06 September 2019

Chronology of Wind Turbines in the Sandhills and the R-Project

Compilation by James E. Ducey, Valentine, Nebraska. Initially prepared February 5, 2018; second version February 13th. Updated May 21, 2018, August 3rd, August 24th and then in late October. Also August 2019.
This chronology conveys actions associated with wind turbine facilities and powerlines within the sand hill region during the past 20 years as developers have planned for turbine facilities and industrial powerlines as wanted by private companies, utility companies and regional power agencies. Some industrial wind turbine facilities have come to fruition, while others have not. The three primary turbine facilities currently are the Ainsworth Wind Facility, the Broken Bow turbines, and the Grande Prairie facility in northern Holt county. Additional turbine facilities occur further east at the edge of the hills, notably in Antelope county. Many actions have been taken by multiple people in regards to this issue. This chronology indicates some of the more significant and known actions. This compilation is not comprehensive but indicative.


The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) board of directors agrees to provide funds for a pilot wind turbine project south of Ainsworth. Studies for the project were conducted in cooperation with KBR Rural Public Power, according to press reports.


The NPPD board of directors agreed to contribute $652,000 for a pilot wind turbine facility near Ainsworth. Studies for the Ikenburg Hill project were conducted in cooperation with KBR Rural Public Power District at Ainsworth and Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories (March 19; Holt County Independent). The leased property for the project would comprise 8,300 acres.


A newspaper article issued March 2, indicated that "Blades, Birds to Coexist on Wind Farm" at the Ainsworth wind facility, situated in the midst of the Central Flyway of significant species of migratory birds (March 2, 2005; Omaha World-Herald).

The 36-turbine Ainsworth Wind Facility south of Ainsworth as established by the Nebraska Public Power District became operational on September 15. This facility was indicated as being the "state's largest wind generation resource" The project cost approximately $2 million, with money also coming from a Department of Energy grant and from other power districts across Nebraska (March 19, 1998; Holt County Independent).


Midwest Wind Energy LLC, confirmed that a 100-megawatt wind farm is in the works for Holt County. The project would cost $160 million (March 10, 2007; Omaha World-Herald). The company headquarters were in Chicago, IL. Midwest has formed Holt County Wind LLC to oversee the Nebraska wind farm.

Research was completed by people associated with a Cornell University research in 1996-1997, as hired by NPPD. The research project cost was $600,000, according to NPPD staff. Biologists of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission assisted in determining prairie grouse lek locations. Results were issued in February, with an estimate that annual take would be 148 birds per year, as derived from a 4.10 bird take for each of the 36 turbines (December 2, 2007; Wildbirds Broadcasting). NPPD estimated that the annual take would be 2.49 bird fatalities per megawatt. There were 23 bird species documented as fatalities, with 41 species known to occur at the site of the facility. There were eight leks of either the Greater Prairie Chicken or Sharp-tailed Grouse known to be present at the site.


Article issued on how Maxine and Ed Wehling fought the placement of a wind turbine facility on the West Table in western Custer county (April 3; Wildbirds Broadcasting). A MET tower had been installed by BP Energy but based primarily due to the ongoing occurrence of the Whooping Crane at playa wetlands in the area, the project was stopped. The couple documented the wetlands and their scattered distribution.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office assisted Coble and Sons Ranch with a $14,725 grant for five Skystream wind turbines through a Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency program (April 5, 2009; North Platte Bulletin).

During March 2009, a representative of British Petroleum Energy met with the Cherry County Planning Board to discuss wind energy development within the county.


In January the Cherry County Board of Commissioners appointed individuals to evaluate the potential for wind energy development. The chairman of the Zoning Board also met with a representative of BP to discuss regulations.

On March 30, the county commissioners passed a motion to form a Cherry county wind energy committee.

On December 8, Cherry commissioner Jerry Adamson made a motion to appoint six men to the Cherry County Wind Advisory Committee. The motion carried.

On December 14, the Cherry County wind committee met at the county courthouse.


The Cherry County wind committee met on February 8 with Pat Pope of NPPD. Pope provided directions to work with the Southwest Power Pool to facilitate transmission lines within the county that could be used to export electricity generated by turbine facilities.
UNL researchers initiate research with a primary objective to "assess behavioral, population, and/or wildlife community impacts of wind farm siting decisions with the aim of facilitating siting decisions that simultaneously maximize energy potential and ecological resilience," (March 17, 2011; Grant County News). "We want to develop indices to measures the long-term dynamics" related to wind turbine siting, Fontaine said, "and make decisions that are beneficial to everyone. We need to think about long-term implications before decisions are made."

Members of the Cherry County wind committee met on April 22 with three representatives from NPPD to discuss the development of wind turbine projects within the county. Four topics of particular discussion were: 1) indicate the potential for wind energy conversion systems; 2) need for transmission lines; 3) environmental aspects; and, 4) community support (from history of Cherry County Wind).

Non-profit Cherry County Wind LLC established in July. An initial meeting was held August 9. Records indicate that NPPD would be willing to move a proposed transmission line northward so it would be available to transport electricity from any Wind Energy Conversion System (WECS) within the county. During August, the group was actively working on "two areas of concern which include transmission lines and landowner association." Efforts to work with the SPP and NPPD were indicated as continuing to be underway in October.

Article issued October 27 indicating details for a proposed wind turbine development as submitted to the FAA by Eurus Energy America Corporation, of San Diego, California, for more than 50 wind turbines proposed for northeast Arthur county. There were two proposed key areas of development, and both of them would encompass about 37,000 acres. Hilltops were indicated places of placement near Baldy Valley and above Baldy Valley. Details were determined from application 201-WTE-65-OE, as available at the Federal Aviation Authority website (October 27, 2011; Grant County News). This is in the big hill country of the southern sandhills.

At a conference in Kearney on November 15-16, George Johnson of Cherry County Wind LLC gave a presentation on facilitating turbine facility development in the sand hills region, indicating that the group was started after the Cherry County commissioners asked several people to "develop policies to become the leading county in Nebraska for wind energy production." Committee goals were indicated as: "Strengthening and broadening the tax base; Being mindful of our wildlife resources; providing high quality employment; maintaining our quality of life" and "growing our economy."

In November the Cherry County Wind Advisory Committee announced that after 20 months of effort on "refining the plan for wind energy development" the Cherry County Wind Energy Association was incorporated and residents were asked to attend an informational meeting (November 16, 2011; Valentine Midland News). The first meeting was November 22 at Valentine and 70 people attended; then the next evening at Mullen with 60-70 people attending. The story also indicated the group had been working with NPPD, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), Lincoln Electric System (LES), and the Southwest Power Pool "advocating for a new transmission line that will cross Cherry county," Matt Coble said. The association were "actively planning" a large wind development project in the county. The deadline for landowners to sign-up was December 15, with a $100 fee to become a member of the association (History of Cherry County Wind). Participants also indicated property where wind turbine facilities could be placed, via a contractual agreement.


