26 August 2014

Problems With Omaha CSO! Project at Spring Lake Park

Email details indicated problems associated with the CSO! project at Spring Lake Park including the presence of mud in the spring-associated wetlands north of F Street and disposal of the slurry from washing out cement trucks, where two primary concerns indicated.

According to other emails, project supervisors indicated on Friday that the cement slurry had been removed, and that there was no mud in the wetland in the hollow north of F. Street.

The following are definite problems noted during an evaluation visit on the morning of Saturday, August 23. These conditions were indicated in Saturday email to Janet Bonet, president of the Spring Lake Neighborhood Association, and an environmental inspector for Public Works.

1) Mud washed into west end of hollow from the park entryway there up on the slope

2) Concrete washout disposal on the south side of the hollow at its west end; the length of a plume more than 40 feet in length indicates dumping occurred there multiple times. When will this be removed? Any indication that the concrete washout material has been removed is simply in error, as documented by photographs of this plume on the 23rd.

3) Fresh mud in the west end of the designated wetland area

4) A need to reset stakes and tape to readily mark protected ground, as the tape is not now adequate and some of the stakes are falling over

5) Mud in the wetland at the east end, west of the huge berm at the stormwater drain. Its occurrence is readily obvious by it being associated with marked tape and stakes indicating the wetland.

6) Sewer blocker barriers not adequately kept in primary condition; the one on the south side of F street has a 4-6 inch gap

7) Excessive pile of mud and rock on F Street which is about ready to overflow and then cause potential problems

8) South side of F Street near park entrance, the fence is not adequately maintained

[End of email items.]

9) A hole along the curb on the south side of F Street, near the park entrance.

After having asked the Corp of Engineers to look into the mud in the wetland area, they were also sent a photo of mud in the indicated wetland. This mud is illegal fill and a violation of the Section 404 permit. They have been asked to look into the situation and take appropriate action.

There has been no response to me by Public Works officials, despite having sent several communications via email and phone to Robert Stubbe, department director, James Theiler, CSO program coordinator, and Andy Szatko, city environmental inspector.

This information has also been indicated to the Nebraska Environmental Trust, with the comment that "This is not how a project is done in an environmentally sensitive area such as Spring Lake Park. Any further funding to Omaha Public Works should be withheld until there is an assurance that these problems have been adequately addressed and there is a valid assurance that the[se] sorts of things will not happen again."

The City of Omaha and its hired contractors have really violated the public trust with the CSO! Project at Spring Lake Park, by allowing these conditions to occur and remain in this unique park. Their communication has also been misleading or completely lacking, in some regards.

25 August 2014

Habitat Restoration Sign Added at Elmwood Biogardens

While going past the CSO biogarden site on 23 August, a new sign that was vividly obvious at its north end. The message was basically indicating that the landscape space was a habitat restoration area and mowing would not occur.

Habitat restoration area seems to be some sort of new linguistics in city parlance. It is a grand thing for public officials to realize that there is more to the urban landscape than turf and trees. This bit of signage is indicative of landscape diversity, a feature so essential to any place.

The sign is a useful way to indicate to the public that the grass will not be mown. White markers have already been present to indicate boundaries on mowing.

The new sign reinforces the situation and intent associated with this green space. It may look unkempt but that is the purpose! And, as previously reported, the area is a wonderful place for flora, and some birds also appreciate the habitat features. The new sign even seems to feature a representational hummingbird.

The new sign is an important feature to indicate why the unmown grass is intentional, so the general public can realize that tall grass is a good thing, and not due to some lack of attention.

No information is available in regards to whom put up the sign. It was probably Omaha Parks, but the project is totally associated with Omaha Public Works. The sign was not present two weeks ago,

Whomever put it in place, the new sign further indicates an important feature in Elmwood Park, the blooming biogardens as a result of the Omaha CSO project.

Red-tailed Hawk Thrills Carthage Men

[Red-tailed Hawk feeding on a rabbit carcass]

Urban Red-tailed Hawk, ripping on a rabbit carcass in the Carthage area, June 2008.

Some of the regulars that linger outside the convenience mart in north Carthage apparently had quite a thrill on Friday, August 22. A Red-tailed Hawk had swooped down on something edible and as the men of the hood sat and watched, this bird of prey ate its meal upon the grass near where the guys sit on the north side of the building. Once the bird finished feeding, according to Walt, the bird man at the scene, it then perched on the adjacent fence, and then flew a short ways to another perch on the fence.

