I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As Christmas quickly approaches and the year comes to an end, there is still plenty to get done before the session starts. Over this past week I have traveled across the state to McCook, Central City and Lincoln attending LR 176 hearings held by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. LR 176 is a study of rural broadband.
The committee is looking at ways to speed the process of expanding high speed internet to all rural customers. It is reminiscent of the time when we were working to connect all rural residents to electricity. It is important to the entire State that everyone have access to high speed internet. All citizens need this access for prosperity and equal opportunity. The bigger cities have already had their broadband built to their boundaries, but the rural areas still need this infrastructure. The “last mile” is the hardest and will take a little extra funding. Part of the discussion is having telecom providers and local electric providers enter into partnerships allowing the hanging of fiber from existing poles instead of burying the fiber underground. This is just another idea of how to go about getting the job done faster. Some telecom companies have been able to build out to one hundred percent of their customers, while others are not quite there yet.
Serving the rural areas of Nebraska is becoming more important than ever. With the changing landscape of agriculture, the need for data capacity is growing exponentially. Modern agriculture is using massive amounts of data in the production decision process. Broadband is more than just streaming videos and surfing the net, it is vitally important to all our rural industries.
Expanding high speed internet will have a positive impact on Nebraska’s economy. Golight, a company that produces high powered lighting used by first responders, the military, utilities vehicles, and farmers and ranchers, is headquartered in Culbertson, Nebraska. Golight is a growing company, and without the help of high speed internet the company would not be marketing its products to customers worldwide. A good analogy of high speed internet is, it is just like the road system. Cities and towns have extensive road systems through and around their limits, but they still need pathways and abilities to connect with other cities and towns. While a road traveling through rural areas may only seem to benefit local people, our entire population still needs to have the ability to travel the state. If the rural areas have high speed internet, the entire state benefits just as we do with our roads.
I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is email@example.com and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other capitol events.
As some of you may have seen and heard there is a small group that has organized from Lincoln County called the Landowners for a Common Purpose. This group is trying to force the separation of groundwater rights from surface or land rights on the NCORPE property. I believe that is a very bad idea. Apparently, this group is willing to go to court to prove it can be done. Initially, the complaint has always been that no property taxes are being collected on the NCORPE property, which is not true. NCORPE is paying property taxes, but NCORPE is also protesting those taxes becaus
e state law dictates one taxing entity cannot pay taxes to another taxing entity. Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) has ruled in favor of NCORPE, and Lincoln and Dundy County are appealing that ruling.
I have a bill drafted and it is currently being circulated to interested parties that would allow NCORPE to make in-lieu-of property taxes to Lincoln County. This bills language is similar to language currently in place to allow the Game and Parks Commission to pay in-lieu-of property taxes on property they own to the counties where such property is located. The potential of separating the groundwater rights from the surface rights would have far reaching and long lasting impacts on the State of Nebraska and especially on anyone who irrigates within the state.
One point I need to make that most people may not be aware of, a landowner does not own the water under their land, the State of Nebraska owns the water. If you have an irrigation well you must also have a permit from the State of Nebraska or a natural resource district that says you can pump water from that irrigation well. I am hopeful my legislation will satisfy the Landowners for a Common Purpose by allowing NCORPE to begin paying in-lieu-of property taxes. If it does not, the speculation brought forth by some that this may be a land grab by a few large landowners in Lincoln County may have some validity. Opinions vary slightly, but all of the lawyers, bankers, real estate ag
ents, and government officials I have visited with about this issue are in agreement. It would not be good for the State of Nebraska nor its citizens should the land be separated from the water.
My bill also includes the Rock Creek Project in Dundy County. If the bill passes the Upper Republican NRD will be allowed to pay in-lieu-of taxes to Dundy County for the lost property tax revenue, as well. This augmentation project has been in operation a few years longer than NCORPE. It was created for the same purpose, to insure tens of thousands of irrigated acres in southwest Nebraska will continue making our region one of the most productive and reliable agricultural areas in the state of Nebraska.
A couple of weeks ago, the members of the Natural Resources Committee were invited on a tour through central and southwest Nebraska. No senator on the committee lives west of Grand Island, except for me. I thought it would be beneficial for committee members to see firsthand some of the infrastructure, and visit with some of the people, affected by the bills we hear in the Natural Resources Committee.
We started the tour in Grand Island at the Upper Prairie-Silver-Moores Creek Flood Control Project, which is being constructed by the Central Platte NRD. An important project that will take more than 1500 homes in Grand Island out of the FEMA floodplain. Our next stop was the NCORPE water augmentation project south of North Platte. The project, which ensures Nebraska remains in compliance with the Republican River Compact, will remain on the committee’s radar as two lawsuits on the property’s tax status will be in front of the state’s Court of Appeals within the next year.
Our visit to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis was very educational for the committee. We learned about the programs available to students from Dean Ron Rosati and enjoyed viewing the impressive facilities. The quality and diversity of education, and the opportunity to easily transition to a four-year college, makes this institution vital to keeping young Nebraskans in the state.
The second day of our tour focused on oil wells and public power. Former Senator Tom Baker showed the group
an oil well and an injection well around the area of Trenton, and discussed the practices that are used to protect our drinking water. We visited Southwest Public Power District in Palisade, where Manager Curtis Kayton and his staff showed the committee how it uses technology to provide service more efficiently. The tour concluded with a visit to Gerald Gentlemen Station, Nebraska’s largest electric generating facility, which is owned by NPPD. It’s amazing the expertise and coordination that is required to ensure reliable power is available for us.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank Jim Bendfeldt and Lyndon Vogt, with the Central Pla
tte NRD, Kristen Gottschalk with Nebraska Rural Electric Association, Shirley Higgins with NPPD, and Curtis Kayton with Southwest Public Power District, and several other NRD, NPPD, NCTA, and rural electric folks for putting the tour together. We were impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the employees we met at each tour stop. Thank you for your work and for taking the time to educate us about what you do.
I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.