23 July 2012

Omaha Officials Lack of Response to Habitat Request

A fruitful meeting to discuss the bird habitat area was held the morning of July 31st, at the Parks department. Brook Bench will have staff place log barriers to prevent vehicle access to the site, and also look into land parcel status. A special thanks to them for addressing this matter.

Omaha officials have repeatedly and consistently expressed worthless responses in regards to a request to establish an area of bird habitat adjacent to Levi Carter Park.

The most consistent person in this regard is Steve Oltmans, chief of staff in the office of mayor Jim Suttle. Interim director of the Omaha Parks and Recreation, Brook Bench, has done the same.

The worthless words by city officials were in response to a personal and email request that a bit of public property at the northwest corner of Levi Carter Park be established as a bird habitat.

Ownership of the property was derived by checking parcel information available at the website of the Douglas County assessor.

On March 29, 2012, the mayor and parks department -- as well as local news outlets -- received an email with a picture documenting one of several tracks through the parcel, resulting from the use motorized vehicles. There were apparently from 4x4s.

This is an illegal use of motorized vehicles, according to statutes of the City of Omaha.

Original Request to Establish Bird Habitat

The first request to establish a bit of recognized bird habitat in association with Levi Carter Park was expressed in person on the morning of April 30th. The same pencil-drawn graphic was used during the minutes of conversation in Oltmans' office as well as with Bench -- a short time later -- upstairs in the Omaha/Douglas Civic Center.

Both men asked for details in a written format, so the following email was sent during the noon hour, and included a graphic denoting the locales of interest. This is the text of the email:

"The attached image indicates the three areas discussed this morning, in the following regard.

"1) Designate the area as a bird habitat. This would require that it officially become part of the park, and that two signs be placed that motor vehicles are not allowed.

"This is a fine little area for song birds because of the shrubby growth. If so designated, trash removal will be taken care of by volunteers, and perhaps a sign could be placed -- payed [sic] for by a community group -- that would say: Wildbird Habitat Do Not Disturb

"By the way, the area to the east -- along the abandoned railway -- is also public property, and should become part of the park environs, and once cleaned up, would require little if any maintenance and also contribute to the park's diversity.

"2) Browne street woods

"Move ahead on getting this abandoned ROW donated to the Omaha Parks Foundation by the Union Pacific railroad. I have contacted the OPF twice on this but have heard nothing further.

"3) Southwest meadow

"Establish that this wet meadow -- the most unique and rare habitat in the park -- is a meadow area and will remain as a habitat area and not become a dog run as indicated by the park's master plan diagram.

"This is already a meadow with grassy vegetation and wet soil conditions, which would also make it a wetland. If the landuse remains the same, perhaps a little project could be done to help maintain the water conditions with financing from for a control structure from an entity that does such things, or maybe built by volunteers using donated material, as it would not take much to get something in place.

"4) The island is being called Bird Island and it would seem that if could also be 'officially' recognized as a wildbird habitat area, with no effort required other than recognition.

"This is a straight-forward, simple request, and I look forward to a reply. The city could get some good KUDO's just by making an affirmative decision and installing two signs."

Support for this recognition was also requested from the Audubon Society of Omaha. And an email was subsequently sent to Oltmans and Bench on May 17th.

No City Response

During the past three months, there has been no response received from any city official on this request. No email or phone call has been received that indicated a decisive response regarding the request.

This is a timeline of subsequent events, as personally documented:

On June 17th, Oltmans was called at his home residence. During a brief discussion he asked if anything had been received in writing. He made sure to express that the call "intruded upon his precious time." A followup email with the same details as originally sent via email, were resent the next day.

On Monday morning, June 4th, Brook Bench was seen at Levi Carter Park while checking on the status of work needed for an upcoming fund-raiser. Though he was quickly trying to exit the scene, he was "caught" before departing and asked if he would like to the see the habitat area, since he was at the park. He was not able to because he had to get to a meeting downtown, was the response. Upon being asked when a decision would be provided, he said two weeks.

On Friday morning, June 8th, a visit was made to the mayor's office to discuss the request with Steve Oltmans. It was about 8 a.m., and when he was asked for, the office worker checked, returned, and said he was in a meeting. The response was that he was in a meeting and that a meeting would be setup to discuss the request. It was obvious he was not in a meeting at the time of the visit.

On July 13th, Oltmans made a call-back and was told that the phone calls earlier in the day were in regards to the bird habitat request. He once again said that a meeting would need to be setup, and that it would take time to reach a decision.

As of July 22, 2012 there has been no response regarding this request. There have been many instances of lies when a response would be provided, or something would be done to discuss the simple request.

Ongoing Indifference

This example of a response of ignorance is nothing new by Omaha city officials.

In April, a specific request on how much the Park Department was to spend on vegetative clearing at Carter Lake, was submitted to Oltmans and Bench. A followup phone call on this matter was made to Oltmans on April 18, with an indication that details would be provided as soon as possible.

An approximate amount was finally determined, based a personal visit to get this detail on April 30th in Oltmans office, downtown Omaha.

It can also be noted that it took three efforts to remove trash from the abandoned railway route. After the first report, personal efforts were taken to gather together missed trash and debris, taken care of during a subsequent visit, after another phone call.

There is still trash, tires, and other debris which city officials have ignored in this area, and further south adjacent to the railroad route, including a broken and basically-junk jacuzzi and furniture, which was noted in a photo to city officials many weeks ago.

The first email communications (there were 3-4 sent to connect the right people) regarding the donation of the abandoned railway route occurred in November 2011. There was a note from a Union Pacific official in January 2012 that "it was still being worked on."