own public lands? What are the next generations realities for the Sand Hills and Cherry County?

Too many questions without answers!

Written by:  James E. Ducey

NPPD Execs

NPPD Execs

the concrete turbine base

NPPD’s Intimidation Tactics Backfired

 

On Monday, July 17th, 2017, a private meeting had been arranged by Dan and Barbara Welch to which private citizens concerned with details of the proposed R-Line route would be able to ask questions of Robert Harms of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. Invitations were sent, RSVP’s were gathered and a meeting room was reserved in Thedford.

The meeting was nothing more than an opportunity for people to gather, ask questions and listen to the answers from an expert on wildlife and the ecosystem.

Mr. Harms arrived in Thedford in the late morning of the 17th, ready to provide whatever insight he could, but with people on the way from all over several counties, invited guests of the Welch’s, Mr. Harms received a phone call from the Denver office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office informing him that an edict had come down from the office in Washington D.C. stating, in no uncertain terms, that Mr. Harms was barred from meeting with members of the public at that event.

Why?

Because, as it was explained to him, NPPD had insisted that Harms not be allowed to attend that meeting.

So, as the meeting was set to proceed without the invited expert, it was noticed that there was, in the back of the room, two people that nobody recognized. When asked who they were, they identified themselves as being from NPPD.

Since no one from NPPD had been invited, and because the reason that the Welch’s wanted folks to feel free to ask questions without interference from NPPD regarding the ecosystem and wildlife issues along the proposed R-Line route, both NPPD representatives were asked, politely, to leave. They at first refused to do so, stating that NPPD attorneys had told them to attend, but after a stronger point was made that the meeting was a private event, both men were ushered out the door.

This, however, is not where it ended.

As a few late arriving guests came into the meeting, it was discovered that along with the two representatives of NPPD who had been shown the door, two more, wearing suits, were with them outside the building, and that NPPD was observed driving slowly up and down both sides of the street in Thedford taking pictures of ever vehicle parked out for that meeting.

Is NPPD afraid that their lies regarding “temporary fill” to be used in wetland areas will be removed once access roads are built so that the land will be returned to its natural state as though nothing was ever there? Are they afraid that word will get out that despite their lies that most people along the R-Line route have signed off on right of way easements will be proven a lie as not one easement has been signed in Thomas County and only two, thus far, have been signed in Blaine County?

Is NPPD afraid that their testimony and many occasions that the R-Line route was never proposed with wind farms or wind energy in mind will come out as a lie when official documents from meetings directly between NPPD and wind energy companies regarding direct communication of the placement of the R-Line with regard to wind farms goes public?

Obviously, NPPD was terrified of the questions that might have been asked, the answers that might have been provided from an expert, Mr. Harms, and terrified of what the public might have learned at that meeting. In reality, their tactics of intimidation backfired. Nobody in that room was intimidated, and nobody was impressed by their presence, their suits, their attorneys or their lobbyists.

NPPD dispatched their cowards to contact Washington, and dispatched more of their cowards to tactically try and intimidate private citizens in Thedford. NPPD knows that their lies and fabrications won’t stand up to the light of truth and facts, but they managed to do two things last Monday…prevent a public servant from having an open and honest question and answer session with the public he serves…and stir up a hornets nest.

One question remains…what else is NPPD hiding from the public?

 

Craig Andresen

P.O. Box 673 Wood Lake Ne 69221

River Pic.jpg

“Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”

Government of the People, by the People, for the People?

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has proposed construction of a 345KV transmission line (R-Project) extending from Sutherland, NE to Eastern Holt County. This 225-mile high voltage transmission line will traverse the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills. The Nebraska sandhills covers 19,600 square miles of North Central Nebraska and contain 1.3 million acres of wetlands. It is the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the United States. It is also the largest stabilized sand dune region in the world and one of the largest contiguous grasslands in the world. The Sandhills are a unique and fragile ecosystem that remain relatively pristine and unaltered. They are home to 314 vertebrate species and 720 plant species, including a number of endangered species.  Part of the central flyway, the Sandhills wetlands are crucial habitat to migratory birds including ducks, geese, swans, and the whooping crane.  One of the purposes of the NPPD R-Project, particularly regarding its location, is to promote industrial energy development in the form of wind energy. This will further add to the violation and destruction of this fragile environment.  Many, if not most, of the residents of the Sandhills feel that industrial energy development is entirely unsuitable for this fragile, pristine, and undisturbed ecoregion. There has been strong grass-roots opposition to this project.

