A phone call from a federal office in Washington D.C. prevented Robert Harms of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from attending a private meeting in Thedford on the afternoon of July 17, 2017.
Officials of the Nebraska Public Power District had learned of the meeting via an online posting, and called the Denver and Grand Island office of the federal agency, but were told by an agency head in Nebraska that the question and answer meeting was still a go, according to details provided by a meeting sponsor. Because of communication with an office in Washington, D.C., Harms received notice that he could not attend the meeting. It was conveyed that NPPD thought that it looked like Harms was “going behind their back” and made the FWS look biased.
Harms, from the Nebraska Field Office, had planned to answer questions regarding the R-Project. He was already in Thedford, when he received the notification to not attend, within the hour prior to the start of the meeting.
Prior to the start of the meeting, two NPPD representatives were sitting in a back corner of the meeting room of the venue. They were kindly asked to leave, initially balked as they were told to attend by some lawyer and then erroneously said that Mr. Harms would be present. Once told that it was a private meeting and they did not have reservations, they were escorted to the exit and it was made certain that they left, according to the hostess of the meeting. While the meeting was underway, an attendee that arrived a short time after it had started, saw two people in an NPPD truck driving around, taking pictures of parked vehicles and their license plates, she said.
Ranchland Community Gathering
Despite the lack of a guest that would have been greatly appreciated, the meeting continued with discussions on these key items:
* the Section 404 application made to the Army Corps of Engineers where NPPD has asked for a type of permit which does not address fill being placed in wetlands for the required long-term powerline and power-pole maintenance; they have also requested a permit that was prepared in a manner that would not allow public review, as associated with an individual permit. Information on this application was received three Freedom of Information Act requests. Any decision is still pending.
* change in r-project alignment: the alignment map in the ACE document does not match the alignment indicated in other draft documents that have recently been submitted for public review; there are obvious substantive changes.
* lack of legal agreements for many portions of the proposed powerline route as obvious due to the few easements filed in deed records of two counties which the powerline will traverse, notably Blaine county.
* NPPD and regulatory agencies undertaking an environmental review and other considerations for a project where the final route of the powerline is hypothetical due to the lack of legally-indicated easements.
* how is it that NPPD can identify itself as a “quasi-public” corporation; this company has even indicated that it is a public corporation or a political subdivision, according to documentation received via the FOIA request; an action item indicated at the meeting was to have the Nebraska Attorney General issue a finding that will provide a final answer as to the type of company designation for NPPD. It is impossible for NPPD to be a "political subdivision" as the term is applicable to incorporated villages, towns and cities.
* pending opportunity for further public comment on the draft environmental impact statement and other project documents, comprising about 1500 pages; additional weeks will be provided, based upon details which are expected to be issued this month in the Federal Register.
* matters regarding the legal statutes of the state of Nebraska Open Meetings Act, including how these statutes have recently been violated in association with public meetings on the r-project and wind turbine planning efforts in Cherry county.
* plans for ongoing activities to keep industrial powerlines and unwanted wind turbines from being placed in the sandhills, a place that is special for each person in the meeting, and for future generations, as stated multiple times by speakers. Cattleman Steve Moreland from Merriman put it very succinctly: “Just say no” to unwanted turbines and powerlines.
The private meeting was hosted by Dan and Barb Welch of the Brush Creek Ranch which is primarily west of Brownlee, with their south unit a short distance south of Thedford, along with great involvement from "members" of the advocacy group “Preserve the Sandhills.” More than 65 people attended, including Merriman, Valentine, Wood Lake, the Brownlee area, Brewster, Burwell, and Thomas County residents. There was also a representative or two from local planning boards or county commissioners that attended to hear the commentary.
There were many successful ranchers present, sitting on the chairs in the rooms. Their names could be mentioned individually, but that will not happen here because it was a community meeting where a bunch of special ranch country decided to splice out personal time during a busy summer season to be present at a meeting for common causes.
Lots of cowboys hats were upon the heads of cattlemen. There were boots a bit of distance above the floor spread about. The crowd was completely respectful. They listened. They learned because among those present are a few people which have spent multiple hours dealing with government, wind turbines and an industrial powerline. Most importantly, everyone, yes everyone was given a chance to speak. Everyone listened attentively in each instance.
The meeting was one more example of sand hill ranchland residents gathering to work towards conservation of their home place now as well as for their future generations.
Blaine county is now initiating efforts to develop zoning regulations, according to comments made at the meeting and details mentioned at the meeting of the Cherry county commissioners on July 11th. An initial meeting is pending.