20 March 2019

A Sunday Drive in Cherry County Country

March 20, 2019. Pre-spring visions. Valentine Midland News 47(43): 12.

Beneath a beautiful cloud-free cerulean sky and with warming temperatures, Gordon Warrick and I took a drive amidst a bit of Cherry county country on a pre-spring Sunday the 17th. During our foray, my sharpened pencil was kept busy writing notes. Then later, more time was taken later to derive a suitable geographic designation for a bunch of bird observations.

Across the land southward of Valentine, there was lots of ice but some birds were indifferent because flocks of geese arrived or were flying into local habitats as wintry conditions moderated.

During our drive, we once again focused on the spaces along the Brownlee Road, with a start at the Heart City, down Highway 97 and then beyond to see what wildbirds were present.

A great grey shrike was on a wire at the Mcsky Ranch. Merritt reservoir was nearly 100% ice-covered. Three fishermen from Nebraska county 15 were huddled aside the dam looking at their nearby gear. They gave a hearty wave as we drove quickly past because there were no birds on the ice-covered waters.

In the vicinity of Gordon Creek along Highway 97, waterfowl of the day became especially obvious. There were lots of Canada geese obvious in the meadows as flying above. Most dramatic were eight trumpeter swans at the lowlands. They were waiting for ice-free water where they might establish a home for the pending breeding season.

Near the top of a big meadow tree a pair of bald eagles built upon a seeming balcony – because they reside at a nest of historic renown – were easily seen from the highway, while being attentive to their season’s brood. What were they doing during the so recent blizzard? Hope was no choice for them but it seems they did their work well and the nest survived the blasting winds with blowing snow and frigid cold.

Eventually we reached our Brownlee Road route, a uniquely scenic drive way amidst country with lakes, valleys and high country hills. There were plowed away snow drifts at more than one place.

Another couple of trumpeter swans were seen at Packingham Lake. With the water still ice-covered, we pondered how they might avoid any nightly wanderings of coyotes looking for a meal. They certainly have the right moves to avoid that sort of trouble.

A strutting common pheasant rooster was along the road in Wamaduze Valley (isn’t that a distinct name of historic derivation). Territorial red-winged blackbirds were prevalent at many places and numerous at more than one place. Rough-legged buzzards were obvious. There was even a common pheasant that added some color to the scene.

Many meadow expanses were filled with water topped with ice that will soon melt. These places will be hay meadows later this year.

We two bird-watchers were excited upon seeing two vividly blue birds atop some fence posts in the valley. They were soon identified as mountain bluebirds. Neither of us had seen them for a long time. The last reported record of this species in the county was in 2009 at Merritt Reservoir. That is a historic matter. To actually to see these two birds togetherly active in Cherry county supersedes many things.

A bunch of birds were notably active along the North Loup River in the Brownlee vicinity. Mallards were flying around. Red-winged blackbirds were busy in moving north or selecting a territory for the season. Migratory common mergansers were lingering as the flowing river was a haven.

During our transit of more than 20 miles along the road, there was only one pickup loaded with a big round bale, and then, later, two other vehicles east of Brownlee.

We tried to visit Rat and Beaver Lake WMA but the road was too muddy, rutted and not very suitable for vehicular travel. County ranchers have to deal with this reality every day, but we experienced a single effort and turned around. Ranchers deal with these conditions know much more on how to successfully deal with any travel issues. We gave up since the pending route was so tentative even while 4x4 travel was available. It was a vivid reality associated with country life.

Northward along Highway 83 upon our travel back to the city, and just a relatively short distance south of the Y, a field usually associated with corn, many geese had congregated on ice covered. There will be no plow on this ground for a particular time.

The overall bird tally for the day was 34 species, with raptors (six species including a vivid view of a beautifully colored ferruginous hawk and a singular American kestrel), waterfowl and flocks of red-winged blackbirds being notably prevalent.

It was a quite nice drive that can be appreciated any day. Our Sunday outing was a fine time to look around for the birds of the pending spring. Various landscape features of the hard surface Brownlee Road are a certain treasure of Cherry county. Any time spent along this route is an opportunity to appreciate a special sand hills setting.