During this summer season, Walt has been giving particular attention to the hawks of this neighborhood. He could tell you where they perch, and times when seen soaring above this urban landscape. Even the distinctive call of this raptor is part of the lore.

One of the men took photographs of the hawk. This event is indicative of how this species now lives and survives amidst an urban setting, and is even able to raise young.

Some years ago, a pair of red-tailed Hawks raised two young just east of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It was quite spectacular to see the juvenile hawks among the trees of north Elmwood Park.

It is quite nice that hawks thrive in urban Omaha, and can be appreciated by the community.

22 August 2014

Elmwood Park Project Wins Green Leaf Award

The Elmwood Park diversion project has been given the 2014 Green Leaf Award by the Omaha by Design group. They have a writeup with pictures at their website.

Some additional comments on the value of this project have been provided by Jim Theiler, the CSO Program Coordinator.

"1. The City, or specifically the Public Works and Parks Departments, and the design team for the CSO project, came up with a solution to a problem that benefitted the community in multiple ways:

"* Disruption to the residents in the neighborhood was reduced - by taking the flow into the park, less pipework was required in the residential area.
* Costs savings for the ratepayer – as noted, diverting the flows to the park reduced the amount of big pipes, and saved the City over $500,000.
* A new feature has been added to the park. We have provided the community something above ground that can be seen and enjoyed by the public.

"2. This project benefits the water quality of the receiving stream, notably the Little Papillion Creek. The completion of this project provided a link between two previously completed projects, and by doing this it removed the storm water contribution from a large area that contributed to the overflows at our Saddle Creek CSO outfall. Downstream of this project is the Aksarben Village redevelopment area. Public Works required the construction of new storm and sanitary sewers as a part of that redevelopment. These sewers were designed to accommodate the flows the flows from this area. In addition, a project completed in the early 1990’s in the upper parts of the basin included the construction of storm sewers in an area that experienced a significant amount of sewer backups into basements when it rained. This project tied all of that work together and removed the storm water from the Saddle Creek combined sewer. So when it rains, we have less sewage in the Little Papillion Creek because of this project. That is why we have a CSO Program – we are required by the Clean Water Act to reduce the impacts of our combined sewer overflows on the Missouri River and the Papillion Creek and its tributaries.

3. An additional benefit to water quality. At the upstream end of the Elmwood Diversion is a large structure that is maintained by the Sewer Maintenance Division. This structure captures some sediment and other pollutants that are in the runoff from the neighborhood, although some of that passes through the structure and is filtered out by the native grasses in the park. The primary responsibility of this structure is to capture trash and debris. This used to go to the creek when it rained; it is now captured and hauled away."

14 August 2014

Flora Transforms CSO Space at Elmwood Park

Blooming flora is transforming the stormwater gardens at the east side of Elmwood Park, along 60th Street. Vibrant yellow colors now predominate what had formerly been nothing but an expanse of barren green grass. It is now certainly a place to enjoy the seasonal colors of a nice variety of plants.

During a visit to the site with Dr. David Sutherland, professor emeritus from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he indicated the identity of many species of plants now in bloom, and which add a completely unique feature to the park.

The pinkish Joe-Pye Weed is "just beautiful" and "spectacular" Dr. Sutherland commented. Numerous bees and a very nice Monarch Butterly were appreciating the flowers.

He also noted there was "quite a bit of native species" present. The locale "looks quite good from a distance."

There is blooming Boneset, gayfeather, some Yellow Cone Flower, a limited extent of switchgrass and some Canada Wild Rye. The Swamp Milkweed was doing well, Dr. Sutherland noted. Planted trees including catalpa and hackberry were doing well.

"I love the idea of having Kentucky Coffeetree," Dr. Sutherland said.

There may be other species maturing as the season progresses.

One nice improvement would be the addition of more native grass species along the "upland edge" of the area. This is currently not mown on a regular basis, has some weedy growth and lingering brome. Adding species such as Big Bluestem, more Switchgrass and Indian Grass would only improve the botanical diversity and make the place even more attractive.

These are a few pictures taken at the the scene on August 13th.

A clump of Black-eyed Susan plants.

David Sutherland enjoying the flora at the Elmwood Park CSO! stormwater gardens.

Closeup of Joe-Pye Weed.

A patch of Joe-Pye Weed.