On July 17, 2017 a private meeting of Sandhill landowners, residents, and concerned citizens was arranged in Thedford, NE.  Mr. Robert Harms of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department (USFW) was invited to answer questions regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement relating to the  R-Project issued in June. Permitting for injury to endangered species and damage to their habitat is crucial to NPPD for construction of the R-Project. Mr. Harms arrived in Thedford before the meeting time. He was then contacted by the Denver USFW office and told that because of complaints by NPPD to the Washington D.C. USFW office, they had given an edict that he was barred from meeting with these members of the public. As approximately 45 concerned citizens from many counties gathered for this meeting Mr. Harms was already en route back to his office in Alda. After the meeting commenced, NPPD representative were seen photographing all of the vehicles at the meeting site in Thedford.

 One has to ask why NPPD wants the public to be uninformed. They have shown themselves to be a disingenuous, heavy handed, and arrogant bureaucratic organization with the easement acquisition process and always with the threat of eminent domain/condemnation. Now they have directly intervened to prevent a public servant from speaking to and informing members of the public.

NPPD is well funded with a bevy of lawyers and lobbyists at both state and federal levels. It seems that power brokers and big money continue to dominate Washington politics and that Abraham Lincoln’s “Government of the People, by the People, and for the People” may be just a pipe dream.

 

Brent L. Steffen, M.D.                                                                                                                                                                       

6010 46th Avenue

Kearney, NE   68845

308-627-7270

hbarranch1@gmail.com                                        

 

 

personal testimonies

The following is for Preserve the Sandhills Followers that wish to have their stories told and their opinions heard.  

Please feel free to contact us if you would like us to post a personal excerpt.

 
 
 
NPPD.jpg

the fear of eminent domain

NPPD has interest in the Nebraska Sandhills to build the R-Line Project.  This project consists of a 345,000 volt transmission line crossing Nebraska for 225 miles.  NPPD states that it "will help enhance operation of NPPD's electric transmission system, relieve congestion, and provide additional opportunities for development of renewable energy projects."  Currently, NPPD has only obtained ? of the easements.  If these easements are not obtained, NPPD has the right to pursue eminent domain.  What does this mean to the landowner?  The taking of your land, whether you like it or not.  

 
Leaking Ainsworth Turbine.jpg

a personal story

Holt County Couple Speak on Turbine Facility

Author note: The names of the couple that spoke at the public meeting of the zoning board meeting are not given in this article to facilitate its publication. Primary in the decision to spread this story regarded the situation as expressed by the speakers at a public zoning board meeting at Valentine in early January that should be conveyed to so many others. Also, spoken comments were made at a public meeting, and are therefore public information as personally noted. Minutes of this meeting made by the secretary of the board, will, according to details heard at the most recent January meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners - be made available online. Comments made at a public venue are public information. As the author of this story, it has been a difficult conundrum. The overall decision was to share the information so that many more could realize what may occur when wind turbines are placed on a local landscape.

Grand Prairie Wind Turbine Facility

A couple dealing with a massive wind turbine facility in Holt county have experienced the process and results associated with the planning and subsequent operation of an industrial wind turbine facility in northern Nebraska.

Speaking to the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board on January 3rd, they indicated how turbines at the Grande Prairie Wind Farm located northeast of O’Neill has “ruined” values which they once readily appreciated at their rural residence. The couple travelled to Valentine to share their experiences with zoning board members now considering changes to Cherry county zoning regulations pertaining to wind energy conversion systems.

The couple reside on property within one and 1/3 mile of the nearest turbine of the Grande Prairie facility that has 200 model 110 Vista turbines. About 60 of them are visible from the a corner of the property where the couple has lived for 20 years.

The extent and ongoing occurrence of noises from operational turbines was especially prominent in their comments. Noisy conditions occur regularly since the turbines became operational at the end of October, 2016.

Turbine noise is heard “every day,” said the mister. 

"The noise is not constant as we always hear it but when we hear it it is a steady constant noise not rising or falling like the wind, therefore it is a very unnatural sound," the missus said. “On any given day there is a different sound.” On occasion the sound is similar to a shoe thumping in a dryer. They have found that the noise is worse when the turbine blades are rotating away from their home, and the back side of the turbine nacelle is closer. The sounds carry across the level landscape until it meets an obstruction, which in this case, is their home.

To document the extent of the noise, they rely on decibel meter to determine readings at various times. On occasion, levels were measured at 52-68 dBA within their house, and 68 to 82 dBA outside. Early in January, 2017, there was a reading of 50 dBA within their home. Noise from the operating turbines can readily exceed typical residential sounds such as a furnace running or television volume.

County regulations indicate that noise levels should not exceed 50 dBA.

“I miss the peace of the night,” the missus said. She used to be able to enjoy hearing the calls of resident owls, coyotes howling and otherwise appreciate their rural setting. Prominent sounds now can regularly be those of operating wind turbines. It is “very disturbing, and not natural,” she said. When the weather and wind direction changes, the extent of noise also varies.

