Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Lincoln Journal Star. Nov. 7, 2021.

Editorial: Cleanup plan at AltEn shows magnitude of work, disaster

Imagine pesticide-laden wet cake piled onto Tom Osborne Field to nearly the top of Memorial Stadium, which is surrounded by 273 Woods Park-sized swimming pools filled with contaminated wastewater.

That’s the potent visual illustration of the massive amount of pollutants that must be cleaned up at the AltEn biofuel plant south of Mead.

The volume size estimates from the Journal Star’s Chris Dunker are based on a remedial action plan submitted to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy by the AltEn Facility Response Group, a coalition of six seed-industry companies who are taking responsibility for cleaning up the environmental disaster at the ethanol plant that was shut down in February.

The plan, submitted last week, presents the outlines of what the response group intends to do to remove the 250,000 cubic yards of wet cake, 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated sludge at the bottom of lagoon systems and 173 million gallons of wastewater in the lagoons.

It also is what members of the Perivallon Group rightfully call a “stunning indictment” of AltEn’s owners, management and state regulators.

When the seed companies arrived at the plant in February, the report states that they found AltEn in a “dire” state of disrepair, requiring extensive emergency work “to prevent environmental site damage” resulting from facilities that “AltEn had poorly maintained.”

Former Sen. Al Davis, a member of the group formed this year to coordinate research efforts and community response to AltEn, said the report also shows the company never received more than “written reprimand and empty threats of enforcement that were never carried out.”

That is an indictment of state regulators who, by failure to take forceful action against the company, heightened a disaster that could have been mitigated had they been shut down earlier.

The plan, Davis said, “brings into focus the extent of the environmental damage and human-health risks inflicted on Nebraska” by AltEn as it proposes action to be taken to clean up the plant and the pollution.

Specifically, it calls for consolidating three wet cake piles into a single location on the AltEn grounds where the giant heap would be covered -- by what, the plan does not say -- and work done to collect any water that would come into contact with wet cake.

That would serve as storage until the group can determine how to dispose of the wet cake, either by incineration, taking it to a landfill or incorporating it into a cement kiln.

With any of those options, the plan, which will soon be open for public comment and will be the subject of a yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing, should require the disposal to be done in the safest possible manner and take into consideration concerns raised by the Perivallon Group, such as the need for containment underneath the giant pile to prevent leaching of the water in the wet cake to the ground.

Any plan that receives approval should also address off-site clean up of polluted soil and water. Farmers and landowners deserve to know what will be done to restore and protect their property and not see their interests put on the back burner in the clean up effort.

The plan and its ramifications also should be used by the Legislature next year to contribute to a detailed examination of the AltEn disaster and the regulatory actions of NDEE, either by a special committee as proposed by Sen. Carol Blood or the Natural Resources Committee.

The Legislature this year banned the use of pesticide-treated seed at ethanol plants, eliminating the direct cause of the AltEn pollution. The results of the legislative committee study should lead to legislation to strengthen enforcement and address other ethanol production issues to ensure that another such disaster can never again happen in the state.

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Omaha World-Herald. Nov. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Contenders for Nebraska governor must demonstrate vision, leadership

Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, a mere 2.2%. It seems like great news, but the number also shouts that Nebraska has a severe labor shortage that weighs heavily on the state’s economy.

Many companies face major obstacles in delivering service at the needed level. The situation hinders businesses’ growth opportunities. This problem affects a broad range of the state’s economy: We have too few truck drivers and welders, not enough restaurant workers and nurses, shortages of contractors and software writers.

This labor scarcity hinders the growth potential for Nebraska communities. Indeed, for some communities it casts a shadow over their long-term survival.

Nebraska has a gubernatorial election next year. It’s a crucial moment for the state’s future. Campaigning has already begun. Surely the candidates’ TV ads and public statements call for collaborative statewide strategies to lift Nebraska’s economy and in the process address the labor shortage, right? No. Candidates so far are displaying little attention to the workforce issue.

We noted here recently that when 400 business leaders met in Kearney as part of the Blueprint Nebraska economic planning process, they named housing affordability and availability as the No. 1 concern statewide. It’s a huge problem affecting the state’s urban areas and rural communities alike. During 2010-20, some 26 Nebraska counties saw their housing supplies shrink, and only five counties grew their housing supply at a significant rate when measured against population growth.

So, the TV ads and public statements from gubernatorial hopefuls include economic approaches that can help address this concern, correct? No; only silence so far on that concern too.

What some candidates have focused on — intently — is critical race theory. Will Nebraska’s gubernatorial contest head down the same path as Virginia’s? That state held its gubernatorial election Tuesday, and political analysts pointed to critical race theory as a central issue.

