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Rural Fire getting ready to bid out new station project

The Hastings Rural Fire District plans to solicit bids Jan. 27 for construction of its proposed new fire station and would like for the Adams County Board of Supervisors to approve a levy for that project in March.

That was the timeline presented by Randy Kort, a board member for Hastings Rural Fire, during the supervisors’ meeting on Tuesday. Bids are due Feb. 26.

“At that point we would like the county to approve that levy on March 3 at your meeting,” Kort said. “When that is approved the rural fire board will award the contract to the contractor and construction will begin shortly after that.”

Hastings Rural Fire is looking at building a new fire station east of the old Wallace School building along U.S. Highway 281, where the Adams County Extension office now is housed.

The rural fire department currently is renting space for equipment and assistance from the Hastings Fire Department for which the Hastings Fire Department currently charges $54,000 per year.

Kort was joined at the supervisors’ meeting by Cody Wickham from Omaha firm D.A. Davidson, which is handling financing of the new fire station.

Wickham said D.A. Davidson has looked at 15- and 20-year bonds to determine what would be not only most fiscally responsible for the fire district, but also would keep the levy as low as possible.

“We’re in a very low interest rate environment, so both scenarios have looked good,” he said.

A 15-year bond likely would carry a 1.25-cent levy and a 20-year bond would have a 1-cent levy.

“It really comes down to which one is more palatable for the county and the fire district,” he said.

Wickham estimated the interest rate on a 15-year bond would be 2.67% and 2.89% on a 20-year bond. He padded both of those figures, saying they are higher than if the levy was approved now, but are still lower than historical averages.

The first principle payment would be due Dec. 15, 2021. So it wouldn’t be added to the county’s levy until the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

“The big underlier is what this project is going to cost?” Kort said. “Until we put it out to bid we really don’t know.”

The fire district has been estimating $1.25 million as the cost for the project.

The amount of interest on a 20-year bond would be quite a bit higher than a 15-year bond.

Wickham estimated $268,387 would be spent on interest over 15 years versus $396,630 over the course of 20 years.

“It’s pretty significant adding five years,” he said.

Kort said the cost of the project largely will determine whether the fire district goes with a 15- or 20-year bond.

Wickham held property valuations constant in his calculations.

Kort said the rural fire district includes the rural portion of the county with boundaries of Adams Central to the west, two miles south of Ayr to the south, two miles into Clay County to the east and just south of Hall County to the north.

Wickham said the total valuation of the district that would be assessed is $773.6 million.

“Nobody knows what your valuation on properties are going to do over the next 15 years,” Kort said. “Normally they appreciate over time. As that goes up you’re generating more money with that lower levy, which also could affect the payment schedule.”

In other business, the supervisors:

  • Voted 7-0, as the Board of Equalization, to approve motor vehicle exemptions.
  • Unanimously approved, as the Board of Equalization, the late filing of a permissive exemption tax list correction from the Kenesaw Heritage Foundation.
  • Held the annual meeting of the Adams County Cemetery Board.
  • Unanimously approved the reappointment of Lance Atwater, Aida Evans and Kip Zalman, and the new appointment of Kyla Habrock, to the Adams County Extension Board.
  • Unanimously approved submitting to voters whether to make the Adams County Surveyor an elected or appointed position.
  • Heard, but took no action on, a request from Glenwood Communications representatives for Adams County to serve as the submitting entity for a Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund through the Nebraska Public Service Commission, to help bring fiber internet to homes in rural Juniata.
  • Unanimously approved Adams County Convention and Visitors Bureau Improvement Fund Grant applications for the Smith Softball Complex, Prairie Loft Center for Outdoor and Agricultural Learning, YWCA of Adams County and Village of Kenesaw. Each application was approved individually.
  • Unanimously approved a resolution and agreement with the Nebraska Department of Transportation for adoption to designate use of the county’s northeast truck route during the NDOT’s improvements on U.S. Highway 6 and South Burlington Avenue.
  • Unanimously approved a certificate of compliance and maintenance agreement between the Nebraska Department of Transportation and Adams County.
  • Unanimously approved a resolution regulating the placement of signs at the Adams County Courthouse.
  • Unanimously approved beginning the discontinuance process for Adams County’s contract with Wellness Partners.

Old manual arts building gets new name, purpose

Signage and usage by feeding ministries are helping First Presbyterian Church re-establish the identity of its building on Hastings Avenue formerly used as the manual arts or annex building by former owners Hastings Public Schools.

Now named the PEACE Center, an acronym for Presbyterian Emmanuel Arts Community Engagement Center, the building sometimes still is called by one of its former names by longtime Hastings residents, though the Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett anticipates that will change with the passage of time.

“We felt that the old middle school annex was not a particularly descriptive name for what we were doing over there anymore,” said Allen-Pickett, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “Trying to transition the community, I now refer to it as the PEACE Center/old middle school annex. I figure if I do that for a few years the PEACE Center name will catch on.”