The Southwest Power Pool provided construction approval on January 31 for the R-Project, a 220 mile industrial powerline that would extend from the Gerald Gentleman Power station by Sutherland to the Western Area Power Administration 345,000 volt transmission line at the southeast corner of Holt county. The SPP has at least utility members in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska (Including NPPD, OPPD and LES), New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas utility companies.

In response to R-Project approval the following comments were made by George Johnson: "Approval of the r-plan is the important beginning of a unique and tremendous opportunity for economic development in Cherry County and across the State. We all know the wind blows here and that we can harness the energy. The challenge has been finding a way to ship the energy out. It's like Wyoming coal without railroads. With no way to export the energy, it's not worth much. The r-plan is the new railroad, which transmits electricity rather than carrying coal. We're on the verge of a very exciting time." Jerry Adamson said: "This project could possibly have the biggest positive impact on Cherry County as anything we've seen since the railroad system was built," according to a newspaper article.


During January NPPD held six open houses were held on the R-Project. They were the first of three rounds of open houses, which would be followed by a public hearings along the route of the proposed powerline.

Approval given by Planning and Zoning Board of Cherry county to Bluestem Sandhills LLC to place 60 foot meteorological towers in Cherry county, that would be placed on the Pullman ranch (two), Rothleutner Ranch near Kilgore, and Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds property on the southern edge of the county along Highway 83 upon BELF land owned by the public, based upon a decision which involved no public comment. This initial intent for the towers was specifically reduced to fit within the confines of properties where industrial wild facilities could be built on participant properties.


Details indicated on proposed wind turbine project in southeast Cherry county, north of Thedford, (May 15 article on Wildbirds Broadcasting). The proposal would comprise 147 turbines as derived from online Federal Aviation Authority records, as individually reviewed and evaluated. Information on turbine locations was later redacted, i.e., removed from the FAA website.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for a single wind turbine built westerly of Valentine occurred on September 10. A power purchase agreement had been signed with the City of Valentine "in an effort to reduce overall electric rates for city customers" (History of Cherry County Wind). Subsequent details indicated the actual expense of this turbine to the Valentine power gird power purchasers.

On October 10, the Nebraska Power Review Board approves the construction of the R-Project (Omaha World-Herald article). The vote was 5-0 for approval; the article indicates there were six hours of testimony by project opponents.

Eight public hearings held by NPPD during November concerning the 225 mile R-Project industrial powerline, which had a projected cost of $350 million. The Southwest Power Pool would pay 90% of the project cost.


Citizens gathered on Main Street prior to the July 19 public meeting at Valentine.

Final route alignment announce for the 345 kilovolt R-Project industrial powerline in late-January by NPPD. Requests for right-of-way entry were sent to 270 property owners along the proposed route at the time (January 26, 2015; Omaha World-Herald). NPPD expected to start acquiring 200-foot-wide easements in September in order to get construction underway.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested that the $361 million R-Project powerline be moved out of the Sandhills with NPPD responding that the route is final and it will not be changed (February 19, 2015; Omaha World-Herald).


April 18 application by BSH Kilgore, LLC for a Conditional Use Permit to place 30 wind turbines south of Kilgore.

On April 19, a lawsuit was filed by Brush Creek Ranch LLC against NPPD challenging the right of the power company to access ranch property; hearing on motion held August 12, with the ranch losing the decision, and thus having to allow the utility company to access their property.

Letter to editor by LeRoy and Carolyn Semin about visit by George Johnson to their ranch on April 19th (May 11, 2016; Valentine Midland News). Then a May 18 letter to editor by Matt Coble about wind turbine development, as representing Cherry County Wind LLC in the same newspaper.

Cherry County Planning and Zoning Commission decision on May 23 that approval of a CUP for 30 turbines at a Kilgore wind turbine facility be postponed until a determination was made on whether the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, an adjacent landowner, had been properly informed.

Special meeting and public hearing held by Cherry county Planning and Zoning on July 19, 2016 regarding CUP 01-16 to allow the construction of a Wind Energy Conversion System development near Kilgore. Motion made to disapprove request was made; motion passed with cited reasons being that there was "no professional engineering stamp for the entire project" and also, because of a "large discrepancy in the decommissioning plan for costs," according to meeting minutes. Prior to the meeting being moved to the Valentine High School. Chairman George Johnson resigned due to an obvious conflict of interest. Opponents of wind turbines gathered to indicate their opposition to turbines, prior to the meeting where they conveyed their position on the public sidewalk of the county office building on north Main Street.

Preserve the Sandhills LLC publicly presented on August 4 a letter and brochure issued asking for public involvement and opposition to wind turbines. This occurred very soon after the group was formed by ranch wives in Cherry and Thomas counties.

Informational booth by Save the Sandhills and Preserve the Sandhills members at the Cherry county fair on Aug 12.

NPPD issues a statement from an agency spokes-person that a power transmission line (T Line) will not be built through Grant county, according to August 15 report by KNOP news of North Platte.

In August, a large Preserve the Sandhills banner prominently placed by Mike Young in the front window of Young's Western Wear on Main Street, Valentine. A member of Cherry County Wind states that placement of the sign would mean the loss of more than 50 customers for the business.

Informational meeting on wind energy development held at the Winter Building at Hyannis on August 15; a response to this meeting was issued as District 43 news by senator Al Davis on August 24 in regional newspapers.

Public letter issued August 22 by Cherry County Wind LLC promoting turbine development. Several letters to the editor on this topic were subsequently published in regional newspapers.

A flyer with the claim "A Brighter Future is on Our Horizon" was sent by area residents by Cherry County Wind LLC via postal mail, as received on September 29 at a Valentine mail box.

Franz Muller, Cody, letter to the editor published October 5 in the Valentine newspaper questioning the presentation on the "Comment Show" program of KVSH due to undisclosed conflict of interest due to a "bias" by commenters on September 16. Also indicated was that state senator Ken Schlitz of Ogallala provided promotional facts and figures supportive of wind turbine development. KVSH radio announced Mike Burge is secretary for Cherry County Wind LLC.

Public hearing held by Cherry county commissioners on October 11 on proposed changes to zoning regulations.

The October 26 hearing by the county commissioners on the BSH Kilgore POSTPONED due to failure to provide proper notification of meeting, as required by regulations; new date scheduled for November 16.

Forum on renewable energy sponsored by Center for Rural Affairs on October 27 at the Peppermill restaurant, at Valentine.

Grande Prairie wind turbine facility in Holt county, owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, became operational during October, with 200 turbines northeast of O'Neill, Nebr. Many of the turbines were placed within an extensive area with center-pivots that water cropland.

Soup supper and fund-raising auction held November 15 by Preserve the Sandhills at the Cowpoke in Thedford.

Letter to editor by Sheldon Otto in the November 30 O'Neill newspaper states: "Warren Buffet said it and the president of Berkshire Hathaway Energy acknowledged it at a zoning meeting. 'There would be no wind turbines if it weren't for the tax incentives.'"

