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UBBNRD seeks input on proposed changes to fertilizer rules

Patrons of the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District are being urged to learn more about a proposal to require greater use of nitrification inhibitors by farmers districtwide and limit pre-plant applications of any kind of nitrogen fertilizer in many locations.

UBBNRD constituents will be able to ask questions about the proposal during an informational open house starting 7 p.m. Monday at the Holthus Convention Center on York’s south side, located at 3130 Holen Avenue off South U.S. Highway 81. They will be able to offer their input on the proposal that same evening either verbally or in writing during a public hearing.

Chrystal Houston, public relations manager for the district, said input gathered at Monday’s event likely will be discussed at the board’s regular meeting in September, but that it has not been determined when or if the proposal might come to a vote.

Proposed modifications to Rule 5 within the district’s Groundwater Management Area Rules and Regulations would require that farmers injecting anhydrous ammonia into their fields for the benefit of spring-planted crops anywhere in the district prior to March 1 also apply an approved nitrification inhibitor.

Farmers applying any form of nitrogen fertilizer other than anhydrous ammonia after Feb. 29 — the first allowable date such fertilizer may be applied in any event — also would need to use an inhibitor.

The product would need to be applied at the manufacturer’s recommended rate.

In addition, farmers in Phase 2 or Phase 3 management zones would be restricted to applying no more than 120 pounds of pre-plant nitrogen fertilizer. Split applications still would be allowed, meaning the farmers could apply additional nitrogen after the crop was in the ground.

Also, prior to applying nitrogen fertilizer each year, but no later than April 1, all farmers in Phase 2 (and therefore also is Phase 3) locations would be required to report information to the district concerning how their fertilization plans align with best farming management practices.

The Upper Big Blue district, headquartered in York, encompasses all of York County, virtually all of Hamilton County, northeastern Adams County, northern Clay and Fillmore counties, and parts of Saline, Seward, Butler and Polk counties.

The UBBNRD’s Groundwater Management Area No. 2, which addresses groundwater quality issues, encompasses the entire district.

(Almost the entire district — minus some acres in Fillmore and Seward counties where virtually no groundwater is available — also is included in the district’s Groundwater Management Area No. 1, which addresses groundwater quantity.)

Within Tribland, land in Adams, Clay and Hamilton counties has been designated Phase 2. In Phase 2 management zones, the median groundwater concentration readings collected from designated monitoring wells are at least 7 parts per million.

In Phase 3 zones, the median concentration is at least 10 ppm. Part of York County is designated Phase 3.

Some land within the Upper Big Blue NRD also falls within the Hastings Wellhead Protection Groundwater Management Area, which has its own set of rules and restrictions and involves both the UBBNRD and the neighboring Little Blue Natural Resources District.

The proposal to place new restrictions and requirements on nitrogen fertilizer use comes amid concerns about the continuing problem with elevated concentrations of groundwater nitrates in many locations within the Upper Big Blue district.

Elevated nitrates in drinking water pose a human health concern, especially for infants at risk of developing methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby” syndrome, which restricts the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

A nitrification inhibitor is a chemical compound that slows the process by which bacteria convert ammonia, ammonium-containing or urea-containing fertilizers into nitrates. Once the conversion occurs, nitrates can begin to leach down through the soil toward the groundwater table, perpetuating a groundwater nitrate problem that has developed over many decades.

Several commercially available products may be used as nitrification inhibitors.

Rod DeBuhr, the UBBNRD’s assistant general manager, said the district has a working list of approved nitrification inhibitors written into the proposed rule up for public hearing on Monday, but that the list is subject to change at the board’s discretion and could be updated.

A complete copy of the UBBNRD’s Rule 5 and the proposed changes are posted to the district’s website, www.upperbigblue.org/public hearing. The district is accepting online public comment on the proposal through the website at www.upperbigblue.org/contact.


News
CCC introduces unique renewable energy program

A wind turbine was built south of the Central Community College-Hastings campus in 2016.

Central Community College-Hastings is introducing an energy technology program, a unique associate’s degree that includes instruction in wind energy, solar energy and battery storage.