The center was purchased by First Presbyterian in 2008 in a package deal that included the former Hastings Middle School building and parking lot. When the congregation decided the offset building was large enough to meet its need for additional space, it sold the middle school building in 2009.

An open contest to rename the building was initiated through a social media campaign in March 2019. More than 100 suggestions were submitted, with church officials thinning the list down to a select few choices that were then voted upon by the congregation.

“It came down to two,” Allen-Pickett said. “One was a play on words on the fact that it used to be called the manual arts building: Emmanuel Arts Building. Someone else said, ‘Let’s call it what it is, a community center.’ So we were able to combine those two ideas.”

Vinyl banners now identify the building, with plans for more permanent signage to be added at some point.

In addition to food services, the building also houses multiple opportunities for fellowship and fitness. A partial list of hosted activities includes youth basketball, pickle ball, junior and senior high youth group meetings, Spanish language classes, quilting classes, dog obedience, Boy Scout activities and Mexican dance troupe rehearsals.


United Harvest distribution at the PEACE Center.

“It’s a busy place,” Allen-Pickett said of the building, which serves to house three community feeding ministries: Hearts and Hands Against Hunger, United Harvest Mobile Food Pantry, and storage for Hastings Food Pantry. “What I see is sort of God’s spirit moving in this.”

He said there’s always room for hosting one more activity, provided it meets the church’s criteria of edification.

“Our dream is just that it is a facility for the community to use as a community center and a facility where the center is able to share the love of God in tangible ways,” he said. “As opportunities present themselves, we’ll look to see if they fit into the mission of our church and figure out if we’ve got space for them.

“I’m excited that the church has been able to transform the old middle school annex into the PEACE Center and make it a place of peace, of shalom, that blesses the community and reminds people that they are loved.”

Trump administration approves Keystone pipeline on US land

BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration on Wednesday approved a right-of-way allowing the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to be built across U.S. land, pushing the controversial $8 billion project closer to construction though court challenges still loom.

The approval signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and obtained by The Associated Press covers 46 miles of the pipeline’s route across land in Montana that’s controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Casey Hammond, assistant secretary of the Interior Department.

Those segments of federal land are a small fraction of the pipeline’s 1,200-mile route, but the right-of-way was crucial for a project that’s obtained all the needed permits at the state and local levels.

The pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude oil daily from western Canada to terminals on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Project sponsor TC Energy said in a court filing that it wants to begin construction on the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Montana in April. Opponents promised to challenge those plans in court.

First proposed in 2008, the pipeline has become emblematic of the tensions between economic development and curbing the fossil fuel emissions that are causing climate change. The Obama administration rejected it, but President Donald Trump revived it and has been a strong supporter.

The stretch approved Wednesday includes all federal land crossed by the line, Hammond said. Much of the rest of the route is across private land, for which TC Energy has been acquiring permissions to build on.

Environmentalists and Native American tribes along the pipeline route say burning the tar sands oil will make climate change worse, and that the pipeline could break and spill oil into waterways like Montana’s Missouri River. They have filed numerous lawsuits.

Hammond said Interior officials and other agencies have done a thorough review of the potential effects on the environment. He said TC Energy had provided detailed plans to respond to any spill.

“We’re comfortable with the analysis that’s been done,” Hammond said.

Another oil pipeline in TC Energy’s Keystone network in October spilled an estimated 383,000 gallons of oil in eastern North Dakota. Critics say a damaging spill from Keystone XL is inevitable given the length of the line and the many rivers and other waterways it would cross beneath.

An attorney for environmental groups that have sued to overturn Trump’s permit for the line said they will ask the judge in the case to block the new approval.

“We have every confidence that the federal courts will set aside these approvals,” said Steve Volker, who represents the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Additional approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers are needed for the pipeline’s impact to Montana’s Fort Peck dam. Two utilities must approve power lines that would connect to the project’s pumping stations.

On Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation, where tribal members fear an oil spill getting into water supplies, state Sen. Frank Smith said Trump’s strong support for the project appeared to be pushing it through.

“All we can do is pray from here on in,” Smith said. “The president said it’s going through, and it’s going through.”

The Democratic lawmaker added that despite TC Energy’s pledge to operate safely, “there can still be human error” and another spill would happen.

TC Energy spokeswoman Sara Rabern said in a statement that the government approval marked an “important step as we advance towards building this important energy infrastructure project.”

In Phillips County, Montana, where the line would cross the Canada border into the U.S., officials want the tax revenue on the oil that would pass through, estimated at more than $1 million annually.

“It’s a no-brainer for us as far as how the community feels,” county commissioner John Carnahan said. “We’d go out there and help them if we could. It’s not only good for the county, it’s good for America.”

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana initially denied a request from environmentalists to block construction in December because no work was immediately planned. But he also has ruled against the project, including a 2018 decision that stalled the line and prompted Trump to issue a new presidential permit for it to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

In Nebraska, the state Supreme Court removed the last major obstacle for the project in August when it ruled in favor of state regulators who had approved a route for the pipeline in 2017.

