MRNRD cuts ties with D.C. and RRBC

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

JUSTIN BASS

McCook Daily Gazette

CURTIS, Nebraska -- The Middle Republican Natural Resources District board of directors voted to remove funding for a Washington, D.C. based consultant and the coordinator for the Republican River Basin Coalition. The move came during the MRNRD 2011-12 fiscal year budget draft discussions, at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening in Curtis, Nebraska.

During budget discussions, Director James Uerling moved to remove all $12,000 of funding to a consultant, which represented the MRNRDs interests in Washington, D.C. The consultant, Kris Polly, is a Wauneta, Nebraska native. His motion was seconded by Director Bill Hoyt, and the board passed the motion with a 8-3 vote. The three dissenting votes were Directors Brad Randel, Joseph Anderjaska and Kevin Fornoff.

Anderjaska offered support to Polly, saying, "He is a huge help in D.C."

MRNRD Manager Dan Smith added, "He hand delivered letters to delegations to get the funds for dam site 32a, [located on the Hayes-Hitchcock County line]."

Director Buck Haag stated, "It's asinine to hire someone to talk between government agencies."

When asked if this would leave the district without any representation in Washington, D.C. to contact or speak with U.S. Senators, Representatives, or the U.S. Government, the response given by Haag was, "We are still constituents."

Director John Palic moved to eliminate all of the $13,000 of funding from the 2011-12 fiscal year budget to the RRBC coordinator and raise the grant funds up to $5,000. This motion, seconded by Director Steve Cappel, would remove the MRNRD from any vote in the RRBC beginning with the new 2011-12 MRNRD fiscal calendar. The motion was passed with a 7-4 vote. The four dissenting votes were Directors Rick Spencer, Anderjaska, Fornoff and Randel. Discussion was extensive as directors argued over the worth of continuing participation in the coalition.

Anderjaska offered two points of argument to stay in the coalition, "We would be better off staying in the RRBC especially if the other two NRDs [the Lower Republican and Tri-Basin] would join; then if we drop out, we are the only ones out.

"If we want to solve these problems, we need to work together. What are we showing to the other NRDs by stepping out?"

Director Blaine Stinson said, "I don't see how two [NRDs, the Upper Republican and the Middle Republican] make a group."

To which Kevin Fornoff offered that the Tri-Basin NRD would join the coalition, "as long as the MRNRD stayed in it."

There was some disagreement amongst the board as to where the Tri-Basin NRD stood on joining the coalition, but the board continued the motion and voted.

During the open forum, former board chairman Josh Friesen asked, in response to the board's decision to remove funds from the Washington, D.C. based consultant and the RRBC, "If the current board was so concerned with what the Bureau of Reclamation was doing then why did it fire its representative, and why was the board jockeying around - if they just wanted to give the Upper the shaft, then why don't they just make a motion for that?"

Haag responded to Friesen saying, "We are just looking out for ourselves first; our best interests first."

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The board voted to deny Craig Nelson's variance request, 10-1, with Fornoff being the lone dissenting vote. The variance pertained to whether the land Nelson has in the Conservation Reserve Program could be certified after a misunderstanding on when that land had to be certified. The land was in CRP when certification was ongoing.

His first attempt at a variance in August of 2010, was denied. The land was then placed back in to CRP for a 10 year period. Nelson was requesting that the land be certified when it comes of the CRP designation in 2020.

Directors expressed concern over whether the allocations Nelson was seeking could or would be transfered to other acres, whether it would tempt Nelson to pull the acres out of CRP early in order to plant on the land, and if the land was sold how the acres certified could be kept to the area in question.

Nelson had accepted blame for the misunderstanding that occurred in 2003 and also offered to put the land under a conservancy with restrictions in the case he sold the land.

The board chose to deny his request because of the possibility that others would approach the board requesting the same variance.

During discussion of Nelson's variance request, MRNRD Manager Dan Smith pointed out that the Central Platte NRD is going to court over a denial of a variance. The plaintiff claims due process was not given to him on the denial as he wasn't notified of the need to certify his acres before receiving a cease and desist order. The CPNRD has not formally requested financial assistance yet, but it is expected. The board took no action, but agreed that they would be willing to help, but how much was dependent on the cost.

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At the August meeting, which has been moved from Aug. 9 to Aug 16, at 7:30 p.m., in order to avoid conflict with the upcoming annual compact meeting in Burlington, Colorado, the board will vote to change its attorney again as the attorney selected by the board has a conflict of interest. Between the phone interview and being hired he joined a consulting firm that works with the state on the Republican River Compact, which the board had been informed of prior to their June vote to approve him.

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Pat Underwood, an independent consultant, spoke about the Dakota Aquifer Study demonstration project and how it could benefit the MRNRD. Underwood helped the LRNRD write its grant. She is not employee of the LRNRD nor did she come the MRNRD meeting on the behalf of the LRNRD. MRNRD Manager Dan Smith requested she present the information she could to the board. Some of the conversation on the grant was done during a closed session.

Uerling urged Director Steve Cappel to move to allow Smith to develop a demonstration project and to look at finding a grant writer for the Dakota Aquifer Study. The motion by Cappel was seconded by Stinson. The motion passed 10-1 with Director Rick McConville being the lone dissenting vote.

More information on the Dakota Aquifer Study as well as the Riverside project the MRNRD is working on will be released at a later date by Smith. Both projects have sensitive and proprietary information.

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On July 27, the three Republican NRDs will meet in McCook for a meeting with the executive committees of each NRD to discuss percentage depletion splits between the districts. The board agreed that the MRNRD should get what it deserves.

Cappel felt that the MRNRD, "needs to get as much as we can get."

Smith reminded the board that the LRNRD proposed the meeting and that they should wait to see what the LRNRD is looking for. The executive committee will meet prior to July 27, to discuss the meeting more in depth.

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During discussion on the 2011-12 rules and regulations, it was noted by Fornoff that allocations were being restricted and the occupation tax was going up.

Fornoff said, "I don't see why we are dropping allocations and raising taxes, especially when the state isn't requiring it."

Haag responded, "if there isn't an incentive then [irrigators] won't [lower their usage]."

Randel offered a reason behind not dropping the allocation, "By punishing [irrigators] when they do a good job seems counter productive."

Uerling noted that "some areas need 10 inches, but other areas didn't." He also offered that allocations could be different for different areas in the district, but some board members questioned how and where the lines of division would occur. Many of the board members also recognized that the district is very diverse in its soil type and even in the amount of rain that particular areas receive throughout the district.

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Other items on the agenda included:

-the board voted to approve June's meeting minutes and financial report;

-the Kansas versus Nebraska special master meeting in Kansas City, Missouri is Monday, July 18, not Tuesday, July 19, as previously reported;

-the Sustainability Task Force will meet in McCook at McCook Community College on Tuesday, July 19;

-the board unanimously voted to approve leaving the payments for permanent retirement of acres as they were; to allow expedited variances, for Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District, that were similar to the two previous FCID irrigator variances approved by the board in June; approve the cost-share funds applications; and the renewal of the skid loader lease;

-MRNRD staff members completed the final inspection of dam site 80a near Maywood, Nebraska;

-MRNRD Assistant Manager Bob Merrigan will begin the process of searching for a new vehicle to replace the 2005 Toyota Highlander which is up for replacement; it has 85,000 miles.

The next MRNRD meeting is Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m., at the Curtis Memorial Community Center in Curtis.

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