10 February 2017

Dozens of Geese Die at NPPD Powerline

On February 2, 2017 it became known that dozens of Snow Geese had collided with a 345 KV Nebraska Public Power District powerline near Edgar, southern Nebraska. Details were provided by Robert Harms, a biologist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that graciously provided details of this occurrence of wildbirds hitting a significant, industrial powerline. His comments became available via email, and he indicated that his comments could be presented to the public.

"The NPPD notified us by telephone that about 30 snow geese had collided with the 345 kV power line near Edgar, Nebraska on February 2, 2017. Apparently, the collisions occurred on February 1, 2017—the day before. I met with a NPPD biologist to inspect the site on the afternoon of February 2, 2017. The purpose of the site inspection was to determine how and why the collisions occurred and recommend modifications to the existing line (i.e., installation of bird flight diverters (BFDs)) to prevent the same situation from occurring in the future.

"A total of 95 dead snow geese and a few Ross’s geese were found under the power line in an overgrazed pasture. This likely underestimates the true number of birds that collided with NPPD’s power line. We have unconfirmed reports of injured birds that could no longer fly in the area but we did not find any during the site inspection. It’s likely that there were birds that collided with the line and could still fly, but died elsewhere. The birds laid dead under the line overnight—it’s possible that carcasses were carried off by coyotes and consumed elsewhere. All told — probably well over 100 birds died at this site due to collision with NPPD’s 345kV power line.

"An initial reaction during the site inspection was that the snow and Ross’s geese had been shot at as they fed in the cornfield, flushed, and then collided with the line. There were no signs of birds being shot—some dead birds had missing wings and heads and many had serrated stomach tissue and exposed entrails—this is not an indication of gunshots, but of collision. Additionally, I spoke with the landowner who indicated that she had heard no gunshots. I spent some time at the site to determine the circumstances that led to this large collision. The Edgar city sewage lagoon is located approximately 0.25-mile west and cornfield is located to the north. The wind was out of the northeast on February 1. In my mind, the most likely explanation is that a large flock of snow and Ross’s geese were roosting overnight on the sewage lagoon and departed early in the morning well before daylight as snow and Ross’s geese often do. As they departed, they flew into the wind (northeast) and collided with NPPD’s 345kV power line which is located about 0.25-mile east of the lagoons. The collisions likely occurred in low light conditions.

"I would characterize the area as intensive row crop irrigated agriculture with a few rainwater basin wetlands present; these are located west and north of Edgar. This general area of Nebraska experienced severe drought last fall—few rainwater basins held water then. Most of the basins are still dry—those with water have it because of an ice storm, then above normal temperatures in the area which resulted in melting and runoff with little infiltration over frozen ground about 3 weeks ago. All in all, the general area where the collision site is not the best habitat for migratory birds—it is likely that the sewage lagoon was only being used by the snow geese because it represents what little water is available at this time of year in this area given the drought situation.

"After discussion at the site, NPPD tentatively agreed to install bird flight diverters (BFD) on an approximately 1-mile long segment of the existing 345 kV line to minimize the risk of avian collisions in the future. This includes the segment of the power line that crosses immediately north of the sewage lagoon area. NPPD also agreed to install BFDs on a privately-owned rainwater basin wetland located approximately two miles west of Edgar."

Edgar is located in Clay county, Nebraska. The sewage lagoon is northeast of the town.

the industrial powerline where these geese died, is similar in features for the proposed powerline known was the R-Project, which is being proposed by NPPD across a vast swath of the sandhills.

09 February 2017

Meeting Postponement Inhibits Civic Involvement in Cherry County

An error in a published, public legal notice for a conditional use permit was apparently a basis for the postponement of the February 7th meeting of the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board at Valentine.

At the January 31st meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners, it was indicated by public comment that the legal description given in the public notice in the newspaper of record – and as also sent to adjacent landowners – was erroneous. It stated: “section 20, T34N R29S” instead of the accurate T34N R29W. There was agreement that there is no such place, based upon accepted means of identifying land parcels.