“A neighbor three miles distance from the turbines can hear them,” the mister said.

Blinking red lights atop the many turbines are also notably obvious in the night skyscape, which was formerly nothing but stars.

The couple had initially been told by project developers that no turbine would be placed within five miles of their home. A map they provided at the Cherry county board meeting showed that the extent of turbine placement was much greater than originally proposed.

“Zoning regulations were not as strong as they should have been,” the mister said, noting that some members of the zoning board currently have an opinion that the project “should not have happened.” There was only one initial public meeting, they said.

Three primary concerns for the Holt county zoning board have been: 1) decibels of noise from the turbines at the site and nearby; 2) influence on land values; and, 3) the designated setback distance. There were also other items that the zoning board dealt with. 

The gentleman from Holt county said the project has been “very disturbing to people that live near the site. It has split families and neighbors. It is a mess.”

There was some economic benefit to the community during the construction phase, he said. Any other economic benefits to the county are not yet apparent. 

A prominent comment they made was that 80% of the owners of property where the turbines are placed do not live at the site, but instead reside in O’Neill or elsewhere. These owners receive thousands per month in payment for having a turbine on the property. 

The Grande Prairie project was started in 2008. The county zoning board initially heard about the proposal in 2014, it was said. This project has been sold twice, and is currently owned and operated by Berkshire Hathaway Energy. 

They mentioned Berkshire Hathaway Energy constructs wind turbine facilities due to tax breaks.

Warren Buffett has invested in wind energy for years, notably because of the federal government tax subsidies to generate wind power, according to press reports. "That’s the only reason to build them,” Buffett said. "They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

There is a proposal for an additional 25 turbines to be placed amidst the facility which comprises 54,000 acres. Some members of the planning board are hoping for a delay on any further placement of any more of the massive turbines.

The couple indicated they would welcome anyone wanting to visit and personally experience conditions associated with living near the operational turbines at one of the largest wind turbine facilities in Nebraska.

Cherry County Zoning

People present at this meeting included 8 of the 9 members of the zoning board, the zoning administrator and 12 guests with most of them indicating their name on a sign-in page. The wife of a newly elected county commissioner, once again, declined an opportunity to put her name on an attendee list.

No decisions were made to revise any zoning regulations during this meeting. Particular attention was given to the three items that the county commissioners indicated that the planning board members needed to consider. Several sources of information were discussed and then documentation was provided for individual members to consider for discussion at the February meeting of the Cherry county zoning board.

 

Hearing Held on Moratorium on Turbines in the Sandhills

Written by:  James E. Ducey 

It was country boots versus city suits during the hearing on legislative bill 504 at the Nebraska state capitol on March 1st.

The natural resources committee held a hearing on a bill introduced by senator Tom Brewer, who represents the 43rd district. The legislation would establish a two-year moratorium on development of industrial wind turbines within the sandhills, and that a study of wind turbines impacts or influences occur during this period.

Senator Brewer opened the hearing. The primary reason for the moratorium would be to have a “time-out” to “give everyone a voice and a chance to be heard.” Turbine proposals, especially in Cherry county have been obviously contentious, resulting in families divided and friend and neighbor disagreements. Tax subsidies were also mentioned as developers are rushing to build before the end of federal tax subsidies in a few years. There is a need to balance the rights of wind companies with those of land owners and other interested parties, he said.

Proponents urging that the bill be moved out of the committee for consideration by the full legislature were primarily ranchland residents, with many having a personal stake in what will happen within the sandhills if turbine facilities and associated power lines get built.

There were Cherry county ranchers from the Goose Creek country and the Brownlee vicinity. Others also drove hundreds of miles from the Thedford area. A ranchwife from north of Burwell came to express her concern about turbines and the tactics of the Nebraska Public Power District associated with the construction of the proposed R-Project industrial power line. Other concerned citizens came from Valentine, Wood Lake and Taylor, as well as a former state senator from North Platte, from a ranch dating to 1878.

These many people took time out of their schedule – during the busy calving season – to drive many miles to Lincoln because of what they and many others appreciate about the Sand Hills. It is a common consensus that the region is cattle country, not wind turbine country. A common theme was that the sandhills are a unique place that deserves special protection.

There was a comment about the region being a “national natural wonder” and a “magical and amazing place.” Ann Manning-Warren, drove from the Goose creek country of southeast Cherry county. She said “there is no other place in the world quite like the sandhills.” Her ranch, like many others, represent generations of ranch families that have conserved the grassland range and other unique land features.

Fourth generation rancher Craig Miles said the positions on wind turbine facility development was the “difference between cowboys and paid suits.” His testimony conveyed a sense of place from prominent landmark, Hackberry Point, where the view towards the North Loup River, the wind among the grass and the sound of the wild birds can be enjoyed. The “wisdom behind LB 504 is taking the high road.”

