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Float trips draw 30,000 people to the Niobrara River and its canyon areas, stunning waterfalls and wildlife every year.

Omaha World Herald. September 28, 2018

Niobrara River agreement show how responsible negotiation can resolve difficult problems

The parties to a landmark Niobrara River Basin agreement continue to move forward together, setting a fine example of how Nebraska organizations can resolve a difficult issue when their interests come into collision. The agreement, signed in 2016, balances the interests of the Nebraska Public Power District, irrigators and the recreation industry along the Niobrara.

In the latest development, the Nebraska Public Power District has signed a follow-up agreement giving its generating facility near Spencer, and the accompanying water right, to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Niobrara River Basin Alliance, made up of four natural resources districts. The transfer will occur on or before Jan. 31, 2021.

Such cooperative action has resolved the disagreement that arose in 2007 when NPPD asserted a long-dormant water right on the Niobrara in order to maintain operation of the Spencer hydropower plant during a severe drought. Irrigators expressed concern over the utility's assertion of the water right, and tensions increased when the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources declared the river basin fully appropriated, halting new water allocations from the river.

Meanwhile, federal regulators insisted that wildlife species should receive protection because of the Niobrara's designation as a national scenic river. The basin's recreation industry wanted its interests to be taken into account amid multiple demands on the river.

After the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in NPPD's favor on the water-right issue, the natural resources districts in the basin approached the utility to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution. The result is the Niobrara agreement, under which the Spencer facility will close, and NPPD will receive $9 million in compensation: $4 million from the NRDs; $1.5 million from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; and $3.5 million from the state's Water Sustainability Fund.

A situation that once was rife with disagreements among Nebraskans has been resolved through responsible negotiation and cooperation. The result: a collaborative effort to ensure that enough water will be set aside for agriculture, fish, wildlife and recreation.

It's a terrific example of leadership and vision for Nebraska.

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Kearney Hub. September 28, 2018

Storage new frontier in race for clean energy

The city of Norfolk is fixing to one-up Kearney on the solar energy front, and we wish Norfolkans the best of luck. Earlier this week, the northeast Nebraska city entered an agreement with Nebraska Public Power District on a venture to build a sizable solar array and link it to an energy storage system.

It doesn't appear as if Norfolk's array will rival Kearney's in size, but the size of the system isn't nearly as important as its ability to successfully plow new ground in the development of green energy.

So far, Kearney's $11 million solar array is the largest in the state. At 53 acres and 22,464 panels, Kearney's system is rated at 5.7 megawatts — enough to power 900 homes or supply about 5 percent of the city's electrical demand.

Norfolk's agreement with NPPD is to partner on a grant application for $490,000 with the Nebraska Environmental Trust. If the grant is awarded, a solar array will be built and connected to what NPPD has labeled a BESS — battery energy storage system. Such systems are expensive, but the Norfolk experiment may demonstrate the potential of generating electricity with solar power and storing it until there's demand to use it.

Nobody is more excited about the prospects than Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning.

"This first-of-its kind battery storage project positions Norfolk to lead the way in using the newest technologies to efficiently utilize renewable energy that's created in our own backyard, keeps our electricity costs low and grows new jobs and strengthens our regional economy," Moenning said.

Today, most solar and wind systems generate electricity when the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing. The power is great while it lasts, but people need electricity 'round the clock to power homes, factories and farms. The ability to store green energy until it's needed would be a major breakthrough.

Imagine, for example, that it's a dry, hot summer and irrigation farmers need electricity for pumps and homes and businesses need power for air conditioning and equipment. If the Norfolk experiment succeeds, it could help to reduce the need for traditional, reliable coal-fired generating plants in favor of wind and solar as primary sources of energy to generate electricity.

That idea may seem far-fetched, but it will be experiments such as the Norfolk/NPPD partnership and Kearney's large solar array that plow new ground in the development of sustainable green energy.

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Lincoln Journal Star. September 28, 2018

Report shows child welfare safety must be improved

Nebraska saw an increased number of reported sexual abuse cases and suicide attempts among its most vulnerable children - those in the child welfare system.

