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Fairmont village clerk finds strength for journey with cancer

araun@hastingstribune.com DIANNE GIRMUS FAIRMONT — The road Linda Carroll Zuerlein was on took a sudden exit in January to a path of mourning at the death of her father, Neil Priefert of rural Fairmont. Through the grieving process, Zuerlein wasn’t feeling her normal self, but attributed it to the stress of losing a parent. Unfortunately, her body kept shifting, and soon the small pathway she was on turned into an expressway in unfamiliar territory as she began a journey with cancer. By March, she was more aware that something was wrong with her upper back, so she began a series of treatments that included chiropractic and massages. She found no sustained relief, however, so physical therapy treatments began in July. One July day, feeling flu-like symptoms, she went to the Urgent Care clinic in York where the blood test results landed her on the Bryan Medical Center East Campus in Lincoln on July 18. An MRI and other tests revealed cancer, and four days later she received the official diagnosis — Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer with tumors on her back spreading cancer into her spine. After several days of tests, she was transferred to the Bryan Medical Center West Campus on July 21 for a week of radiation, and she felt a bit of calm with what seemed to be her new routine. But on her second day at the new facility, her liver enzymes became elevated and it was back for another MRI. Zuerlein said that development got her attention. “It was at that time some serious thoughts came about,” she said. “ ‘Will one of my girls get to take me back home or am I going back to Fairmont in a body bag?’ That was when I began feeling spiritually in tune with God. I began thinking that this was something bigger than me — this was a God thing.” Zuerlein was dismissed to her home on Aug. 2, but had one more week of outpatient radiations to complete in Lincoln. Zuerlein, 58, said it was wonderful to get back to Fairmont and be surrounded by her family, which includes her three daughters, Lindsey Carroll of Lincoln, Danielle Cooper of York and Leslie Carroll of Fairmont; three grandsons of York; mother, Jean Priefert of rural Fairmont, sister Pastor Mary Scott of York; and husband Kirby Zuerlein of Farimont. “They help me with whatever I need and whatever else they can. Mom was even outside pulling my weeds,” Zuerlein said with a grin. Zuerlein tries to be independent in her home as much as possible. She uses a walker and wheelchair to help her get around as the cancer in her spine causes some difficulty with walking. The radiation treatments affected her nerve endings, and she can only be up and mobile for two to five minutes at a time. “My nerve endings fire up after being up,” Zuerlein said. “”But that’s OK, for that means the radiation is working.” Being upbeat and not depressed and letting others help is one of her home goals, but for Zuerlein asking for help is the hardest thing to do. Zuerlein has been the Fairmont village clerk since 1991 and is known for her passion for life — in helping people in any way she can and for bringing new businesses, housing and tourism to town to keep Fairmont a robust community. Her total commitment to community betterment won her the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Clerk of the Year award in 2017. Zuerlein said her passion, and other traits she has been blessed with, have helped her move forward easier in her journey. She also has a strong, positive attitude and a tremendous faith in God. “I feel peace and serenity and don’t feel I have to fight , but I know I have to do my part and stay positive. I think if I do that, God will take care of what else has to be done,” Zuerlein said. “Any type of scientific research has been gifted from God. If He wants then to find a cure, He’ll help them. If not, I’ll go to heaven. Everything we have is from God, and this will go full circle.” Zuerlein said is extremely happy due to a big positive given to her. “The cancer has not spread to any major organs,” she said. Another one of Zuerlein’s goals is to get strength back in her body and to rebuild her muscles. This will be done on an outpatient basis with occupational and physical therapists visiting her home. At the end of August, Zuerlein will meet with her oncologist to be reassessed. Zuerlein said she has received a lot of support from family, friends and the whole community. The municipal clerks across Nebraska have a network that allows them to look out for each other through messages. Through this network, area clerks have been filling in for Linda at the city office. “I am so grateful for them helping out like that,” Zuerlein said. Pink breast cancer awareness bracelets that say “Ready, Set, Fight” are available at Studio 81 hair salon in Geneva. They were donated to the cause by Megan Engle and Cole Jividen of Geneva, friends of Leslie Carroll. A “Sweet Treats” bake sale, sponsored by fourth-grader Macyn Veleba of Fairmont, brought in $389.46 by selling a variety of dessert treats and lemonade Aug. 3 on Fairmont’s main street. Coming up in Lincoln on Labor Day will be Jack’s Bar Hay Market Golf Tournament at Highland Golf Course. The event is an annual fundraiser with this year’s proceeds being split between Zuerlein and another cancer patient. On Aug. 24, a Live Like Linda Benefit will be held at the Fairmont American Legion Hall. A silent auction, featuring everything from crockpots to half of a processed hog, will take place from 5-7:30 p.m. From 5-8 p.m. a taco bar (Linda’s favorite) will be set up for free-will donations. The Bricks Band of Lincoln, a solid variety of classic rock, will perform inside the Legion Hall from 8 p.m. until midnight. All donations from the event, and any others received, will be deposited into the Live Like Linda account the Heartland Bank of Fairmont to offset medical expenses.