Public hearing by Cherry county commissioners on CUP 01-16 held December 7, at the Valentine High School, with more than 100 people present; the hearing had been POSTPONED twice due to an improper notification notice; several opponents to wind turbines gathered at the court house prior to the meeting, according to comments heard at the hearing.

On December 19 the application for CUP 01-16 (Kilgore project) was denied by Cherry County commissioners Mark Adamson and Tanya Storer; commissioner Van Winkle did not attend. A prominent problem was the newspaper-reported revision in the number of turbines which might be constructed at the project site - they would be taller but fewer in number.

On December 27 the Cherry county commissioners enacted a six-month suspension was enacted on wind turbines CUP applications within the county; with Planning and Zoning tasked to prepare a report on three items: 1) health effects, 2) fire suppression, and 3) property values.


Testimony given at Zoning Board meeting on January 3 given by Keith and Vicki May about the extent of noise at their residence 1.3 miles from the nearest turbine of the Grande Prairie wind facility north of O'Neill, which extends across a reported 50,000 acres.

Construction was expected to have been started on the R-Project in January, according to NPPD's initial expectations.

Public hearing held March 1 on Legislative Bill 504 in the state capitol at Lincoln by the Natural Resources Committee, of the Nebraska legislature. Numerous sandhill residents attended and presented testimony. During the highway trip back to the heart of the sandhills. It was a situation where "boots versus suits" as indicative of visual comparison of garb between power industry representatives and ranch county citizens that presented testimony at the hearing.

Advertisement by Preserve the Sandhills printed on March 22nd advocating that turbines be banned in the sandhills, and stating a "call to action" (Valentine Midlands News).

Bird surveys done by J.E. Ducey on April 12 and May 10 along the corridor of the proposed R-Project powerline with detailed reports issued on Wildbirds Broadcasting blog, notably for locales in southern Holt county. Effort funded by Preserve the Sandhills LLC.

Article issued by J.E. Ducey regarding how a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study on the behavior of Greater Prairie-Chicken at the Ainsworth Wind Turbine Facility was found to be deficient (April 24, Wildbirds Broadcasting blog).

At the May 2 meeting of the Zoning Board, whiteboard list of items of concern/consideration was presented at the monthly meeting by a member of the board; comments given by Ducey on deficient UNL study on the effects of wind turbines on Greater Prairie-Chicken.

Document dated May 10 submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking for a "nationwide permit" that would allow the minimal fill of wetlands during construction of the r-project. The claim was made that less than 0.50 acres of Waters of the United States would be filled.

A draft environmental impact statement for the r-project issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May. A draft habitat conservation plan became available at the same time.

Initial details presented on June 6 on Planning Commission Review of Cherry County Commissioner request for the group to address specific items of concern as requested by commissioners.

Letter dated July 10 submitted by Carolyn Semin asking the Cherry county Zoning Board for clarification on items concerning wind turbines as discussed at their most recent meeting.

At July 21 meeting of the Zoning board, Jim Ducey commented on obvious violations of Open Meetings Act, notably not allowing public comment, not providing a copy of distributed material to the public, and concerns about not having a sign-in sheet, which is a courtesy, not a legal requirement; attendee Ducey indicated that a civil suit could be subsequently filed.

On July 17 Robert Harms of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was not allowed to attend a private meeting at Thedford because of complaints made by NPPD. Meeting occurred anyway. NPPD representatives were asked to leave and they eventually left after four requests. People subsequently arriving saw pictures being taken of cars and their license plates.

A July 25 letter to editor by Dr. Brent Steffen in Kearney Hub and other regional newspapers concerning "government by the people" in regards to July 17 meeting action and the R-Project.

On August 2, senator Dan Hughes (Nebraska Legislature District 44) comments supportive of R-Project indicating it was requested by Southwest Power Pool, published in the McCook newspaper.

On August 18, Dr. Brent L. Steffen issued additional comments in the McCook newspaper about how Sen. Hughes is misinformed on the R-Project.

A multipage document titled "Sandhills Challenges, Sandhills Solutions" received via postal mail on August 22 as sent by Cherry County Wind LLC.

Meeting scheduled by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the month at Thedford was summarily POSTPONED.

Nebraska senator Tom Brewer (district 43) met with representatives of NPPD and OPPD on August 23. At meeting, NPPD indicated they had 71% of the landowner easements needed to construct the r-project; also that the company did not care if wind turbines were ever built because of the availability of the r-project transmission line.

Public hearing on LR 125 held at Lincoln on September 22 (news accounts in Lincoln and Omaha newspapers).

Letter to editor by Brent Steffen about the need for a world-class attraction in the sandhills, and sarcastically referring to wind turbines (September 23, 2017; Kearney Hub).

October 6 version of weekly comment column issued in different newspaper by senator Tom Brewer stating that wind energy is not "Nebraska Nice" and which included the verbiage that "wind energy is a scam that hurts people and animals, wastes billions in tax dollars and isn't green by any definition of the term."

October 7 letter to editor by Jim Foral in Lincoln newspaper on how sand hill residents are right to fight the r-project.
On October 11 numerous landowners met at the Thedford fairgrounds despite previously scheduled public hearing on the R-Project by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service being POSTPONED until October 25.

An October 17, letter to editor in North Platte newspaper by Dr. Steffen on how "R-Project exemplifies overreach".

On October 19 Preserve the Sandhills and Save the Sandhills issued a ten page educational insert in regional publications.

During late October an updated abstract/memorandum of agreement between Cherry County Wind LLC and involved property owners were filed as legal documents in the county deeds office. The term of the agreement was indicated as forty years.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a public hearing on October 25 at Thedford in regard to the R-Project, with about one hundred people present with testimony restricted to three minutes and the meeting having been ended after two hours. An additional hearing was held at Burwell.

Senator Tom Brewer wrote weekly update column dated October 27, after attending the FWS hearing at Thedford on the r-project.
Thomas Kent, chief operating officer of NPPD, claimed Steffen comments as previously published were not accurate in a letter to the editor as issued October 28 (North Platte Telegraph).

Capitol view column by J.L. Schmidt and Paul Fell political satire cartoon on the R-Project issued November 1 in regional newspapers.

Close of public comment period on November 7 for draft EIS regarding the R-Project, after an extended comment period because of requests by concerned residents, citizens and representatives.

On November 7 the Planning and Zoning Commission approved changes to the zoning regulations regarding setback distance, noise levels and turbine blade flicker with a vote of 6-2. Recommendations submitted to county commissioners.

Private meeting held November 18 at Valentine to discuss possible actions to oppose wind turbines in the county.

Presentation given at Cherry county commissioner meeting on November 28 meeting on a peer-reviewed report on "infrasound from wind turbines" as discussed by Ryan T. Callahan.

Privately issued on December 1 was a revised list of land-owners that have a memorandum of agreement to allow wind turbine development on their property, as determined by county public records.

