LINCOLN — A 4,000-acre lake between Omaha and Lincoln, a water-preserving canal on the South Platte River and a $335-million investment in North and South Omaha all got a final green light Tuesday from the Nebraska Legislature.
They were among a marathon list of nearly 100 bills given final-round approval by state lawmakers as they worked to wrap up the 2022 session.
Only two more days remain in the 60-day session, with the final day, April 20, set aside to consider any vetoes delivered by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The governor will make the final decision on whether the deluge of bills becomes law.
Filibusters slowed debate
Tuesday’s final reading-fest was necessitated after consideration of several bills was postponed as the Legislature slogged through multi-day filibusters on controversial issues, such as abortion, concealed carry of handguns, criminal justice reform and income tax cuts.
Of those four issues, only the income tax proposal got over the finish line, and that took marrying it to a widely popular issue — phasing out taxes on Social Security income — to gain enough support to overcome a filibuster.
In Kearney, the manager of a sand-and-gravel mining operation said it would take “a lot of work and a lot of time” to turn a wide swath of Platte River floodplain southwest of Gretna into a 4,000-acre recreation lake.
‘Plenty of sand’
“They’d have plenty of sand for beaches,” said Randy Bienhoff of Broadfoot’s Sand & Gravel Corp.
The firm mines sand and gravel, using suction dredges, from the deposits along the Platte River near Kearney for use in concrete and road construction. But none of its four sandpit lakes are larger than 500 acres, Bienhoff said.
How long it would take to create a 30-foot-deep lake eight times that size would depend on a lot of factors, he said, including how many dredges and excavators are utilized, and whether there’s a home for all the sand and gravel that’s removed.
Toward that end, Legislative Bill 1023 will allocate $20 million toward planning and permitting for such a lake. Proponents are looking at a location just east of Linoma Beach, on either side of U.S. Highway 2.
State Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, a major proponent of the lake, said the study will determine whether the big lake, through a public-private partnership, is feasible. Once an exact location is picked, he said, then it will be determined whether landowners will willingly sell their property.
An attempt Tuesday by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh to ensure that eminent domain will not be used fell short, but Hilgers has said the goal is to obtain the land without use of eminent domain.
The big lake idea came out of a study of Nebraska’s tourism needs by a special state legislative committee called STARWARS — the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee.
LB 1023, all told, calls for $200 million in spending on tourism enhancements ranging from new boat marinas at Lake McConaughy and Lewis and Clark Lake, and a new lodge at Niobrara State Park.
Canal, economic development, law enforcement, procurement
Other bills given final-round approval Tuesday included:
- LB 1015, which authorizes spending to plan for construction of the Perkins County Canal, a long-abandoned diversion off the South Platte River that would begin in northeast Colorado. Ricketts and others have said the canal is a must if Nebraska is to claim the water it is guaranteed via a century-old compact, and to avoid having that water consumed by the fast-growing Front Range communities of Colorado. Colorado officials, meanwhile, have called the canal a “boondoggle” that will never be built.
- LB 1024, which would devote $335 million in state and federal funds toward economic development and housing projects, mostly in North Omaha and South Omaha. (Note: an earlier version of this story included $128 million in the appropriations bill earmarked for other purposes.) “There’s going to be a lot of scrutiny, a lot of eyes on us … to deliver,” said Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne after the 45-1 passage of the bill, which he co-sponsored with Omaha Sens. Terrell McKinney and Tony Vargas.
- LB 1241, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. It would make it easier for law enforcement officers from other states to transfer to Nebraska agencies to work. It would also provide some hiring and retention bonuses for officers at agencies now struggling to attract new recruits.
- LB 1037, which authorizes a study of the state’s contract procurement process, which has drawn heat in recent years because of botched contracts to provide child welfare and computer services. Legislators said they want to avoid another debacle like the one involving St. Francis Ministries, whose contract was canceled by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services last year after failing to meet contract terms despite an additional infusion of $158 million.
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