FAIRMONT — The road Linda Carroll Zuerlein was on took a sudden exit in January to a path of mourning at the death of her father, Neil Priefert of rural Fairmont. Through the grieving process, Zuerlein wasn’t feeling her normal self, but attributed it to the stress of losing a parent. Unfortunately, her body kept shifting, and soon the small pathway she was on turned into an expressway in unfamiliar territory as she began a journey with cancer. By March, she was more aware that something was wrong with her upper back, so she began a series of treatments that included chiropractic and massages. She found no sustained relief, however, so physical therapy treatments began in July. One July day, feeling flu-like symptoms, she went to the Urgent Care clinic in York where the blood test results landed her on the Bryan Medical Center East Campus in Lincoln on July 18. An MRI and other tests revealed cancer, and four days later she received the official diagnosis — Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer with tumors on her back spreading cancer into her spine. After several days of tests, she was transferred to the Bryan Medical Center West Campus on July 21 for a week of radiation, and she felt a bit of calm with what seemed to be her new routine. But on her second day at the new facility, her liver enzymes became elevated and it was back for another MRI. Zuerlein said that development got her attention. “It was at that time some serious thoughts came about,” she said. “ ‘Will one of my girls get to take me back home or am I going back to Fairmont in a body bag?’ That was when I began feeling spiritually in tune with God. I began thinking that this was something bigger than me — this was a God thing.” Zuerlein was dismissed to her home on Aug. 2, but had one more week of outpatient radiations to complete in Lincoln. Zuerlein, 58, said it was wonderful to get back to Fairmont and be surrounded by her family, which includes her three daughters, Lindsey Carroll of Lincoln, Danielle Cooper of York and Leslie Carroll of Fairmont; three grandsons of York; mother, Jean Priefert of rural Fairmont, sister Pastor Mary Scott of York; and husband Kirby Zuerlein of Farimont. “They help me with whatever I need and whatever else they can. Mom was even outside pulling my weeds,” Zuerlein said with a grin. Zuerlein tries to be independent in her home as much as possible. She uses a walker and wheelchair to help her get around as the cancer in her spine causes some difficulty with walking. The radiation treatments affected her nerve endings, and she can only be up and mobile for two to five minutes at a time. “My nerve endings fire up after being up,” Zuerlein said. “”But that’s OK, for that means the radiation is working.” Being upbeat and not depressed and letting others help is one of her home goals, but for Zuerlein asking for help is the hardest thing to do. Zuerlein has been the Fairmont village clerk since 1991 and is known for her passion for life — in helping people in any way she can and for bringing new businesses, housing and tourism to town to keep Fairmont a robust community. Her total commitment to community betterment won her the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Clerk of the Year award in 2017. Zuerlein said her passion, and other traits she has been blessed with, have helped her move forward easier in her journey. She also has a strong, positive attitude and a tremendous faith in God. “I feel peace and serenity and don’t feel I have to fight , but I know I have to do my part and stay positive. I think if I do that, God will take care of what else has to be done,” Zuerlein said. “Any type of scientific research has been gifted from God. If He wants then to find a cure, He’ll help them. If not, I’ll go to heaven. Everything we have is from God, and this will go full circle.” Zuerlein said is extremely happy due to a big positive given to her. “The cancer has not spread to any major organs,” she said. Another one of Zuerlein’s goals is to get strength back in her body and to rebuild her muscles. This will be done on an outpatient basis with occupational and physical therapists visiting her home. At the end of August, Zuerlein will meet with her oncologist to be reassessed. Zuerlein said she has received a lot of support from family, friends and the whole community. The municipal clerks across Nebraska have a network that allows them to look out for each other through messages. Through this network, area clerks have been filling in for Linda at the city office. “I am so grateful for them helping out like that,” Zuerlein said. Pink breast cancer awareness bracelets that say “Ready, Set, Fight” are available at Studio 81 hair salon in Geneva. They were donated to the cause by Megan Engle and Cole Jividen of Geneva, friends of Leslie Carroll. A “Sweet Treats” bake sale, sponsored by fourth-grader Macyn Veleba of Fairmont, brought in $389.46 by selling a variety of dessert treats and lemonade Aug. 3 on Fairmont’s main street. Coming up in Lincoln on Labor Day will be Jack’s Bar Hay Market Golf Tournament at Highland Golf Course. The event is an annual fundraiser with this year’s proceeds being split between Zuerlein and another cancer patient. On Aug. 24, a Live Like Linda Benefit will be held at the Fairmont American Legion Hall. A silent auction, featuring everything from crockpots to half of a processed hog, will take place from 5-7:30 p.m. From 5-8 p.m. a taco bar (Linda’s favorite) will be set up for free-will donations. The Bricks Band of Lincoln, a solid variety of classic rock, will perform inside the Legion Hall from 8 p.m. until midnight. All donations from the event, and any others received, will be deposited into the Live Like Linda account the Heartland Bank of Fairmont to offset medical expenses.

FAIRMONT — The road Linda Carroll Zuerlein was on took a sudden exit in January to a path of mourning at the death of her father, Neil Priefert of rural Fairmont.