During the month, a revised indication of wind turbine placement near Kilgore became available online as associated with the Federal Aviation Authority.

County commissioner requested zoning board report on three topics presented by Albert Ericksen to the county commissioners on December 12.


Public hearing on changes in zoning regulations scheduled by county commissioners for January 17; meeting held then hearing date postponed to February 7 due to failure to inform municipalities (i.e., Wood Lake, Kilgore, Cody, Merriman; zoning regulations section 11.02.03) as conveyed by Carolyn Semin during meeting on January 9.

Letter to editor on January 10 by Bob Stetter conveying the need for a "SOS" or Save Our Sandhills action (Valentine Midland News).

Full-page advertisement by Preserve the Sandhills urging that people attend the public hearing on proposed changes in the zoning regulations; published in the regional Pioneer Advertiser et al.

Private meeting held January 24 to discuss actions to ban turbines within Cherry county, with effort initiated to repeal and replace sections of the zoning regulations.

Initial digital map of Cherry County Wind investor stake-holders provided on January 27, with additional key details indicated. Investor lands, et al., derived from official county records and other sources. Map subsequently revised in March.

Tony Baker, the legislative aide for Senator Tom Brewer stated during a radio interview on January 30 that LB 1054 might help ensure that "wind turbine developers will be better neighbors." Than subsequently he stated "put wind turbines away from people" as personally heard on Twister radio in the morning.

Advertisement in January 31 issue indicating numerous people - including area residents and others - opposed to development of wind turbine facilities within the sandhills region (Valentine Midland News).

Public hearing held on legislative bill 1054 at the Nebraska Legislature at Lincoln on February 1. The legislation would remove wind energy developments from the definition as a privately developed renewable energy facility and require that the public be allowed to comment at hearings of the Nebraska Power Review Board. The bill effort failed.

Commissioners hearing held February 7 at Valentine High School regarding changes proposed for the Cherry county zoning regulations, regarding most essentially setback distances, noise levels and turbine flicker. At least 150 people, as well as county officials were present at the Valentine High School. Testimony was presented by 44 individuals, with 30 of them in favor of the proposed changes as submitted by the Planning and Zoning Board. There were prominent comments made by both groups that were diametrically different, using disparate sources. The decision was 2-1 against acceptance of the recommendations (only Tonya Storer voted against the motion to reject the recommendations), since there was no second for the motion, so no group vote actually occurred.

Application submitted to interim zoning administrator during mid-afternoon on February 8 to the interim county zoning administrator requesting that most of the section 613 regulations be repealed, and then replaced with language that would prohibit the placement of commercial/industrial wind energy conversion systems; also to limit agricultural district towers (windmills, wind chargers, or wind turbine) to less than 80 feet. The request included more than 300 signatures of land-owners within Cherry county. The agenda item was not addressed at the March meeting since the meeting was cancelled due to weather. It was then not considered at the May meeting, being pushed back to the next regularly scheduled meeting.

On February 22, Gary Folk published a letter to the editor in the Grant County News indicating opposition to industrial wind turbines and that any wind energy development should be associated with smaller units suited to a ranch (also subsequently issued in the Valentine, North Platte and Omaha newspapers). Steve Moreland in his Soapweed Soliloquy column expressed that industrial wind turbines should not be built in the Sandhills.

Willard Hollopeter conveyed an opposition to industrial wind turbines and high-voltage powerlines during his morning Heritage Trail commentary on February 27, as spoken on KVSH radio, Valentine.

Request for a public referendum vote on wind turbines presented February 27 by Cleve Trimble to the county commissioners. The commissioners took no action (commissioner meeting minutes; article in the Grant County News).

Letter to editor on February 28 by Janet Parkhurst on the need for compromise on the wind turbine issue. Imposition of a limit of 300 words or less on any subsequent letters to the editor on this issue (Valentine Midland News).

The first installment of a four-part missive on wind turbines, regulations, and county official involvement was issued online by Carolyn Semin, a west Kilgore resident, on April 19th.

Public forum for candidates for Cherry county commissioner held at Valentine, on April 19th. Candidates James B. Ward and Michael C. Young both specifically indicated their opposition to having wind turbines built within the county. Also present were candidates Harold Osgood and Tanya Storer (article subsequently issued in the Grant County News).

Carolyn Semin presented details of her financial research findings at the April 24 county commissioner meeting. More than 60 residents were present. She indicated that county funds were spent to promote wind energy and industrial powerline development in Cherry county, totaling $13,188.04, notably in 2011. There were there subsequent speakers conveying their opinions and perspectives during the public comment period; most of them were opposed to industrial wind turbines and powerlines. A county resident planned to ask state officials to require an audit. Radio reporter Craig Andresen, commissioner Tanya Storer and Carolyn Semin spoke on this topic on the Twister radio stations the next morning, during the Free Speech Zone program.

During the public comment period at the May 8 meeting of the Cherry County commissioners, Carolyn Semin asked when the commissioners would address the use of county funds. According to rules of order, the motion tabled at the previous commissioner meeting should have been addressed. Jim Ducey asked than an independent audit be conducted to get a completely accurate indication of any and all amounts paid by the county in association with facilitating development of industrial wind turbines. The three commissioners eventually rejected any effort by them to account for the documented spending of public funds. Carolyn Semin responded June 12, 2018 to comments previously made by Van WInkle and DeNaeyer; none of the commissioners responded to her scathing commentary of 15 minutes. It should be noted that video recordings are made at the commissioner meetings, so her response was based upon the words said as derived from a video, not any actual written transcript.

At the June 5th meeting the Cherry county planning and zoning board set July 11 as the date for the public hearing regarding proposed changes to the county zoning regulations. There would be seven items considered and which are the same items rejected by the county commissioners in February.

Meeting held on June 19 at the Lincoln County Historical Museum to discuss aspects of the r-project. Based upon a list of attendees, it seemed to be a discussion of how the powerline would impact the setting where wagon ruts associated with mid-1800s pioneer caravans to the west continue to be obvious on the prairie landscape?

An article titled "wind turbines will change ecological dynamics in Sandhills, but could add economic incentive" as authored by Teresa Clark was published in the Tri-State Livestock News with a date of June 20 for the online version of the article. People quoted in the article included Carolyn Semin and Tony Baker.

Following the approval for the placement of 35 powerline locations south and easterly of Thedford by the Federal Aviation Administration, and article by Ducey indicating the threat for the use of eminent domain by NPPD was issued June 21 on the front-page of the Grant County News. The applications approved were apparently the first associated with the r-project.

On July 11 public hearings held by Cherry county planning and zoning in regards to seven proposed changes to the zoning regulations. Every proposed changed was approved by the zoning board, and which would then be submitted to the Cherry County Commissioners. At this meeting copies for the Conditional Use Permit permit for BSH Kilgore was provided to the county officials. Based upon details learned at the Aug 31 meeting of the county commissioners, the applicant provided the nicely bound, full-color copies of the 470 page document for each member of P&Z.