TC Energy intends next month to begin mobilizing construction machinery to areas for worker camps and pipeline storage yards in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, according to its court filings. It also plans to start toppling trees along the route in parts of South Dakota.

Democrats appeal for GOP help to convict 'corrupt' Trump

WASHINGTON — House Democrats launched into marathon arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday, appealing to skeptical Republican senators to join them in voting to oust Trump from office to “protect our democracy.”

Trump’s lawyers sat by, waiting their turn, as the president blasted the proceedings from afar, threatening jokingly to face off with the Democrats by coming to “sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces.”

The challenge before the House managers is clear. Democrats have 24 hours over three days to prosecute the charges against Trump, trying to win over not just fidgety senators sitting silently in the chamber but an American public, deeply divided over the president and his impeachment in an election year.

Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, outlined what the Democrats contend was the president’s “corrupt scheme” to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress’ investigation. He then called on senators not to be “cynical” about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers who provided the remedy of impeachment.

“Over the coming days, we will present to you—and to the American people—the extensive evidence collected during the House’s impeachment inquiry into the president’s abuse of power,” said Schiff standing before the Senate. “You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it.”

After a dinner break, Schiff returned to the well of the Senate to detail the administration’s hold on military aid to Ukraine. He played several clips of testimony from Ambassador William Taylor, who said the assistance was held back as Trump pushed the country to announce investigations of Democrats.

Most senators sat at their desks throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber, passing the time. Visitors watched from the galleries, one briefly interrupting in protest.

The proceedings are unfolding at the start of an election year, and there are few signs that Republicans are interested in calling more witnesses or going beyond a fast-track assessment that is likely to bring a quick vote on charges related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Several GOP senators said Wednesday they’d seen no evidence to support the allegations against Trump even though, just 24 hours earlier, they had rejected subpoenas for witnesses and documents. Democrats, meanwhile, described the evidence against the president as overwhelming but said senators have a duty to gather more.

The trial marks just the third time the Senate has weighed whether an American president should be removed from office. Democrats argue Trump abused his office by asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding crucial military aid, and also obstructed Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe. Republicans have defended Trump’s actions and cast the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken the president in the midst of his reelection campaign.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows the public is slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, say they don’t know enough to have an opinion.

One question there’s wide agreement on: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.

The strategy of more witnesses, though, seems all but settled. Wrangling over rules for the trial stretched past midnight Tuesday night, with Republicans shooting down one-by-one Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.

Senators are likely to repeat those rejections next week, shutting out any chance of new testimony.

One longshot idea to pair one of Trump’s preferred witnesses — Biden’s son Hunter Biden — with Bolton or another that Democrats want was swiftly rejected.

“That’s off the table,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open Wednesday’s session as senators settled in for the long days ahead.

Trump, who was in Davos, Switzerland, attending a global economic forum, praised his legal team, and suggested he would be open to his advisers testifying, though that seems unlikely. He said here were “national security” concerns that would stand in the way.

After the House prosecutors present their case, the president’s lawyers will follow with another 24 hours over three days. They are expected to take only Sunday off.

“There’s a lot of things I’d like to rebut,” said Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow at the Capitol, “and we will rebut.”

Then there will be 16 hours for senators, who must sit quietly at their desks, no speeches or cellphones, to ask written question, and another four hours for deliberations.

The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. All four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.

Campaigning at stops in Iowa, Joe Biden also rejected having his son testify, or even appearing himself. “I want no part of that,” he said.

“People ask the question, isn’t the president going to be stronger and harder to beat if he survives this? Yes, probably. But Congress has no choice,” he said. Senators must cast their votes and “live with that in history.”

Some Republicans expressed disdain for it all.

Joni Ernst of Iowa spoke sarcastically about how excited she was to hear the “overwhelming evidence” the House Democrats promised against Trump. “And once we’ve heard that overwhelming evidence,” she added, raising her voice mockingly, “I don’t know that we’ll need to see additional witnesses, but let’s hear about that overwhelming evidence.”

The trial began with a setback on Tuesday for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who backed off his plans to limit each side’s arguments to two days, as the White House had preferred.

But the GOP leader has been skilled at keeping even the most wayward Republicans, those with some concerns about Trump, united in batting back Democratic requests for witnesses and testimony. They ultimately approved a rules package that pushes off a final decision on whether or not to seek additional testimony until late in the trial.

Schumer bemoaned the remaining limitations, saying Wednesday the impeachment trial “begins with a cloud hanging over it, a cloud of unfairness.”

Republicans are eager for a swift trial. Yet Trump’s legal team passed on an opportunity to file a motion to dismiss the case on Wednesday, an acknowledgement that there were not enough Republican votes to support it.

The White House legal team, in its court filings and presentations, has not disputed Trump’s actions. But the lawyers insist the president did nothing wrong.