After some discussion, the commissioners agreed – based up people in attendance as well as a prominent attorney – that the procedure to follow would be to open the scheduled public hearing at the zoning meeting, and then close the hearing for the CUP 01-17 application, and for it to be considered at a later meeting, following the publication of a corrected legal description via a public notice. The county attorney had a similar point of view.

The result. The meeting was postponed for some unapparent reason.

What a mistake this was as there were other items on the meeting agenda that had been properly placed by personal request. There were two items indicated under old business as item a: 1) deicing turbine blades, and 2) Wetlands (zoning and general plan). Dean Smith was also an invited guest that was going to speak on land values in regards to wind turbines. An ongoing item that would have been dealt with was to “review progress on wind study & commissioner’s request.”

The people that had properly requested that these items were on the agenda, were stifled from speaking in a timely manner and being involved in a civic manner for items which should have been addressed at the 7th meeting. Since when do items of concern to county residents be cancelled, seemingly because of a CUP request – which is not entirely compliant - by a corporate interest. The public hearing for this CUP was just one item on the agenda.

A request will be made for the “record” of how and why the meeting was postponed. For example, what discussions occurred, and by whom, prior to the decision for the postponement? This was a decision made by people representing Cherry county and is therefore public information.
This is another example – as well as several others previously – how mistakes are mistakes are being made that cause unnecessary travel, result in inaction, cause frustration, as well as other issues by county residents that expend their personal time and money to be involved with county government action or inaction.

It is obvious that the procedure to reschedule was deficient.

There had been a change in the meeting date placed on the front door of the Cherry county administrative center, apparently on February 3rd, according to a county official.
This is wholly inadequate. How many people drove in from homes many miles distant to check the front door about a significant change in a previously scheduled public meeting? There had been nothing heard on the radio. There was nothing in the local newspaper, but to learn from that source would require a subscription or purchase.

The six people present for the meeting had driven a distance of either 38 miles, 45 miles, 65 miles and 25 miles, and even walked two miles in cold weather to be at the meeting room at Valentine.
There is an indication that a phone call was made to one of the people, but they had been traveling, so the phone message received was known too late to change travel plans that included hurried travel of hundreds of miles.  Should an email be sent to another person with indicated items on the agenda, as they cannot afford a phone? During a discussion at the Valentine sale barn, a county landowner said they had heard that the days’ meeting was cancelled. This ranch wife then called the wife of a member of the zoning board to confirm that this was the case.

The meeting should have occurred as scheduled so that other important items on the agenda would have been dealt with!

There was enough concern/frustration about this situation that a small contingent of concerned citizens walked southward along Main Street to meet with Eric Scott, county attorney. He graciously took time to listen and respond to key topics of interest. All of the seats within the office of attorney Scott were appropriately occupied during the evening hour.

There are also other items of concern in regards to the planning meeting agenda. As given on the official Cherry county website, the date of the meeting was indicated as February 6th, though the meeting was to occur on the 7th, the previously defined Tuesday afternoon meeting day. Also, there was no “public comment” period agenda item as had been indicated at the January 3rd meeting would henceforth be a regular agenda item.

Ironic is that a newly issued public notice for a public hearing on CUP 01-17 – as issued in the February 8th newspaper of record, the legal description given is still not completely accurate; “Section 20, T34N R29” does not meet any required designation as required for any land parcel, and would be found to be inadequate in regards to any land transaction. The CUP application may be accurate, but the public notice is not. As least the revised notice had been revised to remove inconsistencies about the ability for members of the public to speak, as indicated at the most recent county commissioner meeting.

07 February 2017

Ranchland Advocates Attend Cherry County Soup Supper

Sand Hill residents concerned about the potential for wind turbines and the R-project powerline gathered the evening of February 4th at the Hamilton Ranch in southeast Cherry county.