A colorful patch of partridge pea.

Autumn Phlox and its bit of floral color.

This is the storm water drain, near the north end of the project site. Just to the north of here, there is a small temporary pond with standing water.

Robins busy enjoying the water of the pond, with a goldfinch also visiting on the left side.

This is a view looking southward at the stormwater garden area.

As a reminder, this is what the swale looked like in October 2011.

The original plans for this project indicated a greater variety of plant species, but they were not seen.

A request had been made to Omaha Public Works to have someone present during this visit to help explain current conditions, but the city referred to a consultant who agreed to meet. That however, did not work out.

Greenery Added to Saddle Creek Streetscape

Construction of a new Walmart Neighborhood Market along Saddle Creek Road, just south of California Street is nearing completion. This new addition to the Omaha business market is adding an extensive amount of new landscaping to what had been an ugly and empty parking lot, and basically abandoned former store.

The extent of plantings is quite impressive. Many new trees, some fresh grass, shrubbery, flowering plants along with two stormwater retention basins are completely helping to transform this formerly drab locale. The following pictures show the scene on August 13, during lunch hour.

New trees along Saddle Creek, which will certainly help improve the streetscape.

This stormwater basin is along Saddle Creek Road, and there is a second basin south of the building.

The store is expected to open on August 20th.

13 August 2014

Omaha Civic Development Includes Bird Hazards

The development proposal selected by city of Omaha officials for the current Civic Auditorium site denotes several architectural features that are known hazards for many species of migratory birds.

This first image shows the Tetrad Property Group/NuStyle Development Corp. project as it would look from the east. There are obvious hazards as depicted in the architectural renderings.

  1. A 14-story tower of glass
  2. An extensive use of glass exteriors; this will probably be reflective glass that will convey a sense of a larger space
  3. A glass walkway connecting two different structures is obvious on the right side of the tower with a close association with landscaping; this appears it will be an especially dangerous facet of this place as it partially blocks a primary corridor
  4. Landscape trees interspersed along the periphery of the development site and spread throughout the site, in close proximity to glass exterior walls

Both images from documents provided by the City of Omaha

This second image illustrates the extent of hazards present throughout the entire 9-acre development. They include:

  1. An interior courtyard associated with the residential feature on the west side, near 19th street
  2. Numerous corridors within the buildings which have various shapes and configurations that will confuse and birds which get within the setting
  3. Extensive use of tree landscaping that will attract various migratory birds into a space where reflections of the vegetation lead to birds thinking there is another try to fly to, but instead it is just a reflection

The extensive use of glass mixed with landscaping and structure configurations and features match exactly those features which are known to lead to bird-window collisions and the deaths of hundreds of wild birds in downtown Omaha. It is the number of places that will present hazards within this site that is especially troubling about this project.

This project is expected to be completed in 2019.

Plans for this development convey it will have numerous places where bird death and injury could readily occur, and to an extent that will surpass any other building in the downtown area. Each occurrence of this sort will be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The MBTA "specifically addresses foreseeable and predictable threats to federally protected birds," according to expert Dr. Daniel Klem Jr., Muhlenberg College. "Based on four decades of detailed evidence in the form of objective scientific research addressing bird-window collisions, the planned structure and its surroundings qualify as an obvious foreseeable and predictable lethal hazard to birds, resident and migratory."

There are also hundreds of records which indicate that bird-window strikes are prevalent in Omaha.

11 August 2014

Happy Hollow Trail Conditions‏

This email was sent 11 August 2014 to Jean Stothert, mayor of the city of Omaha; copies were sent to an Omaha World-Herald reporter and a reporter for a local television station.
Update: Laura Berry, a KPTM - Fox 42 reporter, did a fine job of gathering the details associated with the issues along this trail. We spent from 10:30 a.m. to noon getting video and discussing the trail on Monday. It was a busy time. Runners, several women with strollers, a bicyclist or two and others were using the trail. There were some "perfect" views caught on video, which conveyed the value of the trail, and its need for attention. One passerby waved to indicate his appreciation. A report was given on their Monday evening newscast. There is also a text summary posted.

This is my latest communication among the many email or calls already made to the mayors office and Omaha Parks department in regards to errant trees along the Happy Hollow trail, on the east side of Memorial Park.

Previously Parks Department personnel addressed two sites, but only trimmed a limited space and did not concern themselves with suitable maintenance along the remainder of the section of trail between Dodge Street and Underwood Avenue.

