Same road took a different turn last time

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

State officials thought it was a good deal when they signed the agreement with Kansas and other states, and the border region of the state it would most affect went along with them.

Later, new officials were in office, and the folks in the border region decided it wasn’t such a great deal and stopped complying with the agreement, and the state officials went along with them.

Kansas and the other states, naturally enough, sought damages, and the issue went to court for years.

Sound familiar?

No, it’s not the Republican River Compact dispute, it’s the low-level nuclear waste facility which was to be built in Boyd County.

After a local rancher staged a hunger strike and others joined his cause, Gov. Ben Nelson’s administration denied the license for the facility.

Eighteen years later, Nebraska -- the entire state -- paid $145.8 million to settle the matter and keep the nuclear dump out of the Cornhusker state. That’s $83 for each citizen of the state at the time, not just for the residents of Boyd County and North Central Nebraska.

Now that we’re in a similar dispute with Kansas over Republican River water, with the potential for similar monetary damages if irrigation is shut down in Southwest Nebraska, property owners and irrigators along the Republican River are being asked to bear the entire cost of compliance, through LB701 measures.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that Nebraska’s effort to send more water down the river will satisfy Kansas. By all accounts, the Sunflower State has its lawyers at the ready.

It is certain that many Nebraska Republican River basin property owners aren’t satisfied, and they’ve taken the issue to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

“Friends of the River” don’t think LB701 is fair, and is a violation of the Nebraska Constitution’s prohibition of using property tax dollars for a state purpose. They say that taxing only Republican River property owners creates two “closed classes,” which is prohibited.

Their suit, filed Tuesday, seeks a declaratory judgment and an injunction prohibiting the imposition and collection of the property tax as provided for under LB701.

Yes, some of the money Nebraska paid out for the Boyd County fiasco actually was returned to the Nebraska utilities which would have benefited from the nuclear waste dump.

And perhaps it’s entirely wrong to draw parallels between the two situations.

But we hope someone, the Nebraska Supreme Court or whomever, can explain the difference.

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