In addition to local residents, people drove the roads from nearby Brownlee, from up at Valentine and Wood Lake, as well as from Burwell. All appreciated the hospitality of Kort Hamilton, and his parents John and Cindy Hamilton, who provided a warm equipment shed for the meeting sponsored by Preserve the Sandhills.

After ranch country conversation, a supper featured wonderful, home-made soups that were hearty eating on a cool winter evening. There were also fine tasting desserts. Each cook needs to be congratulated on their culinary skills used to prepare food that was enjoyed and savored.

Several items of current interest were then discussed.

Amy Ballagh, a distinct leader of Save the Sandhills and from the north Burwell ranch country, discussed the R-Project transmission line. A key concern is the route which this huge industrial powerline will follow, and the easement process being done by NPPD. She indicated hundreds of pages of documentation associated with an environmental assessment of this project. There are alternate routes southward of the corridor currently selected by Nebraska Public Power District which could avoid many of the problems associated with the current route, including potential impacts on the endangered Whooping Crane, expected impacts on the American Burying Beetle and damage to essential ranchland resources.

Details of this project readily convey that it would be essential in providing a means to distribute power generated by local turbine farm facilities. This would include a proposed turbine farm near the Hamilton ranch where there are known details for a 147 turbine facility, since a means of distribution would be available. NPPD prefers to slight this reality despite multiple instances of records that indicate the R-Project would provide a means where locally generated power could be sent outside Nebraska.

Another primary topic of the evening were the legislative bills being considered by the Nebraska legislator in Lincoln, as presented by Twyla Witt, with ancillary comments.

These bills include LB 504, introduced by District 43 representative Tom Brewer. This is the "Save the Sandhills" bill which would establish a two-year moratorium on any development of industrial wind energy projects within the region, and establish a task force to study the issue.

People were urged to get involved in the legislative process to work to get this bill passed, by either attending the public hearing on March 1st in Lincoln, or to communicate their view via phone call, letter or email to members of the Natural Resources committee.

A couple of particulars of this bill were expressed: 1) on Line 26, it says the region had "three hundred species of birds." Based upon 35 years of personal effort to know and understand bird occurrence in the sandhills region, and as based upon a database of more than 150,000 records starting in 1886, the tally is actually more than 400 species, which is a significant difference. There are also other prior records that occurred as far back as 1857; 2) on line 28 there is a typographic error: it is species not "specifies." It is up to the legislators to deal with this mistake in spelling, perhaps through an amendment; and 3) there are other particulars that can be variably considered.

There is also LB 392 which is a “wind friendly counties act” where counties could receive recognition through the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The local consensus was that counties should have the option to be "wind unfriendly" and keep turbines out. Another bill to oppose was LB87, as indicated by a member of the group with experience in "net metering" in regards to energy development facilities.

Another item of concern mentioned, based upon a conversation with a Nebraska state trooper in the Neligh area, was shared at the soup supper.
There was an obvious influx of construction workers being paid union wages to construct local turbine facilities that apparently resulted in unwanted and illegal activities. There were several obvious results which were not welcomed in the community.

An appreciated expert on wind turbine development, formerly of Minnesota, Kevin Willert of the Duck-Bar Ranch at Kennedy shared some of his experiences from the northland. "The building process is very ugly," he said, in regards to the massive Buffalo Ridge facility where 1100 wind turbines have been built near his former home, and county. More are planned. "Developers don't care what they destroy," he said. Also shared were his experiences with various noises associated with operational wind turbines based upon their mechanics, leaking oil and other miscellany.

It was obvious that Cherry county residents - as well as so many living in other sandhill counties - need to continue to be active and involved in efforts and decisions made by county planning and zoning boards (since it is readily obvious that notably in Cherry county, decisions have been made that ignore regulatory requirements) and the county commissioners. There have been votes to approve conditional use permits which do not comply with zoning regulations.

A special announcement was made by Judy Rath, who has prepared a new website for the sponsor group: it is preservethesandhills.org. This intent of this site is to share the unique life and times of sandhills residents, and how wind turbine developments will affect the lifestyle.