CCC hired Taylor Schneider, energy technology instructor, to teach the program this upcoming fall semester. Classes start Monday.

Schneider said the program sets itself apart from others because it teaches wind, solar and battery technology, rather than just one. Schneider said the energy technology program at CCC is the only one in the United States to teach all three.

By having the three-part program, students will be able to enter into any of the three fields. The program takes two years to complete.

“Students are going to be able to dive in deeply to the three and get a feel for where they want to be instead of just having to go into strictly to a wind school or strictly into a solar school,” Schneider said.

Schneider said students will be able to take the diverse range of instruction and go into any of those fields, all of which are growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 96 percent increase in employment for wind technicians between 2016-2026; the average occupation growth is 7 percent.

“They’re growing fields. They’re just constantly growing,” Schneider said.

Schneider will be teaching four classes this fall, including introductions to solar panel systems, wind systems and climbing safety.

CCC has equipment for wind technology, including a wind turbine that was constructed and taken online in January 2017 and four solar panel structures. Schneider plans to use the equipment available to give the students hands on experience.

“I want to be out there on that wind turbine more than twice a year. I want to be climbing. I think hands-on is a huge key,” he said.

The program also is partnering with several companies to facilitate the program. Hastings Utilities already has given Schneider permission to access the new solar panel site west of Hastings Municipal Airport. Residents will be able to participate in the solar energy project Aug. 12.

Schneider also is working with ENSA, a company in Wisconsin, to teach students about safety while climbing.

Their facilities include climbable training structures and medical training. There, they will be able to practice climbing in a controlled environment and learn how to execute tower rescues, where one partner will rescue another, and rappelling — an important skill when wind turbines can be over 300 feet tall, Schneider said.

“Safety is the number one thing that I will be pushing — from everything in clearances to procedures when doing different jobs jobs. That’s the big thing that these students need to wrap their heads around,” he said.

On the battery side, students will learn how to use supervisory control and data acquisition systems. SCADA provides information on energy systems.

There are currently two students signed up for the program. While he was hoping for more this first year, Schneider feels confident that more people will get interested in the field.

“Right now, I’m in the grow-my-baby stage,” he said.

Schneider’s previous experience focuses on wind energy, building wind turbines, maintaining them and inspections.

This includes working with NextEra Energy in Peetz, Colorado, where he said he helped service and maintain a 380-turbine wind farm.

He also helped build a solar panel site in Roswell, New Mexico, while working for Blattner Energy.

Schneider is currently a CCC student, working toward an associate’s degree in drafting and design technology-architecture.

The three pieces of the program are strongly related, being renewable energy capture and storage; however, Schneider said there is little overlap in how the pieces interact, except for being connected to the power grid.

“They’re productive in their own way,” he said.


News
HPS board hears budget review, school updates

The Hastings Public Schools Board of Education heard updates from several administrative officials, including a review of the budget and school improvement plans during its August work session Thursday evening.

All board members except Brady Rhodes were present.

Superintendent Jeff Schneider gave a review of last year’s budget and the upcoming budget, which will be voted upon at the board’s September meeting.

While estimates for the 2018-19 year will not be confirmed until Aug. 31, HPS expects to spend about $1.5 million from its cash reserves, as expected. The district had about $1.2 million less in state aid and general fund expenses increased by about 1 percent to 1.5 percent from the year prior.

The 2019-20 budget is due by Sept. 20 to the Nebraska Department of Education. Expenditures and receipts are expected to be about equal, both at $41 million.

“Given the situation this year, we are happy to be presenting a balanced budget tonight,” Schneider said.

Local tax revenue is estimated to be up by $1.2 million, due from the levy neutral override approved by voters earlier this year. The increase comes from a higher portion of the levy going into the general fund.

The total levy is estimated to remain at $1.342, the same as last year. The total levy is made of the general fund, the qualified capital undertaking and the bond fund.

The general fund tax portion increased from $1.05 to $1.12, but both the qualified capital undertaking fund portion decreased from $0.052 to $0.022 and the bond fund decreased from $0.24 to $0.20.