12 March 2019

Bull Bash Saturday - Voice From the Sandhills

James E. Ducey. March 1, 2019. Bull Bash Saturday. Babbling Brook 38(3): 5. Newsletter of Wachiska Audubon.

It was another Saturday but one with special significance. One reason was a temperature not as frigid as the previous overnight low of -17o. The sky was a cerulean blue without a single cloud. There was still a chill from a southerly wind.

Juncos were busily feeding on the bird seed outside the front door upon the start of my jaunt into the Heart City. Walking along the drive, both red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches were heard. The house sparrows were busy in their bit of shrubbery at a corner of the Mill Pond. They always chatter but once a pedestrian gets close, they are very quiet.

On Main Street, the bulls were stolid in pens on what is normally a highway. It was the 18th annual Bull Bash. Some of the finest herd sires were being shown. The Sand Hills have the best cattle and there were Herefords, Angus and others of a similar ilk. There was ag equipment parked for showing. A tent with a well-working heater was a haven.

My first stop was a regular one, providing a warm place to sit while enjoying some good conversation. There was talk about unwelcome industrial wind turbines and how to continue to work to preserve features so special to the county and region. It is always grand to visit with cattlemen and cattle women that are truly so very essential to a grassland which is unique on earth. It is actually quite unexpected to hear ranchers talk about the American burying beetle, endangered whooping crane and an appreciation for dark sky spaces.

After a stop at the grocery store, my walking route once again went along Main Street where the bash activities were actively underway. People were gathered and talking. A young girl was selling Girl Scout cookies. There was a fine quilt display in a main street furniture store. Art was on display in a bank lobby. Miss Rodeo Nebraska and her cohorts were present as the livestock industry was being celebrated.

Another fine visit was to the local bookstore. Author Bryan Jones was autographing his rendition of history associated with the Sand Hills north of the Platte River and south of the Niobrara River. It the first time he’d been in Valentine on a bull-bash day. One more of his book was bought and it had an autograph, because the copy I donated to the library and a couple others given as gifts did not have a scrawl signature.

The one day respite from previous days of bitter winterness was obviously being appreciated outside during an obvious gathering of community of Sandhillers.

Skeins of Canada goose were flying to the southeast just before the noon hour. They were likely heading to the Niobrara River from their feeding grounds.

Bull Bash events continued into the dark hours, but were well beyond my time in the city. It was another day, but special for so many reasons on February 9th.

26 February 2019

Eminent Domain – Nebraska Legislative Bill 155

February 21, 2019. Eminent domain. Grant County News 134(30): 1, 6.

A stalwart Nebraska legislator had a bunch of concerned and supportive sandhillers in his office on February 7th. It was time for a public hearing associated with legislative action to remove the use of eminent domain by public entities to benefit private companies.

The advocate was Sen. Tom Brewer of the 43rd legislative district. More than a dozen sandhillers came driving for hours on a frigid winter day – leaving their ranch – so their voice could be heard.

Before dawn at Valentine upon one particular departure, the temperature was sub-zero. Add in the extent of wind chill and the extreme polar cold was obvious. Our group represented one of several travelers across snow swept land so we could speak to the future of the sandhills.

We went to speak at a public hearing scheduled for the Natural Resources Committee at the Nebraska capitol in Lincoln. Sen. Brewer’s request to the fine senators of this committee was to strike a single sentence from legal statutes “to eliminate provisions relating to eminent domain” as indicated in a state law.

The words are: “The exercise of eminent domain to provide needed transmission lines and related facilities for a privately developed renewable energy generation is a public use.”

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Brewer, as he stated: “Public entities using the power of government against their neighbors so they can make money.”

“It is wrong,” Brewer said. There was then a public hearing. People spoke and the state senators listened and asked fine questions.

Proponents for approval of the LB 155 spoke first, obvious in their opposition to allow a public entity to act for the benefit of private landowners. There were ca. 15 people that presented personal testimony in support. Their words were indicative and convey what sandhills residents have realized and how they want to continue the essential cattle land legacy and other special values.

“Our legacy runs really deep,” said Wayne Eatinger, a fifth generation rancher in southeast Cherry county.