This Saturday event was a wonderful community gathering, and a special opportunity to realize how special the sandhills are, how people care about a unique land, and hours to realize a true sense of community and camaraderie. It was a time to relax, listen to ranch country conversation, enjoy a supper of unsurpassed quality and then hear about efforts to protect the hills. It was a fine time to gather, just before the onset of calving season.

Birds in the Valentine Area During January, 2017

The winter season at Valentine can be quite brutal. This year, there were days when there were frigid temperatures below zero. Other days were those where the high temperature in the state occurred at the heart city. Then there was a record-setting snow fall in the latter days of the month.

Birds react to these environmental conditions. On warm days there were robins and perhaps some Eastern Bluebird to notice. Otherwise the species during the month were mostly year-round residents. Especially enjoyed was the once and again voice of the diminutive Red-breasted Nuthatch. The lovely sound of the White-breasted Nuthatch can be heard nearly each day amidst the nature on the north side of the Valentine Mill Pond.

A short distance east of the town setting, a group of Trumpeter Swan found that a space just north of the Borman Bridge was a suitable place to linger, and therefore seen. There are a few American Crow which have been spending the winter, with three or four seen one day or another as they flew about looking for an edible morsel.

One significant difference was the occurrence of the Belted Kingfisher. There were several records in January 2016, but only one known occurrence in 2017. Habitat conditions were similar during both of these months, with open water predominant and no difference in arboreal places that could be used as places to watch for suitable prey in the flowing waters.

Canada Goose occur in this area throughout the area, with many present on the Niobrara River as can be seen from the Highway 20 bridges. The gesse, as well as the smaller-sized Cackling Goose can, on occasion, be seen flying northward amidst larger-sized geese. There have been no authoritative counts of the numbers of geese present on the river during winter. Mallard could be seen on Minnechaduza Creek (which should actually be Minichaduza) eastward of the dam at the mill pond. Notable this year, were two Ring-necked Duck in the early days of the month floating on the creek waters. They were a new addition to the list of local avifauna. As the days of the month were waning, the vivid voice of the Great Horned Owl could be heard by those with an ear attuned to sound of the night. Another addition to the local bird list was a Great Grey Shrike, seen sitting atop a tree in the northeast extent of the Valentine Mill Pond. To see this bird again on the day of the Polar Bear Festival at Meadville was simply another sighting to particularly enjoy!

There is then the Townsend's Solitaire, a winter presence. One was seen atop a tree in Valentine. One was also seen elsewhere in habitat along the River Road westward of Meadville, during that polar bear festival Saturday.

With snow prevalent on the ground, places where there was no snow cover, attracted Horned Larks, which are ground foragers. Bunches of these birds were seen along a street within Valentine, following a multi-inch snowfall, and then once again along the Cowboy Trail with town. They needed ground without snow to forage. While going to the Niobrara River Polar Bear Festival there were many hundreds along the shoulder of Highway 12 where the snow had been plowed away from the highway by the roads department. The birds dealt with disturbances - once and again - due to traffic, as they strived to find their essentials to survive.

The tally for this month was 34 particular species. This compares to 30 species in 2016 when there are records available for seven days, with no information available for outlier places such as the Niobrara River adjacent to Borman Bridge WMA or along the highway east of town.