“We preached and begged the community last spring and promised that we were going to keep the levy neutral,” Schneider said. “If you remember the big question ‘Why doesn’t it say that on the ballot?’ well the ballot language deals with legality. The fact that we were staying levy neutral was the board’s word to our community.”

Before the vote on the budget in September, there will be a public budget and tax request hearing.

That meeting will be Sept. 16.

“It looks a lot better than it does a year ago. We have to be so thankful of this community backing us up on that levy override,” Schneider said.

The board also received an update on school improvement plans from Lawrence Tunks, director of learning.

Most of those plans included one or two goals for schools.

Most of the elementary schools focused on academic improvement.

For example, Hawthorne Elementary’s goal was to improve reading comprehension.

Tunks said Hastings High School took a different route, making goals to improve ACT composite scores, reducing the percentage of people who skip class or are truant and increasing the graduation rate.

David Essink, director of human resources and operations, said absences and truancy referrals are are some of the most common referals for students and are down this last year.

Essink also said they were able to rehire a few para-educators who were asked to leave after budget cuts were made because several other para-educators resigned over the summer.

Essink said an area of concern is the lack of nurses.

Of seven possible openings, the district has only hired four, and one of them is going on long-term medical leave.

“Right now, we’ve got three nurses covering all the buildings and then using secretaries and principals to help out with some of the small things. It’s not where we want to be,” Essink said.

The board heard a recommendation to make an update for the Longfellow Elementary building, which is currently under construction.

The order totals about $9,300 and includes the replacement of concrete floors and remove a portion of the wall in the kitchen.

The school board also heard a recommendation to hire one additional full-time skills para-educator for Hawthorne Elementary.

The board also heard recommendation’s to approve a contract for psychologist services to cover for a staff member going on maternity leave and to approve the YMCA Facility Usage Agreement, which gives access to the YMCA’s swimming pool.


News
City to look at feasibility of new community center

With the assistance of an architecture design firm, local officials are looking at the feasibility of a new space in the community that could serve as an arts, community and senior center in Hastings.

Members of the Hastings City Council voted 8-0 during their meeting Monday to select Wilkins Architecture Design Planning LLC of Kearney and Olsson to conduct a study that will look at the feasibility of such a space in Hastings.

Don Threewitt, development services director for the city of Hastings, said the feasibility study will test all the different components to see what programs or venues Hastings is lacking for a community its size and what amenities may be possible, such as a performance space, community kitchen and classrooms.

The feasibility study will also look at the availability of grant funding and what is financially sustainable in Hastings — helping the city to move forward for that capital improvement in the future.

The city of Hastings and Adams County each contributed $7,500, with a $15,000 match from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, to fund the feasibility study.

The feasibility study comes less than a year after the former Golden Friendship Center closed at 509 S. Bellevue Ave., and senior center operations were moved to the city’s community center, which is also the Hastings Parks and Recreation Department office, at 2015 W. Third St.

The city received six feasibility study proposals. A five-member selection committee reviewed the applications on July 19.

The selection committee selected Wilkins ADP/Olsson, which had the highest overall score at 95, and second lowest proposal cost at $30,000.

Scoring was based on five criteria: Project understanding, thoroughness and effectiveness of the proposal, qualifications of the firm, experience with doing similar projects previously and the overall scope of services.

Council president Paul Hamelink served on the selection committee.

“Clearly this proposal gets what we’re trying to do,” he said during the council meeting. “I would suggest this is step one in addressing a significant community need with the closure of the Golden Friendship Center and other areas where we can address some needs for space for people to gather and to utilize for events and activities. This is a good step. It’s a necessary first step for a greater grant possibility that we would hopefully apply for this next, coming year. This is step one, hopefully. We can move forward and see something happening with another grant in the coming years to move forward with some facility for our community.”

Threewitt anticipated a final report from Wilkins ADP/Olsson in about six months.

“We will be looking at community outreach throughout the project,” he said.

That community outreach and public input will most likely include a survey component.

Wilkins ADP/Olsson will assess that data and then provide a final report at a public meeting.