On July 19 a request was filed by William Weller, and the fee paid requesting that the definition for industrial use in the Cherry county zoning regulations be revised to include WECS facilities with turbines exceeding 100 feet of height above ground level be classified as an industrial use. The request included that a change be made so commercial/utility classification be revised to industrial throughout the regulations.

July 25: multiple anti-wind residents of the Platte valley and Sand Hills gathered at North Platte to convey their opposition to the R-Project. The majority of attendees were opposed to the industrial power-line project, according to reports. News articles were subsequent, including the North Platte Telegraph and Omaha World-Herald. The meeting started at 6 p.m. and was scheduled to end at 9 p.m. but continued until just after 11 p.m.

The weekly legislative update by Sen. Tom Brewer discussed the North Platte meeting and distinctly conveyed his opposition to the r-project and disgust with NPPD. This indicative missive was published in multiple regional newspapers.

A July 31 editorial by the Omaha World-Herald editorial staff conveyed that the r-project should avoid recognized historical sites, specifically referring to sites with historic wagon trail ruts in the Platte River valley.

During these days, there was an audit underway to determine participants associated with the payment of Cherry county funds which might have been associated with initial wind turbine development in Cherry county. The legal auditor was helped by a few county residents.

In association with an expected increase in highway traffic associated with the Nebraska Star Party at Merritt reservoir, a Preserve the Sandhills banner was placed at the gate into the Mcsky Ranch of Mike and Sheila Young on Highway 97 on August 2nd. On the 3rd, it took two hours and about $100 for Mike Young and myself to place two banners on the Young parcel just south of Valentine along the same highway, indicating opposition to turbines as a message from god, for example. Craig Miles - having showed up to talk anti-wind strategy - helped for a bit of time, but was essential in holding up a piece of plywood till is was anchored in place by appropriate size screws. A big change was from using red paint to instead using bright red, reflective tape, which was a good decision as it was much easier to place on the banner. The signs were provided by Cleve Trimble. Additional signage was placed along the Highway 97 route to the event campground.

Request by William Weller to reclassify commercial/utility turbines to an industrial use was presented to zoning board members during the August 7 meeting during the public comment period as it had not been placed on the agenda. The request had been filed on July 19.

Dave Hamilton and Bree DeNaeyer on how the r-project would alleviate risk and discussed economic benefits in an August 14 letter to the editor in North Platte Telegraph. Amy Ballagh wrote a detailed email response indicating multiple "issues" about the letter to the editor.

Cleve Trimble discussed the wind turbine issue in Cherry county including how the commissioners have not taken action on a referendum on the issue. A letter to the editor on August 15 in the Valentine Midland News. Trimble also placed an advertisement about NDDP's abuse of power in regards to the r-project.

Craig Andresen referred to NPPD as a dancing puppet and members of Cherry County Wind as squawking parrots in regards to the r-project as discussed in August 21 letter to the editor in the North Platte Telegraph.

During a series of public hearings held August 21 the Cherry County Commissioners approved only one of eight proposed changes regarding wind turbines. The eight proposals had been previously approved by the county zoning board. The proposed changes were:

This change was approved.
Amendment of zoning regulations of participating property lines (other than right angle corners) to non-participating property line in section 613. This was approved by the two commissioners present.
The following amendments for the zoning regulations were not approved as the vote on each was 1 in favor and 1 not in favor.
* diameter plus applicable building setback to one mile in section 613
* setback of 1/2 mile for non-participating to two-miles for non-participant under the WECS for a dwelling
* diameter plus applicable building setback to three times total tower height
* diameter plus applicable building setbacks to three times total tower height for other rights of way
* diameter plus applicable building setbacks to one mile under the WECS for public conservation areas including wildlife management areas and state recreation areas
* the special safety and design standards on no more than 30 hours per year of shadow flicker to be no WECS shall cast a shadow flicker on any public road
* no commercial/utility WECS shall exceed 50 dba at the nearest structure occupied by humans to no commercial/utility WECS shall exceed 35 dba at nearest non-participating dwelling

There were about 75 people present during the hearings in the Cherry county court room. There is some question if the hearings were legal as there may have been no notification to municipalities within the county.

NPPD indicates they will have to be allowed to trespass on the Brush Creek Ranch south of Thedford to conduct a cultural resource survey. The utility company threatened legal actions so they could gain access associated with the r-project. An attorney for Dan and Barb Welch indicated that any hirelings could not encroach upon the ranch as cattle breeding season was underway and disturbance had to be avoided (August 23 Grant County News 134(4): 1).

Email submitted by Jim Ducey on August 24 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Harms and Hines in Nebraska Field office) asking that they require that BSH Kilgore address the following items for the turbine facility proposed southwest of Kilgore.

  1. Require the preparation of an environmental impact study that would evaluate cultural and historical resources, species of concern and other associated details.
  2. Require a review pertaining to the need/no need for an incidental take permit associated with the Whooping Crane. The project site is well within the migratory corridor of this wild bird.
  3. Require a review pertaining to the need/no need for an incidental take permit associated with the American Burying Beetle. There has been a previous report that this species occurs at the project site.
  4. Address any potential concerns associated with the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. Bald eagles are known to nest in the nearby vicinity of the project site.
  5. Address concerns associated with the illegal “taking” of migratory birds as associated with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; this would include any taking during construction or project operation. What limitations should occur to avoid destruction of bird nests and/or eggs, as well as young. What mitigation efforts should be required for the wild birds and bats that will certainly be killed by spinning turbine blades?
Followup email to FWS sent the first week of October. The email response eventually received during the month said there would be no action by the FWS until the project developer made a particular request for review.

Weekly legislative comment issued August 30 by Sen. Tom Brewer refers to the hiring of a lobbyist by NPPD to promote the r-project; also refers to the Whooping Crane and the need for an incidental take review. Issued in the North Platte Telegraph and other newspapers of the region.

Letter to the editor by Mic and Mel Coffman on how the r-project is a significant threat to the continued existence of the endangered Whooping Crane due to the potential for collisions with the industrial powerline (September 2, 2018; North Platte Telegraph).

Editorial sketch drawn September 4th by Valentine artist in regards to seeming greed of some Cherry county ranchers.

Six-page "press release" titled "Say No to the R-Project Transmission Line!" released September 17th by Dave Hutchinson (Hutchison Organic Ranch, Bassett) discussing scenic values, American Burying Beetle, Whooping Crane and related topics. Document distributed via email.

Letter mailed September 26th to Cherry county commissioners indicating an obvious conflict of interest on their voting on proposed wind turbine facilities or related zoning regulations. Prepared by attorney Jason M. Bruno for Preserve the Sandhills. No obvious response yet in early November.