Barbara Welch was so very personable in regard to making sure that landmarks continue to be special places. Her analogy was so poignant that Sen. Hughes, chairman of the committee asked her to share a key tenet that she has adhered to since her days of high school. It was the result of a bunch of mice in a box so many few years ago. She brought many smiles to those present.

Dan Welch then spoke to the heritage of his ranch unit south of Thedford. The r-project would traverse the couple’s ranch property and create a health threat and diminish the value of the rangeland which has been scientifically studied.

“Take away our property rights and you take away our dignity,” Mr. Welch said. ”NPPD has been using eminent domain as a big stick over our heads for four years.”

Mr. Welch is an outspoken advocate for private property rights and this was obvious during his more than five minute testimony on Thursday.

Barb and Dan Welch presented a late December letter that arrived in their mail-box. It was an indication from NPPD that they would use eminent domain and all of its legal conundrums to condemn Welch ranchland to construct an industrial powerline across his range for heritage cattle.

“If you do not truly own your property, you are property,” said Brett Steffen of Thedford. The proposed r-project would traverse his property south of Thedford.

Sam Sampson, of Lincoln, conveyed his personal advocacy again wind turbines based upon his appreciation of a haven for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts at Brewster. “We need to protect some of us from the tyranny of others,” he said while wearing his best suit to speak his heart-felt words to the legislators.

Dean Smith from Antelope county – a newly elected county commissioner – was supportive as he referred to the nearly 300 industrial wind turbines in the county, with more being considered. His comments indicated the negative impacts during turbine project construction.

A significant presentation was a map graphic of Cherry county that indicates the extent of land-owners opposed to wind turbines. This document of record indicated the situation to each member of the Natural Resources Committee. The extent of opposition as obvious with the color red. The presentation provided an opportunity to convey other details associated with industrial wind turbines and necessary powerlines, based upon the currently known situation in Cherry county.

Some minutes beyond the five minutes allotted was provided to speak to what is being done within Cherry county. There were questions regarding the current county commissioners. Industrial wind turbines could not be placed on lands enrolled within the for-wind land owners because their surrounding neighbors do not want industrial wind turbines on their property. This is probably the case with industrial transmission lines. There were words said in regard to the request by Wayne Eatinger to ban industrial wind turbines within the county. It was also an opportunity to discuss the importance of state-level legislation as well as actions being done by the Bureau of Educational Lands and Funds.

A detail oriented cost-analysis evaluation was provided by Douglas P. Nelson, from Wayne. The economics for establishing a wind turbine project meant a loss due to the reality of costs.

“Take care of residents first,” said Amy Ballagh, a ranch-wife from the eastern hills and a long-time opponent to the r-project. There should be no eminent domain for private gain, she said.

Dave Hutchison, operator of a bison ranch near Rose, conveyed a common theme that the r-project would threaten whooping cranes and diminish the value of visitors to the region. He provided handouts with details.

Other names associated with comments included Mike Young, Marjorie Manning Warren and Ann Manning-Warren.

The opponents to this bill wore suits and represented some group, and were paid representatives of some groups with an obvious agenda, including the Advance Power Alliance, the Center for Rural Affairs and the Nebraska Farmers Union. They talked extensively, yet when asked a particular question the answers were lacking. Supposed economic development was a primary reason to not change the current legislation.

There was no utility company or industrial wind turbine developer present at the hearing.

Sen. Brewer ended the public hearing with his passionate comments. His concern for the sandhills and its people was blatantly obvious as he has actively been working to continue appreciated values. His staff worked with the landowner map to enhance it in relation to the proposed r-project corridor.

Sen. Brewer has selected this legislative action to be his priority bill, as he and his staff, including legislative aide Tony Baker continue to strongly work for residents of the 43rd district.

“What gives developer the right to impact neighbors,” he said. There is “smoke and mirrors by big wind.”

The efforts of many meant significant words were given to support Senator Brewer’s request to revise state legislation.

This day of action started in the dark during a realized 4o upon departure a few minutes after 6 a.m. at Valentine. Cold was everywhere during the day hours during the travel time when ranch employees stayed at the ranch to do chores and take care of the stock.

Finally after a long drive and getting back to the home place the temperature – including an excessively abhorrent wind chill – was at least -8o upon returning to Cherry county and the heart city so many hours later during one day.