Common Name 6 9 13 14 15 16 19 26 28 30
Canada Goose - - - - - - - - - - 850 725 - - - - - -
Cackling Goose - - - - - - - - - - 2 2 - - - - - -
Trumpeter Swan - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 - -
Mallard 2 2 5 2 - - 2 3 5 - - 2
Ring-necked Duck 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sharp-shinned Hawk - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Bald Eagle 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Rock Dove - - 45 - - - - 30 - - 20 - - - - - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 2 19 7 9 - - - - 18 2 6 12
Great Horned Owl - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1
Belted Kingfisher - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - 1 - - 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 1 1 1 - - - - 3 - - - - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - - 2 2 - - - - - - 2 2 1 - -
Northern Flicker - - 1 1 1 - - - - 1 - - - - 2
Great Grey Shrike - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay 2 - - 1 1 - - - - 2 - - - - 1
American Crow 3 - - 1 2 - - 4 2 2 2 - -
Black-capped Chickadee 1 2 3 2 - - - - 6 5 4 2
Horned Lark - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - 18 90 - -
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 - - 1 - - - - 1 1 - - - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - - - - - - - 4 1 2 - - - - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 3 4 5 3 - - - - 4 4 - - 9
Common Starling - - - - - - 4 - - - - 11 5 - - 8
Eastern Bluebird - - - - - - 9 - - - - 4 - - - - - -
Townsend's Solitaire - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - -
American Robin - - 40 - - 1 55 225 80 4 35 17
House Sparrow 52 15 38 16 50 - - 39 48 - - 59
House Finch 3 2 - - 4 - - - - 4 3 - - 1
American Goldfinch 1 34 29 5 - - - - 3 3 2 7
Song Sparrow - - - - - - - - 1 1 1 - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco 26 - - 2 6 - - - - - - 4 - - 3
Northern Cardinal - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - - - 2

By the end of the month as temperatures somewhat moderated, there was some unfrozen water in the channel area of the Valentine Mill Pond, so Canada Goose once again began to congregate. The abbreviated song of the Northern Cardinal could perhaps be heard. The many Eurasian Collared Dove were busy in their seasonal antics in places where they will raise a brood this year.

Every day was a good day this month to enjoy the wildbirds. Hither and yon they are prevalent as either heard or seen. Notes were kept on one day or another, while the bird life is a daily event to enjoy at any time.

03 February 2017

Bald Eagle Numbers Soar in Nebraska

The number of Bald Eagle nesting within Nebraska had a dramatic increase in 2016. There were 158 active nests recorded, compared to 118 in 2015, according to a report recently issued by the nongame wildlife program of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Records on nesting activity and locales have been kept for at least a decade, with agency surveys and a compilation of contributed information methodology being used by agency staff since 2012.

In north-central Nebraska, these eagles nested in Brown county (two sites), Keya Paha county (two sites), Cherry county (at ten localities), as well as Grant and Hooker counties which each had one known nest. There were no known nests in Thomas or Sheridan counties.

In addition to surveys by the state agency, information was also provided by federal agency staff, non-governmental groups and public power districts. Numerous individuals also contributed useful information. Carolyn Semin contributed details on a new nest in the south Kilgore vicinity. Information for Cherry county was also provided by staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service. Special thanks was given to "Dr. Joseph Gubanyi and his biology students for monitoring several nests in eastern Nebraska and to a Niobrara High School science class for monitoring nests in northeast Nebraska," the report said.

An active nest can be used for many years, with more sticks piled on annually, so nests often become quite large and thus very obvious to observers.

This raptor starts nesting in late winter, so pairs are currently establishing their home territory and repairing or preparing their nest. It takes many weeks to incubate a clutch of eggs and then nourish the young to an age when they fledge and fly away from their nest haven.

Nests in Cherry county notably occur along the Niobrara River and in the lake country of the eastern and central portion of the county. There may be nests near lakes in the southwest portion of the county, but are likely not realized due to the lack of bird-watching activity in the area. An especially nice, repeatedly successful nest is in the Niobrara valley, atop a fine tree just a short distance south of the heart city. In the interior sandhills, nests occur by lakes that have a large tree that can support the mass of sticks of a nest. In the eastern extent of the region, the species occurs along many of the primary rivers.

The first modern-era nest of this eagle apparently occurred in 1991 in eastern Nebraska, according to the report. The number of known nests has continued to increase each subsequent year. The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was removed from the federal list of threatened or endangered species in 2007, and from a corresponding Nebraska list in 2008.