The figures from the annual report on the child welfare system should alarm all Nebraskans. Fifty-two suicide attempts by and 45 instances of sexual abuse of children - both figures that rose in the most recent fiscal year - within state care are terrible signs indicative of the progress that needs to occur for our state's youngest residents.

Raising awareness of the struggles reported within Nebraska's child welfare system is of the utmost importance to securing additional resources to help fix the problems documented in the report. For too long, state lawmakers neglected to adequately oversee the far-reaching programs it entails, though that has improved in recent years.

In that regard, it bears some similarities to the chronically plagued state prison system.

Both also have inspector general positions created by and answerable to the Legislature to study troubles and offer recommendations. Both are out of sight and out of mind for most Nebraskans, who don't encounter their work on a daily basis. And both can make high-profile and life-changing missteps without careful management.

In this case, state officials have seemed receptive to Inspector General Julie Rogers' suggestions, with her report noting that two of them had been completed by the Department of Health and Human Services, with 12 more in progress. The marked rise in incidents received by the state is likely tied to stricter rules for reporting approved by the Legislature - a direct result of progress in the right direction.

That's not to say it's been without its successes. In recent years, HHS has added caseworkers to improve response times and decrease turnover, strived to place children with family members when possible and created a campaign aimed at preventing head trauma and shaken baby syndrome.

Still, added safeguards must result from this report. Combating sexual abuse and preventing suicide attempts need to become prime goals of those who interact with youth who are wards of the state, in juvenile justice programs, in treatment centers and otherwise come in contact with HHS.

Fixing these and other problems beneath the expansive umbrella that is Nebraska's child welfare system will require ample time and resources. Much like education, investment in these programs is a way of attempting to create the best outcomes for youth now to set them up for future success once they age out of the system.

The annual report highlights the long road ahead - but one that must be traveled for the sake of the state's children. The future of these youth depends on it.

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The Grand Island Independent. September 25, 2018.

Leave decision on state auditor to the voters

What if a worker arrived late at work, just had short stays at the office and then took long lunches involving drinking beer at a sports bar during work hours.

Would that worker last long in that job? Of course they wouldn't. They would quickly be shown the door and told to find another job.

All of those things are what an investigation by the Omaha World-Herald found that State Auditor Charlie Janssen was doing. Janssen has admitted that the report is accurate and has apologized to Nebraskans. He has pledged to change his "personal and professional life" and be "an even better auditor moving forward."

Janssen, a Republican, is paid $85,000 a year. The Nebraska Democratic Party has called for Janssen to resign.

"Charlie Janssen violated the pubic trust. He thumbed his nose at the people who put him in office and who he swore to serve — the people who are paying his salary," Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said. "If Charlie Janssen's staff had found similar wrongdoing by any other elected officials or government employee, he would be the one holding a news conference."

The Democrats are right to condemn what Janssen did. No one condones drinking on the job and being away from the work that taxpayers are paying you to do.

However, the Democrats are wrong to ask for him to resign. With the general election just a little more than a month away, those who hired Janssen — Nebraska voters — will have the opportunity to remove him from office, if they choose to do that.

The decision should be left to the voters. They will be able to choose between Janssen and Democrat Jane Skinner, who is a part-time library specialist from Omaha.

Janssen, from Fremont, was a state senator before being elected auditor four years ago.

Now if the election was years away, the Democrats would have a point. But since the election is so close, it's best left to the voters to decide.

Under Janssen, the auditor's office has done a fairly admirable job. The auditor's staff has continued to do their jobs and have produced helpful audits of state offices and other governmental agencies. They have seemed to have worked with other agencies well and have taken a cooperative approach.

The auditor's staff deserves a lot of credit for that, especially if their boss was not doing his work appropriately during office hours.

If that is enough for Janssen to stay in office remains to be seen. Voters should examine what he has done and if they believe his pledge to change. They will weigh that against his opponent's positions and her qualifications for office.

With the state auditor's election coming up on Nov. 6, the decision on whether Janssen should remain in office is best left to Nebraska voters.

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