Red Willow County commissioners agreed Monday morning that they'll watch out for whooping cranes and swift foxes if they proceed with road projects funded by federal aid or with American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan (stimulus) money.
Gary Dicenta, the county's roads supervisor, told commissioners that he has received more forms requesting more forms regarding county roads projects that may or may not be funded with stimulus money.
After review by the Nebraska Department of Roads, initial forms sent in by the county in December 2008 were forwarded on for comments by Fish and Wildlife Services and by Threatened and Endangered Species, Dicenta said. The additional forms explain environmental issues and include timelines detailing when projects can and cannot be done during such times as migration and/or nesting seasons. Construction can be halted if an endangered/threatened species is seen near a construction project, Dicenta said.
Red Willow County has two roads that may qualify for stimulus funds -- "McCook North," 2 1/2 miles of asphalt northeast of McCook from East 11th, and "McCook West," 1.3 miles of asphalt from the Perry Elevator south. Commissioners initially included a third project, "Indianola North," seven miles of asphalt from Indianola north.
According to the "National Environmental Policy Act Determination Form for Federal-Aid Projects," these two projects must abide by "Whooping Crane Survey Protocol" and "Swift Fox Conservation Measures" during construction.
Dicenta said that the environmental policy forms apply to all federal-aid projects, and are what a project's "Responsible Charge Person" (project manager) would be responsible for monitoring.
McNutt said commissioners have always been aware that "any federal funding creates a mountain of paperwork." It's still not clear, he said, if Red Willow County will receive stimulus funds to pay for the projects.
Commissioners told Jessica Whalen, community liaison for Congressman Adrian Smith, that they're concerned with the federal government's attempts at health care reform -- "Will it be a benefit or a detriment? Will it be worse in the end?" McNutt asked. He's concerned that no one has had a chance to study this thoroughly.
Whalen admitted, "It's more than 1,000 pages. I don't see how it'll be finished by August -- that's two weeks away?"
McNutt told Whalen it will also become very challenging for small counties to keep up with the complicated paperwork required for documentation and oversight of stimulus funding. He said he fears that Red Willow County will have to hire an outside contractor to perform the duties of the "Responsible Charge Person" required on federal aid and stimulus-funded projects.
Whalen agreed that the "red tape" has become so complicated that some counties feel they could have completed projects in the same amount of time that they've waited for funding.
Hoyt wondered -- as a letter from a senator whose name he couldn't remember implied -- if Nebraska's real estate taxes could not be eliminated or reduced if properties now exempt from taxation could be added to the tax rolls. County clerk Pauletta Gerver wondered about making tax exemption requirements stricter.
Rural McCook resident Dorwyn Felker asked for improved veterans' benefits and health care.
In other action:
* County treasurer Marleen Garcia told commissioners that she and county attorney Paul Wood have reviewed Accents Etc.' s amended repayment agreement with the county's revolving loan fund and revised amortization schedule that moves two late payments to the end of the repayment period in 2013. Commissioners approved the amendment and new repayment schedule.
* Commissioners reported that officials from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will be in McCook today (July 21) to verify the proper documentation of equipment purchased by Red Willow County with Homeland Security funds.
* Commissioners approved application to United States Fire Insurance Company for excess loss insurance coverage, and conducted a budget workshop.