Jeff Payne, Berlin, PA wrote about the scenic values of the sandhills and how he and his friends enjoy visiting and hunting prairie chickens as they have since 1999. Pointedly indicated his opposition to wind turbines and how they have ruined natural landscapes in the county where he lives (October 3, 2018; letter to editor in Valentine Midland News).

Letter regarding lack of notification for August 21 public hearings sent to Cherry county zoning administrator, county attorney and commissioners by Kilgore, Cody and Nenzel representatives. Letter dated October 12, 2018. The commissioners on October 30 asked county attorney Eric Scott to investigate the situation and determine whether or not letters had been properly sent.

Wildbirds Broadcasting blog post indicated FWS communications associated with the NPPD proposed American Burying Beetle mitigation site near Brewster, Blaine County. Details were received via email on October 17 and dvd on November 1, following an initial FOIA request date of July 30, 2018.

Cherry county Planning and Zoning Board meeting scheduled for November 6 set to address proposed change to section 613 zoning regulations as submitted in February by Wayne Eatinger. This request was tabled until the next meeting.

On December 4th, a decision on the request made by Wayne Eatinger and another by William Weller were both tabled by the Planning and Zoning Board of Cherry County. The Weller request would revise to industrial the "commercial/utility" classification for wind turbines. At this meeting additional testimony was allowed on the Eatinger with additional comments made on the Weller request.

During the month of December, NPPD released an eight-page flyer on the "R-Project - Ensuring Reliable Electricity for Nebraskans" with items on reliable service, restoration, reasons for the powerline routing, delivering reliable energy, Southwest Power Pool, supposed benefits and species and habitat protection.

On December 31 in the Kearney Hub a letter to the editor by Dr. Brent Steffen provided comments on the r-project flyer. His point was that NPPD was ignoring science and the public. Items he addressed included how wind energy development would devastate the sandhills, lack of suitably addressing potential impacts to whooping cranes, misleading presentation of the public meeting process, availability of alternate routes and NPPD acting as a minion of the Southwest Power Pool. This letter was also in the North Platte Telegraph and Grant County News, et al.


Article on January 11, 2019 that NPPD had awarded a construction contract for the r-project transmission line. The amount was for $265 million to Forbes Brothers Timberline Construction. NPPD claimed that the incidental take permit associated with the American Burying Beetle would be received in about three months.

On January 15th both the Wayne Eatinger and William Weller amendments were approved by the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board. Two map graphics were shown. One indicated how industrial wind turbine placement would have a devastating impact on the county viewscape. The second map indicated vast tract of county property where the owners did not want industrial wind turbines, as well as other indications of pertinent
land categories. This information had not been previously presented to the public.

Comments against the r-project by Judy Rath and indicating the importance of involvement by Nebraska senator Tom Brewer issued in January 21 article in the Lincoln Journal Star.

On January 29th the the recommendations by the Planning and Zoning Board on the Eatinger and Weller amendments was not accepted by the Cherry County Commissioners that voted to return them to the Board. The basis was that supportive information was not provided as required by state law.

Public hearing on Legislative Bill 373 held in Lincoln. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of District 43, would require counties to regulate the placement, noise and decommissioning of industrial wind turbines; for a two year period there would be a 3-mile setback for non participatory residents to allow counties to develop zoning regulations. It was once again boots vs. suits, according to news reports: residents want to prevent destruction of the sandhills while economic development is the mantra of developers.
- - - - -

On February 8th, NPPD issued the final environmental impact statement for the r-project. Documents were provided for a public inspection period, with no comments to be accepted.

In March, Nebraska senator Tom Brewer visited the Department of Interior office in Washington, D.C. to discuss the need for NPPD to do an incidental take review for the Whooping Crane in association with the proposed r-project powerline. Nebraska representative Adrian Smith also attended.

The "Eatinger amendment" for Cherry county zoning regulations was rejected April 30 by county commissioners on the basis that it would be "mob rule" and it would be illegal to completely ban something and perhaps result in the county being sued. The request had been to ban industrial wind turbines more than 80 feet in height. The "Weller amendment" was returned to Planning and Zoning for them to evaluate changing Commercial/Utility to Industrial for wind turbine classification. It was a contentious meeting due to oleaginous behavior of a county commissioner.

"During public testimony James Ducey presented a map which visually depicted the opinions on wind energy development of landowners throughout Cherry County and then when asked by the Board to allow them to create a readable version of that submission Mr. Ducey refused to submit a readable version of the map which had been shown in an open meeting of a public body. The version Mr. Ducey did submit is illegible." County commissioner meeting minutes; May 8, 2019; Valentine Midland News 47(50): 10.

On May 13, 44 Nebraska legislators voted Yea for final approval of LB 155, which addresses the use of eminent domain to construct feeder powerlines for industrial wind turbine facilities and which recognized unique natural features of the sandhills.

During June there were a few letters to the editor on the BSH Kilgore project.

On June 4th Cherry Planning and Zoning voted to recommend approval of CUP for BSH Kilgore project. They voted to approve a "phantom" motion so no actual motion of record was available. It was to be submitted later by a hired consultant who did not do so and then passed away.

Nebraska senator Tom Brewer received notification that NPPD had received incidental take permit that would allow it to build the r-project powerline (letter dated June 20 from the senator's office). The incidental take permit for the American burying beetle was issued June 12th by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

District court judge Mark Kozisek issues a temporary injunction that would not allow two Cherry County commissioners to vote on the BSH Kilgore CUP application due to potential conflict of interest. Decision made after court action on July 15 in O'Neill where the court room was reportedly packed with people in favor of the injunction.

At the same time a federal suit was filed in Denver against the Fish and Wildlife Service. "The agency, the suit continues, brushed aside potential impacts on historic sites and dismissed threats to endangered whooping cranes and other birds posed by both the power line and the wind farms it would enable." U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn will preside over the suit, filed by the Oregon-California Trails Association, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and the Hanging H and Whitetail Farms ranches between Paxton and Sutherland.

Public hearing on BSH Kilgore CUP application scheduled for July 16 postponed due to temporary injunction imposed by district court judge after a hearing at O'Neill.

District court judge removed temporary injunction against two Cherry County commissioners regarding potential conflict of interest if voting on BSH Kilgore project (article August 15 in Omaha World-Herald by Reece Ristau). Findings issued August 8th.

Editorial by Omaha World-Herald staff issued August 17th indicating the need for the Nebraska legislature to evaluate conflict of interest concerns defined by law as a result of activities associated with the BSH Kilgore project.

Nebraska senator Tom Brewer and staff left Lincoln to attend the meeting of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He presented information indicating why the agency should rescind a favorable endorsement of approval for the r-project. A primary reason indicated was potential impacts on the endangered Whooping Crane along with details indicating the route approved by the state Power Review Board does not match the final indicated route for the industrial powerline. Further consideration of these matters is to be given at the October meeting of the commission.

On August 30th additional legal action undertaken by Preserve the Sandhills and a Cherry county rancher to address the concern over perceived conflict of interest on county commissioners making decisions to approve an industrial wind turbine project near Kilgore when family members could financially benefit. A hearing in county court was set for September 20.