08 February 2019

Annual Banquet Held by Ducks Unlimited

The annual banquet of the Sandhills Chapter of Ducks Unlimited was a resounding success as community residents and their families gathered to support the conservation of waterfowl and their habitats.

Attendees ranged in age from infants to elders. Adults conversed while kids ran around having fun. Some participated in games – including “Duck-O bingo”  – when many smiles were obvious. The winner of “Last Duck Standing” certainly had a special day as he not only won, but he won on his birthday. The crowd gave him a rendition of the Happy Birthday song. There were raffles of many waterfowl-related items donated by businesses.

Some youngsters spent time at the Greenwing Raffle, a youth-oriented booth. One tyke present had a tiny, plastic, yellow duck held close as his expression of waterfowl. A couple of young girls with their raffle tickets all ready, bantered about ice-fishing with their dad at the Valentine lake district.

Jake Ohlmann, chair of the local chapter, was pleased with the outcome of the banquet. He was busy helping at the “Mug of Tickets” table while noticing the fine bunch of people present and appreciating the many contributors.

“There are a lot of generous people in the community,” said Ohlmann, appreciative of every donation since each of them were helpful in raising fund for waterfowl conservation. Volunteers were “essential” and helped make the banquet a success as they also do for other group projects.

“I really enjoy kids being involved,” said Ohlmann. The banquet, as well as other outreach programs are “a chance to teach them about wildfowl hunting and conservation.” Adding that DU projects conserve “resources for generations to come.” He especially appreciates the dedication of long-time members in the organization.

There were a few people at the banquet that became new members.

Funds raised at the banquet will contribute to DU projects throughout the nation.

There is a nationally significant DU and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project currently underway at Valentine NWR, said JuanCarlos Giese, manager of Valentine National Wildlife Refuge and DU member.

Carp barriers and berms will be placed to manage wetland conditions and prohibit fish access at Sweetwater Lake, 21 Lake, Center Lake, Homestead Lake, Cow Lake, Little Hay Lake, Calf Camp Marsh (where a structure was placed in 2018) and Pony Lake, said Giese. Most of these places are east of Highway 83.

Once the “construction” phase of the project is completed, these sites will be treated to remove fish – notably invasive carp – from the lakes and wetlands. These shallow lakes and ponds will be managed for migratory birds and other wildlife, so no sport fish will be introduced into these wetlands.

About 900 acres wetlands will be restored, said Giese.

This “on the ground project will provide benefits to waterfowl and many others sorts of wildlife” as well as wetland flora. Some nongame birds that will benefit include many wildbird species, including the trumpeter swan, pied-billed grebe and marsh wren, for example. Amphibians are also expected to flourish amidst the rejuvenated wetland flora, Giese said.

Environmental improvements associated with natural land features will “attract the community and visitors to appreciate the refuge resources. It is very exciting to be involved with these landscape basis projects,” Giese said, noting the significance of being able to “work with the community and partners for the benefit of current and future generations.”

Work will be initiated once Section 404 permits are received in coming weeks from the Army Corps of Engineers, Giese said.

The FWS will continue to monitor results in order to evaluate success of the project, he said.
DU and FWS are the primary project partners. Essential funding has been provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the North American Wetland Conservation Act. Also involved are the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission as well as the volunteer member-based Sandhill Prairie Refuge Association.

This project is ancillary to the lake restoration projects underway by the NGPC and FWS to remove carp and improve the fisheries at several prominent lakes of the refuge, west of Highway 83.

Two historic projects DU has been involved with in Cherry County include the Lord Lake project at the McKelvie Division of the Nebraska National Forest where water control structures and tree removal occurred, said DU member Mark Lindvall. Elsewhere, water control structures were added and a dike was rebuilt at Calf Camp Valley marsh, Valentine NWR.

Lindvall, of Valentine, has been a DU member for more than 20 years. The group “is a good conservation organization that puts projects on the ground,” he said. The local chapter was active in 1985 when he arrived to work at Valentine NWR. “I enjoy watching waterfowl in the spring a hunt in the fall which might be a time to just watch fowl in flight,” he said. “With wetland conservation projects there are more ducks and geese” for everyone to enjoy.

