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Compromise recognizes Sandhills’ significance, utility rights

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon won first-round legislative approval Wednesday for an amended bill that states Nebraska’s determination to protect its storied Sandhills while recognizing a consumer-owned electrical utility’s eminent domain authority in Nebraska.

The amended proposal (LB155) was introduced by Brewer to help provide the Sandhills some degree of protection from the potential proliferation of wind energy turbines that residents fear could scar their stunning landscape.

In supporting Brewer’s amended plan, Sen. John McCollister of Omaha described it as “an acceptable arrangement” that provides private wind energy developers with no power of eminent domain while recognizing the eminent domain authority of consumer-oriented utilities operating in Nebraska.

For Brewer, it was a hard-earned victory constructed out of the failure of his bill to receive the 25 votes that it needed to advance in February.

At that time, the bill stumbled on a 23-8 vote and was removed from the legislative agenda.

Subsequently, Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood agreed to make the bill his legislative priority, returning the measure to the agenda.

In its amended version, it was advanced on a 40-1 vote.

“Nebraska has the authority as a sovereign state to protect its land, natural resources and cultural resources for economic and aesthetic purposes for the benefit of its residents and future generations by regulation of energy generation projects,” the amendment states.

The new language extols “the unique terrain and ecology of the Nebraska Sandhills” and its priceless and enduring significance.

Nebraska has “a right to protect its land,” Brewer said.

Several senators voiced support for the compromise language.

“Energy generation is important,” Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington said. “And so is protecting the property rights of landowners.”

“You really should have the authority to control your own property,” Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said. “This is a compromise,” he added, “and a considerable concession.”

“It acknowledges landowners and Nebraska resources,” Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln said.

A number of Sandhills ranchers watched Wednesday’s proceedings from the legislative chamber’s balcony.