Emergency Meeting Held to Discuss Closed County Road Conditions Due to Flooding

August 29, 2019. Grant County News 135(5): 1, 3.

An emergency meeting was held by the Cherry County commissioners on August 22 to discuss the condition of county roads damaged by high water conditions.

A first action taken to allow accepting road work proposals without going through a bidding process was unanimously passed by the three commissioners.

Next was a discussion of problem areas and potential sources of funds. The budget for road work is currently depleted county wide.

Information considered included a preliminary list compiled by county staff indicating more than 120 locations where roads had been damaged by the storm. An estimated cost of repair was indicated at more than $1.2 million.

Starting the discussion was Gary Weaver of Emergency Management explaining the outcome of a survey with staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. During August 12-16 there were 1600 miles driven to determine particular details of work necessities that may be eligible for federal assistance. Locales were evaluated, distances measured and problems identified. Pictures were also taken.

Results of the FEMA review are expected to be available to county officials very soon for their review.

During this time, Lloyd Smith, roads supervisor checked places with staff from the Nebraska Department of Transportation and others to evaluate other places which might be eligible for federal aid. Examples mentioned were near Valentine NWR, south of Wood Lake and in the Goose Creek country.

Federal aid is provided on a cost-share of 80-20 with the 20 percent the amount the county would have to fund.

The extent of road places with problems has continually changed following the “bomb cyclone” storm in March. Locales were fixes had been made deteriorated again following extensive rains in the southern part of the county in late July. New problems also became evident.

Information considered included a preliminary list compiled by county staff initially indicated 124 locations where roads had been damaged storm events. An approximate cost of repair was about $1.2 million.

The county has 1,405 miles of roads, according to NDOT information.

A majority of these roads have been affected by water conditions, officials said.

Roads within the county are classified three ways by county officials: 1) arterials and secondary 2 and 3 (including minimum maintenance) for all others. Roadways and locales where access is basically not available will receive priority, according to the commissioners.

An initial list of 14 especially notable locales has been reduced to seven road closure locations in mid-August. Numerous other roads may be passable to a lesser extent but will require additional work to allow semi-truck traffic.

A discussion was then held to determine which problem sites need particular, basically immediate attention, and where private contractors may be hired to facilitate completion of the repairs needed.

An initial list of 14 especially notable locales has been reduced to seven road closure locations in mid-August. Numerous other roads may be passable to a lesser extent but will require additional work to allow semi-truck traffic.

In eastern Cherry county some of the priority locales include West Wood Lake road and Plum Creek Road.

Repair of the Kennedy Road west of the refuge was nearing completion by a private contractor during mid-August. Final work would include mulching and seeding where dirt work occurred along the road shoulder. The approximate cost of repair was indicated to be $225,000 on the road problem list.

Work to address conditions through west Dry Valley has progressed well and was indicated to be nearly complete.

A priority locale is along the North Whitman road within the immediate vicinity of the Henderson Road intersection and a mile to the west.

The Survey Valley Road continues to have its surface rocked so it can be traversed.

Two other problematic places include the North Ashby Road from Alkali Lake north for five miles. The biggest apparent problem is deep holes that inhibit transit. One rancher said that if these holes were filled that would be very helpful to improve travel possibilities.

Access is constricted along the Carver Road east of the Huffman Ranch, it was explained at the meeting. There is apparently no large truck access. Cleaning of ditches and culverts were mentioned as options to improve conditions.

West of the Fawn Lake Ranch headquarters was said to also be very problematic. There are ranches in this area where there is no public road access. Discussion ensued that conveyed the possible need to change the alignment of a portion of the roadway.

At Steverson Lake WMA the rise of water has constricted the width of the road. There are also concerns that the current conditions might undermine the remaining right-of-way and create a danger. Perhaps the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission could assist in addressing the situation, one commissioner said.

With the extent of work needed more than one contractor may be required, according to commissioner comments. It is also possible that temporary workers might be hired to help complete tasks in a quicker manner.

Currently, there is no amount available to indicate the extent of costs to restore county roads to a condition prior to the bomb cyclone and subsequent rainfall events. The commissioners agreed that repairs would not be completed before the end of 2019.

There were ten county residents present at the public meeting. Their opportunity to comment was restricted, based upon an edict statement by a commissioner.

Ranch women and men are increasingly concerned about the condition of essential travel routes. Reasons indicated include the essential requirement to transport livestock on large semis, hay and seasonal feed may need to be trucked in, difficulty for students to get to school, access for emergency services and not having mail delivery.

There are problems of land access to even drill a well, a local business man explained during an ancillary phone conversation.

In some situations, where feasible, temporary trails through the upland hills are being used to bypass problematic spots, with some residents needing to drive across the hills just to get anywhere. Also, some ranchers are required to drive many miles around to reach another portion of their ranch. Some ranchers have used short-distance cattle drives across neighboring land to move stock to alternate pasture or to a spot suitable for their shipment.

State Highways

In other roads matter, NDOT staff indicated on the 22nd that the depth of water – about 20 inches - along Highway 97 continues to be problematic. Since the problem area is within a closed basin, it is hoped that natural processes will occur and result in a reduction of water depth. This major highway continues to be closed as it has been for months.

Water over Highway 83 at Toms Lake on the Valentine NWR continues. Vehicle travel is limited to one direction at a time as controlled by traffic lights.

Effort to Make Cherry County Flag

August 28, 2019. Effort to make Cherry county flag. Valentine Midland News 48(14): 10. Letter to the editor.

Having recently realized a big interest in flags of various sorts, an effort was made to determine if Cherry County had its own flag. Apparently there is not one, after searching online details, so a project was started to devise something properly symbolic.

Several design options were considered, with input from some county residents. A final design was eventually selected, manufactured and recently received after working with a local company that provided great service.

The 3x5 foot flag readily but simply conveys several appropriately notable features in a realistic manner:

  • An overall background color to convey the idea of sand, as in sandhills.
  • A red colored frame to indicate the county boundary.
  • Two sets of six stars to represent 66 which is the number shown on county license plates, and also to refer to the dark skies of a vast landscape.
  • An oval bordered with rope in respect to a primary tool used on the range by cattle men and women for so many decades.
  • A cow-calf pair because Cherry County has one of the largest number of them in the U.S.A. No particular breed was depicted because there are a many types of quality cattle present here.
  • A windmill to recognize the availability of ample and high-quality water for stock and wildlife.
  • Two representative birds because county lands are a haven for avifauna.
  • A few little pollinators are shown because they are also an essential aspect of county biodiversity.

The flag was made so the view is the same from either side.

Only five flags were purchased due to the cost, so each is now an immediate collectible. A flag was donated to both the office of the Cherry County assessor and the Valentine Public Library to ensure they could be freely seen by the public.