02 February 2017

Hearing on Wireless Communications Tower to be Delayed

A request for the placement of a wireless tower near Crookston, and within Cherry county, will have to be reconsidered due to details associated with the notice for a public hearing for a conditional use permit for the applicant.

Details given during public testimony at the January 31st meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners indicated there were errors in the “legal” notice issued in the newspaper of record and as also sent, as required by county regulations, to landowners adjacent to the proposed tower site. The items of concern were conveyed to the commissioners so that they were aware of them.

The testimony given by a county resident – as paraphrased – concerned particular items henceforth mentioned:

The legal description was not valid. The item within notice indicated the cellular tower location as “Section 20, T34N, R29S, RE: Keenan parcel.”

It was readily obvious that there is no such place upon any legal map. These is no known location within Cherry county with a “R29S” designation. This was a typographical error, since it should have said R29W.

This textual error made the legal notice null and void.

Also, a perspective continues about the words as given in the “legal” public notice issued by the newspaper of record. This is what was printed on page 9 of the January 18, 2017 issue of the Valentine Midland News.

“All interested parties are invited to attend this Public Hearing at which time you will an opportunity to be heard regarding the CUP 01-17 Conditional Use. Written testimony will also be accepted at any time up to and including the Public Hearing. Appearance to speak requires 10 day written notice prior to meeting.”

Problems abound in this singular paragraph, based upon grammar and fact.

Start with: “you will an opportunity to be heard”. There is obviously a word missing, such as have. To get into particulars, these words “CUP 01-17 Conditional Use” perhaps should have included the appended word permit. Most important the first couple of sentences are diametrically opposed to the last sentence.

The initial words indicate that public testimony can be expressed at any time during the public hearing. The last sentence of the paragraph, however, indicates that there is a limitation.

Some of my time had been spent at the office of this official, when the newspaper notice was being prepared for a mailing to landowners adjacent to the property where the proposed tower would be constructed. It was made certain that the photocopy of the newspaper item was what was being sent via the U.S. postal service.

Notable for this meeting on January 31, was its start. Commissioner Tanya Storer started her tenure with a “new tradition” … as each commissioner and others present stood and spoke the pledge of allegiance to a simple U.S.A. flag placed in the middle of the table where the three commissioners sit. Then there was the meeting, based upon an agenda!

Before noon, pertinent items of this public notice were indicated to the three County Commissioner members meeting at their end of January meeting, at Valentine so they would know about the situation.

Two of the three commissioners then spoke, after each of them having taken a look at a worn copy of the newspaper issue with the public notice.

There was more than one word or another in regards that the legal land description was wrong. One commissioner indicated that he could never fly a plane to such a place. Then, the county clerk said that there was no “R29S” in Cherry county.

This little bit of detail was enough to indicate that there would be no public hearing for this CUP application.

There were also other, further words to consider about the necessity for a ten day written notice to speak prior to the meeting.

The verbiage was not acceptable, as discussed during the commissioner meeting.

“Mandatory is not the case … cannot stop someone from speaking,” is what commissioner Tanya Storer said. She then also expressed the public hearing for CUP 01-17 needed to be “opened” and then postponed, a protocol which has occurred for other public meetings during the latter months of 2016.

A change in wording was discussed, that being “requires” to “recommended.”

The topic of discussion was how to adhere to the Open Meetings Act.

The county commissioners realized the situation and acted appropriately to what was wrongly indicated, once again, by the zoning administrator.

These were the results obvious during another day of civic involvement.

During the noon-time hiatus of the official meeting as all three members walked a short distance to enjoy lunch at the nearby Coachlight restaurant, some few steps to the south along Main Street. They all sat together.

There will need to be further involvement in this process. During a review of the application for a cellular tower by Verizon at Crookston, it is obvious that they have not complied – as required - with some clauses in the Cherry county zoning regulations.

This CUP request will eventually be approved, but the county and the applicant will have to adhere to the known procedures and zoning requirements.