About 150 people attended the annual banquet held February 2nd at the 4-H building at the Cherry County fairgrounds, including Bill Stroup who started the local chapter years ago. The Sandhills chapter has about 100 members, Ohlmann said.

Any wildbird enthusiast with an interest in wetland conservation is welcome to join Ducks Unlimited, which has been active in Nebraska for many decades.

02 February 2019

Update: 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; late in October; February 2, 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.

1994

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.

1998

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.

2005

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).

2007

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.

2009

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.

2010

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.

2011

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.

2012

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.

2013

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.

2014

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.

2015

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).

2016

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.

2017

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.

2018

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 asscociated 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 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.

2019

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 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.

31 January 2019

Cedar Waxwings and Robins Show up in Valentine Rather Hungry

January 30, 2019. Cedar waxwings and robins show up in Valentine rather hungry. Valentine Midland News 47(30): 12.

Some most colorful, fine wildbirds have continued their residence about Valentine during the past weeks. Somewhat smaller and less robust than a robin, they have a plumage quite distinct plumage and a distinctive voice. These bits of avian life are cedar waxwings garbed with vivid feather colors including a black-eye mask suitable for any mystery ball and a yellowish belly as fine as any fancy vest. Their plumage expression includes a bright yellow color tip their tail which is so indicatively fine. Though no hats are required anywhere in the natural realm, their crown feathers lift for some time when they indicate a natural expression.

Varying numbers can be seen within Valentine or local natural lands. The groups trill can be very obvious as expressed from some tree where they are busily feeding on buds or by flocks in flight as a bunch flies just above the arboreal realm. And yes, they do appreciate cedar berries. Numbers have varied from 3 to nearly 20 based upon count details. A bunch of about two dozen was seen on January 28, at the North Lake Shore Hills.

Another significant occurrence of past weeks has been a few rusty blackbirds with mottled winter-time plumage expressively different from the well-known red-winged blackbirds of the summer season. Four arrived in late November and two have continued to linger. They are regularly appreciative of the bird seed buffet. This tenure is the longest extent of regular occurrence for the northern-central Sand Hills. They have been seen on one day or another in the past, including an initial report for October 31, 1919 at the Fort Niobrara Game Preserve. It was more than 75 years later until the next observation became available in the ornithological chronicles.

An exciting observation happened on January 25th when a Northern Mockingbird was well seen at the confluence of Minnechaduza Creek and the Niobrara River. Gordon Warrick was able to get a picture to document its occurrence during his hike-around. This is a first known winter sighting in this vicinity, based upon an evaluation of details dating back more than a century. Usually they visit the valley in later spring, like in mid-May and linger through July! This was a great sighting and to have a report and picture is significant. Obviously they weren’t here for any balmy weather because typical winter range is a bunch of miles beyond Nebraska towards the southerly extent of the Great Plains in Kansas or Oklahoma.

While outdoor these days, there is nearly always a sound of wild birds to hear. There may a moment or two to look into a shrub at a busy bird or upon the birdly expressions beneath the vivid blues, grays and white of the sky. Listen for the call of black-capped chickadees with their chick-a-dee-dee expression, they also have a two note expression that is their means of saying hello from woods where nuthatches also call while jumping around on the bark of so many trees.

Many thousands of American robins have very recently been flighty across the north hills. While estimating numbers associated with multiple flocks, three morning tallies were approximately 1500, which is a whole lot of bird life going into town or elsewhere to feed on tree buds or cedar berries or something at one or another suitable robin space. Because of the repeated occurrence, the flocks had to have returned to an overnight roost amidst the pines and cedars of the Cherry county country land.

Don’t miss the regular winter residents. Trumpeter swans linger on the river, with other fine species of waterfowl. There are the antics of the mergansers. Hundreds of Canada geese traverse the sky daily in loose skeins while being an indicative song of the wild. Any flock might include a diminutive cackling goose with their individual voice.

A fine extent of Eurasian collared doves seen daily act similar to bobble-heads – pecking up and down in a regular motion - as they feed on ground-spread seed. Dark-eyed juncos skitter about nearby as a bunch of them appreciate a place where they do not have to scratch through snow to feed on ample bird seed.