Examples of “county and municipal flags of Nebraska” can be viewed by searching the internet using the term in quotes. There are several counties adjacent to Cherry County which also do not have an officially designated flag to convey pride for a homeland.

13 August 2019

A Closer Look at the Monarch Population at Valentine NWR

August 7, 2019. A closer look at the monarch population at Valentine NWR. Valentine Midland News 48(11): 1. With two pictures.

Twenty volunteers helped record occurrence of monarch butterflies on a supreme Sand Hill morning with great scattered cloudness on August 3rd at Valentine NWR.

People from Valentine, Thedford, Ainsworth, Bassett, Norfolk and South Dakota helped record eggs, several exquisitely striped larvae and two beautiful flitting about adults associated with prevalent common milkweed, as well as swamp, green and sand milkweed. There were five survey transects along the north side of Hackberry lake where these plants thrive.

Each participant walked along and inspected hundreds of individual plants for any indication of monarch butterfly occurrence. Everyone dodged the poison ivy. Along the way dickcissels and common yellowthroat were heard amidst their favored prairie-land habitat.

The survey was sponsored by the Sandhill Prairie Refuge Association with help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The effort was associated with the third annual international monarch butterfly monitoring blitz.

Dark Sky Reserve Would be a Boon to Cherry County

August 7, 2019. Dark sky reserve would be a boon. Valentine Midland News 48(11): 14. Letter to the editor.
Dear Editor,

The vividly dark skies of the sandhills are dramatically obvious upon looking above and a prime reason why the annual Nebraska Star Party is held at Merritt Reservoir in Cherry County. This is also why there is an effort underway to establish an internationally recognized dark sky park at the reservoir.

This is a wonderfully laudable goal.

Recognition of the dark skies of the region can also be expanded to the adjacent Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest which comprises 116,000 acres of Forest Service property. It is a perfect setting of dark skies above predominant prairie and some groves of planted trees. This place seemingly has only a single light associated with the former ranger station. There are improved roads that provide great access. Camping is available at the Steer Creek campground and there are facilities for horses so it is well suited to outdoor recreation.

Adjacent properties that could contribute to the recognition area include Anderson Bridge WMA (137 acres) and Chat Canyon WMA (418 ac.). At the northeast corner of the forest is a tract of Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds comprising 7600 acres that is leased for cattle grazing.

No lights at any of these spaces.

To the east are parcels associated with the Snake River Preservation Group, the Prairie Club and The Ranch golf courses which might also be considered.

There are also nearby large ranch expanses that could perhaps be included?

Designation of these various locales as a combined dark sky reserve would be a boon to Cherry County and a simply wonderful addition to tourism resources that are an obvious economic benefit. This is a unique opportunity.

Sky watching can be really fun is someone is interested in watching meteor showers while enjoying the night-view of constellations or to get a really fine view of super moons rising above a native prairie or a pine-clad vantage in the Niobrara valley.

24 July 2019

Management of Habitat Greenspace at the Valentine Mill Pond

July 22, 2019. These are notes used while speaking on KVSH radio in Valentine on their comment program. On the air for about 10 minutes.

There is a bit of land on the north side of Valentine which has value as greenspace and natural habitat. It is a place for wild birds. Flora thrives. This Mill Pond place is a unique setting and is an asset of Valentine.

In late summer of 2016 some pictures were taken of the triad of warm season grasses – big bluestem, Indian grass and switchgrass. They were growing so beautifully, and being so picturesque with a sky background. Water hemlock was a haven for a healthy caterpillar.

What does a grass space mean? To me it is a place to enjoy the natural setting and where to appreciate floral features vivid against a heart city sky of blue. It is worthy of special recognition. This is a place special to me as a very nice asset of the local landscape. I view this place nearly every day during my travels.

The space is however being treated wrong. Every year the vegetation is destroyed with intent at the Mill Pond. The current management is a policy of destruction of features so vibrant and significant. There has been grass growing upward to the sky. The setting is quite lovely.

Mowing is done without consideration of nesting birds. A territorial Common Yellowthroat has been present this season. Its voice has been prevalent. Did the destructors consider it presence? Nope, is what I was told by NRD staff. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act may have been violated since it states that is illegal to destroy bird nests and young. This action in simply wrong. There was no consideration taken to evaluate whether the setting has any value as pollinator habitat.

This property is owned by the City of Valentine and the Middle Niobrara NRD. The city defers management decisions to the NRD and is currently satisfied on how the site is managed, according to the city manager.

The primary purpose of the tract is to provide an emergency spillway for the pond. Therefore it is mowed annually to ensure there is no growth of woody vegetation and to have a surface conducive for a ready flow of water. This is a secondary overflow measure as the primary overflow feature is the drain pipe which empties into Minnechaduza Creek, below the dam. This was well used in March when water levels in the pond were excessive.

A mistake being made on this tract is the timing of the mowing, in my view. Mowing in July destroys the thriving warm-season grasses and turns a vibrant green space into barren bit of landscape. Windrows of cut grass are left behind and which stifle any potential regrowth.

A spring mowing would help inhibit the growth of cool-season grasses and increase the viability of the more preferential warm-season grasses.

I am hoping to meet with the city and NRD to determine if there could be any changes that might increase the value of this public space.

It should also be noted that there is no management plan for the tract, which could address the multiple use options for the grassy habitat and allow interested members of the public to provide input.

Potential recognition of multiple uses could include educational interpretation (variety of tall-grass prairie plants), pollinator habitat (develop and increase forb species; freely available seeds could be thrown out a few times and eventually they will grow) and management versatility (meet requirements of primary purpose while also developing additional values).

It is time to make this little habitat space the best it can be. This is not the case now in my opinion. I may be speaking alone but I can guarantee that others care.

Valentine has a lot of assets and I’d like to see them all appreciated and that includes a grassy bit of space at the mill pond?

14 May 2019

Renovation Beneficial to Wildfowl at Pelican Lake

Benefits following lake renovation efforts have been obvious for wild birds this spring at Pelican Lake at the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.

On April 29th, there were thousands of fowl present as estimated by refuge staff. There were five to ten thousand ducks at the lake, according to Juan-Carlos Giese, refuge manager. This included a notable number of shorebirds.

Ten species were observed, according to a checklist available at ebird.org. Atop the list were estimated counts of 1000 for both the Ring-necked Duck and Wilson’s Phalarope. A count of 500 was estimated for Gadwall, American Wigeon and Mallard. Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler were also very abundant. There was also a bunch of American Avocet.

A similar response has been observed at Watts Lake, Giese said.

In September 2018 this lake nearly 800 acres in extent, in association with an aquatic habitat renovation project – focused on getting rid of common carp – occurred at several large lakes at the refuge. This is a cooperative effort associated with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ducks Unlimited is also involved with renovation of lakes east of Highway 83.

Getting rid of carp improves water clarity and notably improves conditions for the growth of aquatic vegetation. Wild birds throng to Sand Hill lakes where there is an abundance of vegetation and clear waters where they can feed.