Also present was a spokesman for the Lincoln-based Wachiska chapter of the National Audubon Society, a group that has for many years worked to conserve tracts of tall-grass prairie in southeast Nebraska. Bruce Kennedy has also been involved in getting the Niobrara River designated as a national scenic river.

The Nebraska Sierra Club spokesman George Cunningham said that though the group are proponents of “sustainable alternative energy systems” there is “no need for energy developments in native grasslands.” They should be on converted land.

The massive development of wind turbine facilities in Antelope county was indicated by Dean Smith, a farmer from near Brunswick. He indicated that 50% of the county has easements that allow wind turbine placement, with about one-half of that property owners being absentee landowners. There are already 220 industrial turbines within the county, with another 168 proposed. His three primary concerns are viewscape, timely collection of taxes and wind turbine syndrome. A tactic used by developers is that once there is one turbine, why not put in others, he said.

Developers are now intent on placing industrial development on land in the vicinity of ranches cared for by multiple generations of families. Within Cherry county, there is the Kilgore project and the newly identified Cascade project that would place 147 turbines on land along the Cherry county line, north of Thedford along Highway 83.

Opponents were most notably represented by lawyers and lobbyists for wind energy development companies. The men in suits were paid to talk.

They included someone from Berkshire-Hathaway Energy, or was it BSH Renewables, the current owner and operator of the Grande Prairie turbine facility in northern Holt county. This company is looking for additional opportunities to purchase wind turbine developments. The Sand Hills is one of their top three locales for future development, lawyer Alan Butler said.

Invenergy, the developer of turbine facilities in Boone and Antelope counties, had representative Joshua Framel proclaim that their projects “maximize benefits with minimal impacts.”

A lawyer from an Omaha law firm said the legislation is “unwarranted and will dangerously chill opportunities for wind development in Nebraska.” Mike Degan also said that there is an advantage to placing turbines in the sandhills because there is “less residential development so turbines could be placed in remote areas.”

Also speaking in opposition to LB 504 was Kathy Torpy of The Nature Conservancy. This group is pro-wind and wants more turbines in Nebraska, and she asked for “thoughtful and well done placement of turbines” with a request for meetings to be held within the sandhills on this issue. She also said that “ecologically sensitive areas” need to be protected and asked – for some reason not indicated – that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission lead the study.

The Center for Rural Affairs was also opposed to the legislative bill, since it was “focused on removal of local communities to regulate wind turbines.” Spokesman Lucas Nelsen also said that the boundary indicated with the legislative bill needs further consideration.

Bree DeNaeyer secretary of Cherry County Wind, L.L.C. also spoke, stating the need to “dispense with 504.” Her husband is a county commissioner operating a ranch on land owned by his mother, an enrolled member of the group. Her opinion was that the state legislation would conflict with local zoning regulations and impinge on private property rights. Rancher Dave Hamilton, also an enrolled member of Cherry County Wind, said wind turbines would mean economic development that would “ripple down main streets” and the bill was a “stall tactic.”

Bluestem Energy Solutions, an Omaha-based company, was well represented. They have plans – one which was rejected by the Cherry county commissioners – for a turbine facility south of Kilgore, and the Cascade project along Highway 83 at the Cherry county line, north of Thedford.

Testimony was also expressed by a wind coalition lobbyist that works to remove barriers to wind development wherever.

Other groups opposed to the bill were the Saline County Wind Association (comes down to the not in my backyard opinion), the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters (wind is a resource that needs to be taken advantage of, just like land and water), the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska Farmer’s Union (the bill is “heavy-handed” and anti-business, anti-property rights and anti-local control).

There were also two speakers with a neutral position. Ken Winston of Bold Alliance asked that amendments be added to the bill to address pipelines, injection wells and powerlines. A representative of the Nebraska Association of County Officials also spoke.

Everyone had a chance to present their representative testimony, with nearly every speaker limited to three minutes. Letters that had been sent in were also indicated.

Sen. Brewer indicated his view upon making comments at the end of the hearing. “This is an issue that effects many. Bring this legislation to the floor … to let the committee decide is ridiculous. Counties don’t know what will be right or what will be wrong.” He noted how some wind energy developers “put a gun to our head” as they said “give us wind or we will go elsewhere.” This threat was not acceptable to Sen. Brewer, who also said it was “wrong-headed and ridiculous to bring in turbines because there are already roads and railroad tracks.”

According to the clerk of the hearing committee, there were 23 people that testified in favor of the legislation, with 40 letters received that indicated the same view. Opponents were represented by 16 speakers, with 20 letters received.

Trees in the Hills.jpg