Focusing on hot-button culture-war issues revs up voter anger, no question. Maybe such a political strategy can help a candidate win an election. But an aspirant for Nebraska governor would far better serve the state by doing something altogether different: Demonstrate the ability to bring Nebraskans together — urban, rural, from all backgrounds — to address our long-term needs.

Needs such as boosting the state’s ability to attract and retain newcomers. Housing affordability. Broadband access. Property tax solutions. Support for startups and entrepreneurs. Strategies to help small towns. Nurturing a welcoming atmosphere for all.

A particular word sums up the essential quality a candidate needs: leadership.

What defines leadership in regard to a governor? A maturity to look beyond short-term, self-serving political tactics and to focus on a state’s long-term needs. An enthusiasm for promoting consensus and collaboration — not ill will and division — to help the state move forward together. An ability to manage the large-scale apparatus of state government. A determination to build constructive government partnerships with sectors including private industry, the education community and nonprofits.

In Nebraska, a governor can serve up to eight years at a stretch. That’s a tremendous amount of time to affect the state’s future. Candidates have an obligation to set out their vision, up front, for Nebraska. Candidates who fail to do that disrespect the voters.

Gubernatorial contenders in 2022 must demonstrate they qualify for an all-important title: a public-spirited leader.

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North Platte Telegraph. Nov. 7, 2021.

Editorial: Back opportunity for cattle growers and community

In The Telegraph’s inaugural issue, founding Editor James McNulty declared that 15-year-old North Platte would “develop into a populous and prosperous city” and his newspaper “will do all possible to hasten it.”

Two columns away in that first issue of April 14, 1881, was an “opinion of western cattle” — specifically, Nebraska and Wyoming cattle— reprinted from a British journal.

It said “they come to market in very good condition, dressing a large amount of lean meat, and are therefore a desirable beast for the retail trades of our (British) cities.”

This is cattle country. Our cattle growers feed the world. This hasn’t changed in 140 years.

The Telegraph is for the prosperity and well-being of the people of North Platte, Lincoln County and west central Nebraska. That’s been a constant since 1881, too.

Nothing could be more natural than to say “yes” when our cattle producers propose to slaughter and process their animals here in North Platte and sell their beef here and all over the world.

So, yes, The Telegraph wants Sustainable Beef LLC to succeed. We believe our city officials should wisely — but definitively — lend what help they can so it might succeed.

Having lent organizers $1 million in Quality Growth Funds in August to aid their planning, the City Council finally has been officially asked to sell Sustainable Beef a retired sewer lagoon and grant $21.5 million in tax increment financing to prepare it for construction.

Barring serious last-minute surprises, the council should say “yes” Dec. 7 after the last of two public hearings between now and then.

We say this, as McNulty did and despite what some unhappy with this project might think, free of what our founder called “liaisons with any clique, clan or faction.”

We, as a city, county and region, have so very much to gain. As do our local cattle growers.

They are not faraway corporate elites. They are our own people, as our residents are.

For the benefit of all, we repeat the following:

— City Council approval does not — repeat, does not — mean this project is 100% guaranteed to happen.

The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy — on behalf of or in conjunction with federal agencies — must hold hearings and decide whether Sustainable Beef gets a license to slaughter a single head.

— Yes, the state has no such application yet. Why? Because Sustainable Beef hasn’t wrapped up its financing, doesn’t have a signed construction contract and doesn’t even yet own the place where it wants to build.

— Unless beef-plant organizers can accomplish the first two things, the old sewer lagoon won’t change hands. Period. That’s in the redevelopment plan now before the city.

— That plan says the beef plant must go up on the west end of the 80-acre lagoon site, as far away as possible from the three households east near the Platte River forks.

— And it says the 8- to 10-feet-deep lagoon — which flooding in that area has not touched — must be built up so the processing floor is 5 feet higher than nearby Newberry Access. That road hasn’t flooded, either.

What earthly sense would it make for Sustainable Beef to invest $325 million without making its plant as flood-proof as possible?

— Finally, the sale-and-TIF proposal requires Sustainable Beef to use the most up-to-date odor-control equipment. That’s for all of us.

That equipment has been in use for four years at CS Beef Packers in Kuna, Idaho. Our mayor, two councilmen and a Planning Commission member just went there for their own smell tests. One of our reporters went along.

Remember that our winds come from the northwest much of the year. North Platte’s easternmost homes, both current and planned, are about a mile northwest of the lagoon.

In Kuna, our reporter and city officials smelled little at about that distance upwind.

Our would-be plant might smell now and then. But Nebraskans long have had a phrase for agricultural odors: “the smell of money.”

If Sustainable Beef never builds, the city will still own an empty sewer lagoon and our cattle-growing neighbors will have to repay the QGF planning loans.

Do we think enough of our tireless Nebraska ranchers, farmer-feeders and feedlot owners to bet on their success and what it can bring our city, county and region?

We do. So should you.

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