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Property owners raise concerns after meeting on R-Project

THEDFORD – Property owners in the Sandhills were grateful for the opportunity to voice their questions concerning the R-Project transmission line proposed by Nebraska Public Power District.

However, the group of nearly 100 people came away from the meeting Wednesday concerned time was running out to get the answers they wanted. Several people also voiced their concern whether being heard would make any difference on whether the project would move forward.

Eliza Hines, Nebraska field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bob Harms, a Fish and Wildlife biologist, listened to the concerns of the property owners.

“We’re here because the public asked for a question and answer session,” Hines said. “Also at the request of the public, NPPD is not here.”

The prevailing questions centered on whether NPPD was telling the whole story about the project.

“It’s very plain to see there’s more to NPPD’s plan than meets the eye,” Melanie K. Coffman, of Halsey, said as she read from a long letter she submitted for the public comment process.

Coffman asked why NPPD was not required to meet certain requirements, especially when it came to endangered species such as the whooping crane.

“First let’s clarify that the Draft Environmental Impact Study is a Fish and Wildlife Service document,” Hines said. “So the application for the permit is NPPD’s.”

Hines said NPPD is applying for a permit that concerns the burying beetle.

“So NPPD comes to us and says ‘we’re going to apply for a permit, this is the species we think we’re going to take,’” Hines said. “They provide some information to us and we can agree or disagree, but it’s an application. We can’t make or require NPPD to do anything in this case.”

Hines and Harms both reiterated that Fish and Wildlife could only make recommendations to NPPD, but that ultimately it was NPPD that decided the route for the transmission line.

“We suggested two alternate routes that would have minimal environmental impact,” Harms said. “NPPD came back and said those routes wouldn’t work because of the cost involved.”

At the end of the meeting, Craig Andersen, communications director for Preserve the Sandhills, asked a question of the audience.

“How many of you are satisfied with the answers you received tonight,” Andersen said. Not a single audience member spoke out. “That response was telling,” Andersen said following the meeting.

He was also concerned about the deadline for public comment Nov. 7.

“Absolutely we need more time,” Andersen said. “We tried to hold this meeting several months ago. NPPD managed to cancel it. We tried to hold it two weeks ago and Fish and Wildlife canceled it.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service canceled an Oct. 18 meeting in Thedford on the proposed R-Project transmission line because the service it had used to advertise the meeting had not publicized it in time. In July, the Fish and Wildlife Service chose not to have a staff biologist attend a privately organized meeting in Thedford after NPPD raised concerns.

Andersen said his group is going to push for another extension to give the public more time to ask and get answers to their questions.