CURTIS, Nebraska -- The Middle Republican Natural Resources District Board of Directors has approved an increase in its portion of the payout to permanently retire acres in the district.
The board voted unanimously to increase the district's share of the payout for permanent retirement of acres from $150 to $250. Members also unanimously approved allowing an additional $500 per acre for anyone permanently retiring acres within the 48 percent and up depletion area. It would bring the total payout on permanent acres, within the 48 percent-and-up depletion area, to $1,700 per acre, with $950 being supplied by a federal program.
The deadline to file for retirement, temporary or permanent, is Friday.
The board defeated a motion to have all surface water project users be exempt from the occupation tax. The motion, made by James Uerling and seconded by Bill Hoyt, was defeated with only two favorable votes, from Steve Cappel and Uerling.
The discussion that followed the motion became heated as Uerling, trying to make his point, began pulling out letters and other materials and reading them verbatim. After reading his items, he said, "I believe the integrated management plan is crippling the surface water users."
Dan Smith, the MRNRD manager, Joseph Anderjaska, and Fornoff attempted to inform Uerling that the 2011 Occupation Tax has already been levied, but that decertification was still an option. "They can ask for decertification on a yearly basis, but no one has asked for [decertification] this year," said Smith. The deadline for decertification for the next MRNRD fiscal year is March 1."
"This is too late, [this motion] needs to be put on next year's budget," said Anderjaska.
The MRNRD runs on a fiscal year that operates from July to July.
Uerling followed up his first motion with a second one to have all surface water without supplemental water to be exempt. That motion was defeated 3-8, with only Cappel, Uerling, and Hoyt voting in favor.
"This is the wrong time frame. We need to bring it up for next year," said Anderjaska after the vote.
The board also looked at new legislation in Nebraska. State Senator Mark Christensen has introduced a new bill, LB655, that would allow for a flat rate or usage rate tax, known as an improvement project area tax.
"We could use an IPA [Improvement Project Area] to tax people who use the most water, but a good option would be a combination [of the IPA and occupation tax]," said Smith after the meeting.
The next item discussed during the meeting was the challenge by irrigators at the Department of Natural Resources, and whether the MRNRD board needed to intervene.
Uerling said, "I don't see why we need to intervene. The MRNRD needs to work with these farmers [filing the challenge] and not against them."
Dan Smith explained that in order for the board to be able to defend itself or even be able to be present during the hearing, a motion to intervene had to be filed with the DNR for this instance. The motion has been filed.
"This affects a lot of people in the district, why wouldn't we want to be there?" asked Anderjaska. "There is more than just one group of people in this district, and our job as a board is to represent everyone."
Uerling moved to de-fund the attorney representing the MRNRD Board of Directors at the intervention and it was seconded by Hoyt. Following more discussion, the motion was ratified to say that the MRNRD will quit funding the current legal representation for the intervention of the DNR hearing. The hearing involves the challenge by area irrigators to the current occupation tax. The motion was approved 7-4, with the dissenting votes being from Brad Randel, Rick Spencer, Anderjaska, and Fornoff.
The board will still be able to intervene for the hearing, but would have to hire a new attorney if they decide to file any motions with the DNR regarding the hearing.
Discussion continued about the occupation tax and IMP. Uerling began reading from additional letters and emails, including a letter he had received from Dave Domina, the attorney who wrote the Lower Republican Natural Resources District proposed IMP, about the meeting between himself and other members of the MRNRD board regarding the redrafting of the IMP.
Buck Haag asked if the MRNRD board would hire an attorney, wondering who could they hire who wasn't already involved. Smith responded saying he could make a list of attorneys for the board.
Uerling moved to have Smith make a list of attorneys who could help with redrafting the IMP. He also asked that Smith put Domina's name on the list as a courtesy despite his current involvement on the LRNRD's IMP.
The motion was approved 9-2, with Anderjaska and Fornoff dissenting.
The board also voted, 7-4, in favor of reconsidering their involvement in the Republican River Basin Coalition, and 8-3 in favor of reconsidering being a consultant with the RRBC.
"If we all want to work together, then this would be one way for us to work together," said Anderjaska speaking about the coalition could help the district stay in compliance with the compact.
Jason Bishop, of Midwest Electric Cooperation in Grant, Nebraska, gave a speech on how irrigators would be affected if the board chose to do an across the board cut to water allocations. He showed that the kilowatt hour cost would increase if usage was curtailed.
"For the start, this would only affect the irrigators kilowatt hour cost, but it could eventually affect the commercial and residential, driving up their rates," said Bishop. He also stated that a similar effect could happen at other electric companies throughout the area.
During the groundwater management discussion, Uerling again brought up his disdain for the IMP, saying, "[The IMP] says it will shutdown irrigators."
Fornoff pointed out that the board would have to vote to shut any irrigator down and then asked, "Who on this board would vote to shut anyone down?"
After more discussion on the same topic, the 30 or so people in attendance began to show their displeasure with the circular discussion. An unidentified person in the crowd said, "[Uerling] is acting like a five-year-old; he doesn't want a lawyer, but he does want one now." Responding to the crowd, Uerling continued to rant until Fornoff asked, "How long does it take to sink in?"
Uerling then addressed the crowd proposing the next meeting be held in McCook.
After the meeting, several members of the crowd said that it didn't matter where the meeting was they would still attend because "this is their livelihood."
Despite the delay caused by the heated discussion, the board eventually progressed to the next agenda item when Uerling moved and Hoyt seconded that the board submit two formal requests to the DNR. The first request would be to reevaluate the distribution of allotments to the districts for all water, surface and ground. The second request would seek clarification on what actions can be taken against Colorado for non-compliance.
"It may be only one or two percent but I want everything the MRNRD is supposed to have," said Uerling. The board voted 11-0 in favor of the reevaluation.
Afterward the vote, several board members pointed out that the filing could mean that the district could lose percentages instead of gaining them.
Other items approved in the meeting were the cost-share funds, financial report, minutes from the January meeting, and plans to help with range workshops.
The next board meeting is March 8, at 3 p.m., with an ad-judicatory hearing beginning at 1:30 p.m. The groundwater committee will meet during the morning prior to the hearing.