This morning, while riding my bicycle along the trail, there were at least ten places where it was necessary or nearly so to lower my head to avoid it getting whacked by an errant branch. There are additional spots where growth along the west side of the trail inhibit use of the entire walk. There is one previously trimmed spot where a single barren twig is hanging low and could, for a tall bicycle rider, whack them on the head or maybe something worse.

Most of the problem sites are along the northern two-thirds of this section of the trail, especially from Davenport Street north to Underwood Avenue.

Similar conditions of "low growth" occur along the trail on the west side of Memorial Park, especially near its southern end, by Dodge Street.

Why is it so difficult to get this trail properly maintained and cared for? It's certainly not due to a lack of money or staff time, since workers could trim trees rather than incessantly mow grass.

In the most recent effort to get this taken care of, a parks maintenance supervisor said the trees would be trimmed the next week. After waiting for that week and then another week, nothing has yet to be done. Is it city policy to mislead the public on action regarding issues of citizen concern?

This inadequate response to multiple emails and phone calls is apparently indicative of several things:

1) failure of Omaha Parks to properly maintain a popular and well-used recreational trail
2) inadequate management of Parks staff since they were directed to address a single point of a problem - twice - rather than taking the time to complete similar work along the entire trail; this wastes staff time and monetary resources since workers have to return again and certainly again to finish the entire job
3) instances of misleading statements and lack of follow-through shows a disregard of city staff for citizen input; and parks workers do not need to be rude when spoken to as they are working in the park and an attempt was made to courteously talk to them about so a potentially fallen limb could be removed (which was not, by the way)
4) lack of doing a complete job and failure to follow through shows a disregard to trail users since the trail is not being suitably cared for, since addition to errant limbs, there are unsightly and messy weeds and loose gravel (from last winters snow removal) along the trail near Happy Hollow Boulevard
5) with the focus on wellness within Omaha, including bicycling and walking, why isn't the trail a completely welcoming place; is there no regard for wellness by city officials and the mayor's office?

Trimming work along this entire stretch of the Happy Hollow Trail could be done in a morning with proper tools and two workers. Does the public need to do the work ourselves?

Will parks now ravage the trees when they do the work, out of anger and a rush to deal with this issue?

When will trail maintenance be done?

p.s. When will Bank of the West pay for turf repair along Dodge street after the damage that occurred during the concert they sponsored at Memorial Park on June 27th?

August 14 Addendum

Here are some pictures of the unnecessary conditions along the Happy Hollow Trail, taken 13 August.

Tree branches overhanging the trail.

Untrimmed tree in desperate need of some selective removal of excessive branches.

Weedy growth overtaking the railing and edge of the trail.

Weedy grass and gravel along the edge of the trail, adjacent to Happy Hollow Boulevard.

There has been no response received from the office of Mayor Jean Stothert, nor from Brook Bench, director of Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property department.

What also happened was a maintenance supervisor could not give a definite timeframe on when these issues will be addressed. In fact he was miffed about the news report, said he would not talk to me again and that the parks director should be called and finished with a comment that he was: "tired of you making shit up." and then he hung up.

09 August 2014

Environmental Award Recipient

Received the following email which indicates being a recipient of an environmental award.

"Woodmen of the World - Nebraska Alpha Chapter 16 would like to honor you with the Environmental Award for your work in the past year in the Omaha area, particularly for your activism is preserving the Spring Lake spring/pond in Spring Lake Park. We honor people like you each year as a thank you for your contribution and to bring awareness to others about the work that you do."

Thank you for your recognition...

The awards banquet is being held in Omaha on Thursday, August 21, 2014

04 August 2014

Bird Research in Western Nebraska

In the summer of 1980 while employed with the Nebraska game agency, some time was spent doing raptor work in the Pine Ridge area. The primary responsibility was watching prairie falcon nests, and documenting what they were feeding young. There was also the opportunity to visit the Badlands and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Sioux county.

A fine looking rattlesnake seen along the road at Agate Fossil Beds NM.

View of a hill at Agate Fossil Beds NM.

Some local flora at Agate Fossil Beds NM.

Checking nests of raptors on the buttes of the Pine Ridge. Greg Wingfield on the left, and Ross Lock on the right.

Ferruginous Hawk nesting in Sioux county.

Toadstool Park perspective.