These wildbirds are among the typical 30 species that have occurred in recent years during January at Valentine were there are havens present as snow, cold, wind and dreary gray skies prevail along with the other ever-changing expressions of winter-time.

Our feathered friend always appreciate something to eat, especially when snow covers the ground and single-digit temperatures predominate.

Bird watching is a great pastime that anyone can freely enjoy. What might be your appreciative sighting today?



26 January 2019

Wind Turbine Regulations Approved by Planning and Zoning Board at Valentine Meeting

January 24, 2019. Wind turbine regulations approved by Planning and Zoning Board at Valentine meeting. Grant County News 134(26): 1, 4, 7.

Requests to ban industrial wind turbines in Cherry County and to reclassify massive wind turbine structure as industrial from their current commercial/utility classification in applicable regulations were approved by the members of the Planning and Zoning board at their meeting on January 15th at Valentine.

A public comment period allowed further details to be given for the requests by Messrs. Wayne Eatinger and William Weller.

Eatinger was the first to speak while presenting a map graphic that showed the potential impact that wind turbine developments could have upon the Cherry County landscape. Circles with a diameter of 24 miles were centered on land spaces where turbine developments might occur because the land owners are associated with legally filed easements. The vast majority of the county was within one circle or another. Especially indicative were the four circles originating on the periphery of the McKelvie Division, Nebraska National Forest. There would be one place or another within this grassland and forest plantings expanse – with some of the best dark skies of the central Great Plains – where 600 foot-tall wind turbines could always be seen from a prominent vantage.

The 12-mile radius represented by the map was a conservative estimation. This distance is now known to be inadequate. A tall wind turbine 15 miles away can be readily seen from the right point of view. One turbine west of Valentine can be seen from near Kilgore, a distance of 24 miles, according to west Kilgore resident Carolyn Semin.

There are apparently plans to revise this map to indicate a distance of 15 miles.

The next map graphic was personally presented. It had a title of “Map Graphic Indicating Property Owner Perspectives Regarding Placement of Industrial Wind Turbines Within Cherry County” based upon individual considerations a vast amount of land parcels.

This evaluation indicated what is known for vast swaths of the county. Thanks to Brock Moreland and Rick Weber for their help in getting the map steadily placed on an easel so the P&Z board could get a suitable view.

These are the indicative color-codes on the map graphic, and they are indicative, as derived from known facts:

  • Red: property owners opposed to industrial wind turbines. Derived from comments at public hearings, public records and most recently, direct personal communications (i.e., phone calls and conversations) as a result of ongoing efforts by many concerned residents that want a range and ranch land setting. Red is the most prominent color on the map graphic, readily indicating the expansive opposition by ranch families, individuals, ranch corporations, and others to industrial wind turbines. Many neighbors stand together in their solidarity of opposition to industrial wind turbine development in Cherry County country. Nearly every proposed wind turbine locality is surrounded by red because the neighbors do not want any turbines among the hills.

    A multitude of parcels for owners of some of the largest tracts of land in the county are included in this category.
    Green: public property including Valentine NWR and Fort Niobrara NWR, Niobrara Valley Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy, wildlife management areas owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska National Forest - McKelvie Division, Niobrara National Scenic River, Bowring Ranch State Historical Park. There are also sites where conservation easements conserve the range land setting (i.e., Vanderploeg place along the Niobrara River south of Valentine, Horse Creek Ranch, and Jumbo and Pullman Valley Fen, etc.). There are also a few USA owned tracts where turbines could not be placed on these small, publicly owned and isolated land parcels. Some of these parcels are managed as part of Valentine NWR.

  • Yellow: spaces where turbines could or would not be placed based upon location or public sentiment. There will be no industrial wind turbine facilities placed within Valentine, nor amidst any housing tracts or local to Miller Airport. There will be no industrial wind turbines placed within county villages. There are also land tracts where a land-owner has not indicated whether they are for or against wind turbines but will not have wind turbines on their property. This coloration also includes a few sections owned by the State of Nebraska, without a BELF ownership designation, and where the citizens of Nebraska need to be able to voice their opinion on any and all drastic land management decisions.
  • Brown: enrolled members of Cherry County Wind LLC or people that have expressed support for wind turbines being placed upon their property. The extent of land enrolled by “forwindees” is readily available in Cherry county public records.
  • Black: isolated parcels where the Board of Educational Lands and Funds colluded with Cherry County Wind LLC to enroll publicly-owned parcels for involvement in potential wind-turbine development. There was no public involvement in any decision by the agency board. There had to have been some collusion as the parcels indicated by county records of agreement match so well with associated private property included for potential, future industrial wind turbine development.

