09 March 2011

Omaha Selects Potentially Hazardous Design for Nature Center

When the Omaha City Council voted 7-0 to approve funding for construction of a park nature center, they did nothing to address the potential for bird-strikes.

The nature center is to be build amidst the forest at Hummel Park.

Council members already knew how they would vote prior to the council meeting where public testimony was given in opposition to the submitted Agenda item No. 25 on March 1st.

Comments were presented asking that the council approve a plan to include the use of fritted glass or Ornilux to help make the building bird friendly. This was a followup to written comments provided a few days prior.

Immediately after hearing this testimony, an architect from the Leo Daly company was called to rebut these comments.

The council made certain to have someone present rebuttal testimony. One council member noted that this agenda item had been discussed in the pre-council meeting prior to the public meeting in the afternoon, saying it was a "challenge what to do" though the events experienced at the council meeting readily indicated that they had no problem with making a decision to not construct a bird-friendly building.

The speaker - Dale, who said he was also representing the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department - obviously had no first-hand experience with bird strikes and the conditions which cause them. This rebuttal was based on a review of information available on the internet.

He said that he did not think it would be a big issue. He said he was not hostile to the environment, and that they had done what was "prudent," adding that if bird strikes did occur, something could be done later.

There was no opportunity given to respond to his comments, despite this opportunity having been given for other people providing comments during earlier portions of the council meeting.

It should be noted that the City Council voted on December 14 to approve the Environment Omaha document which includes: "Guidelines for building design and management/operation should be developed and promoted to reduce mortality and injury to birds from bird-building collisions."

Areas of glass on the north side of the pending nature center. Base design from architectural plans.

One thing learned at the meeting, was that shutters will be used on the interior of the glass on the north side of the building. The architect noted that in his opinion, he was "most worried" about glass on the upper portion of the building on the south side.

City officials where irresponsible in their decision, are now liable for any bird deaths due to strikes at the Hummel Park Nature Center, based on the taking aspect of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It would have cost $24-28,000 to install Ornilux glass. This would have added less than 4% to the overall cost of the building. The council did not even approve use of the glass, despite an offer to raise funds through community contributions to pay for the added expense.

Of the $781,000 total cost for the building, $350,000 was provided from a grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Setting with enhanced features for the pending "nature center." Base design from architectural plans.