  • Purple: land owned by R.E. “Ted” Turner and former state senator Al Davis. Both have been involved in efforts to promote wind turbines but have not indicated whether they would allow turbines on their property. Turner has replied to inquiries on whether industrial wind turbines would be placed on any of the Sandhills Ranch Properties in Cherry, Sheridan and Garden counties. There has been no definitive answer provided.
  • Blue: wetlands including so many special lakes, including at Valentine NWR where millions of dollars are being spent to improve the quality of the waters for subsequent values for people fishing and bird-watching. There are also prominent sections of rivers where industrial wind turbines will never be built.
  • White: representing property owners that are neutral in regards to the placement of industrial wind turbines or land-owners whose view is not yet known. There are multiple blank parcels included in this category because they are owned by members of the planning board as well as a county commissioner or two.

Efforts will continue to determine landowner positions and further convey perspectives on the map graphic until the day when the commissioners have their required public hearing.

During the meeting, several people vividly expressed their views. Others were present to convey their support for the two amendments.

There is “overwhelming support for not having wind turbines in Cherry County,” said Craig Andresen of Wood Lake.

Mr. Rick Weber indicated that the people he deals with in his real estate business want to come to the sandhills because of the great grass resources and since it is such a unique place. The “wind turbine gold rush is over,” he said.

When William “Billy” Weller stood and spoke in support of his amendment request, his poignant point was that current residents are “stewards of our heirs.” His request is another piece of the puzzle that fits together in the discussion regarding wind turbines, and received great support.

From the Brownlee village country, there came additional voices.

“There is a lot of wisdom in both amendments,” said Craig Miles, while he came to town from his legacy ranch way to the south of the Heart City. He has spoken to again and again and once more in opposition to wind turbines. On the 15th he expressed the importance of dialog and the value of listening.

Barb Welch of the Brush Creek Ranch with its north unit west of Brownlee added other indicative comments. “There is a time and place for everything,” she said. “Stop and think of what you are doing,” she said while continuing to speak to the Planning and Zoning Board. There are important places where there should not be industrial wind turbines. She conveyed once again the views from a woman against wind, that no one wants wind turbines to be seen from Mount Rushmore and other important national monuments citizens know to be are important. “Don’t put turbines in a place we treasure,” while she spoke about the Great American Sandhills.

Gary and Glenda Phipps residing in the north Whitman country also drove a bunch of miles to be present. Wind turbines are a “little bit of money for some people,” he said.

When Bob Stetter stood to speak, there was complete silence in respect as there had been throughout the public comment period. Bob got his notes together and then expressed a local radio station comment spoken on the local radio station: “welcome to paradise.” “Keep the sandhills a paradise,” Stetter said in agreement, adding other expressions indicating that industrial wind turbines should be kept out of the Sand Hills.

A complete slate of P&Z board members was not present on the 15th. At least newly appointed member Duane Kime was there. The newly appointed woman from the Cody was not seen anywhere near the Valentine meeting room. She was appointed and could not even attend the first meeting of her tenure.

About 50 people attended the meeting and when the crowd was asked to stand if they supported the two amendments, everyone stood. This included stalwarts that have once and again stood with their neighbors in opposing wind, including personal time, travelling to pertinent meetings, doing research and otherwise being involved in the process for the past few years. They included these neighbors, as representative: Semin, Weber, Moreland, Welch, MacLeod, Trimble, Witt, Young, Wolfenden, McCormick, Rhoades, Mundorf, Gallinol, Warren and Hanna, et al.

Both amendments will henceforth by submitted to the county commissioners. A public hearing will then be scheduled. The three commissioners will then decide on whether these amendments would be enacted, and thus the fate of Cherry County in regards to industrial wind turbines.