Through the grieving process, Zuerlein wasn’t feeling her normal self, but attributed it to the stress of losing a parent. Unfortunately, her body kept shifting, and soon the small pathway she was on turned into an expressway in unfamiliar territory as she began a journey with cancer.

By March, she was more aware that something was wrong with her upper back, so she began a series of treatments that included chiropractic and massages. She found no sustained relief, however, so physical therapy treatments began in July.

One July day, feeling flu-like symptoms, she went to the Urgent Care clinic in York where the blood test results landed her on the Bryan Medical Center East Campus in Lincoln on July 18.

An MRI and other tests revealed cancer, and four days later she received the official diagnosis — Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer with tumors on her back spreading cancer into her spine.

After several days of tests, she was transferred to the Bryan Medical Center West Campus on July 21 for a week of radiation, and she felt a bit of calm with what seemed to be her new routine. But on her second day at the new facility, her liver enzymes became elevated and it was back for another MRI.

Zuerlein said that development got her attention.

“It was at that time some serious thoughts came about,” she said. “ ‘Will one of my girls get to take me back home or am I going back to Fairmont in a body bag?’ That was when I began feeling spiritually in tune with God. I began thinking that this was something bigger than me — this was a God thing.”

Zuerlein was dismissed to her home on Aug. 2, but had one more week of outpatient radiations to complete in Lincoln.

Zuerlein, 58, said it was wonderful to get back to Fairmont and be surrounded by her family, which includes her three daughters, Lindsey Carroll of Lincoln, Danielle Cooper of York and Leslie Carroll of Fairmont; three grandsons of York; mother, Jean Priefert of rural Fairmont, sister Pastor Mary Scott of York; and husband Kirby Zuerlein of Farimont.

“They help me with whatever I need and whatever else they can. Mom was even outside pulling my weeds,” Zuerlein said with a grin.

Zuerlein tries to be independent in her home as much as possible. She uses a walker and wheelchair to help her get around as the cancer in her spine causes some difficulty with walking. The radiation treatments affected her nerve endings, and she can only be up and mobile for two to five minutes at a time.

“My nerve endings fire up after being up,” Zuerlein said. “”But that’s OK, for that means the radiation is working.”

Being upbeat and not depressed and letting others help is one of her home goals, but for Zuerlein asking for help is the hardest thing to do.

Zuerlein has been the Fairmont village clerk since 1991 and is known for her passion for life — in helping people in any way she can and for bringing new businesses, housing and tourism to town to keep Fairmont a robust community.

Her total commitment to community betterment won her the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Clerk of the Year award in 2017.

Zuerlein said her passion, and other traits she has been blessed with, have helped her move forward easier in her journey.

She also has a strong, positive attitude and a tremendous faith in God.

“I feel peace and serenity and don’t feel I have to fight , but I know I have to do my part and stay positive. I think if I do that, God will take care of what else has to be done,” Zuerlein said. “Any type of scientific research has been gifted from God. If He wants then to find a cure, He’ll help them. If not, I’ll go to heaven. Everything we have is from God, and this will go full circle.”

Zuerlein said is extremely happy due to a big positive given to her.

“The cancer has not spread to any major organs,” she said.

Another one of Zuerlein’s goals is to get strength back in her body and to rebuild her muscles. This will be done on an outpatient basis with occupational and physical therapists visiting her home.

At the end of August, Zuerlein will meet with her oncologist to be reassessed.

Zuerlein said she has received a lot of support from family, friends and the whole community.

The municipal clerks across Nebraska have a network that allows them to look out for each other through messages. Through this network, area clerks have been filling in for Linda at the city office.

“I am so grateful for them helping out like that,” Zuerlein said.

Pink breast cancer awareness bracelets that say “Ready, Set, Fight” are available at Studio 81 hair salon in Geneva. They were donated to the cause by Megan Engle and Cole Jividen of Geneva, friends of Leslie Carroll.

A “Sweet Treats” bake sale, sponsored by fourth-grader Macyn Veleba of Fairmont, brought in $389.46 by selling a variety of dessert treats and lemonade Aug. 3 on Fairmont’s main street.

Coming up in Lincoln on Labor Day will be Jack’s Bar Hay Market Golf Tournament at Highland Golf Course.

The event is an annual fundraiser with this year’s proceeds being split between Zuerlein and another cancer patient.

On Aug. 24, a Live Like Linda Benefit will be held at the Fairmont American Legion Hall. A silent auction, featuring everything from crockpots to half of a processed hog, will take place from 5-7:30 p.m. From 5-8 p.m. a taco bar (Linda’s favorite) will be set up for free-will donations.

The Bricks Band of Lincoln, a solid variety of classic rock, will perform inside the Legion Hall from 8 p.m. until midnight.

All donations from the event, and any others received, will be deposited into the Live Like Linda account the Heartland Bank of Fairmont to offset medical expenses.


Dianne Girmus/Tribune  

Linda Carroll Zuerlein of Fairmont is pictured in her home Aug. 16. On July 18, she was admitted to Bryan East Hospital in Lincoln and was diagnosed with cancer and then received radiation treatments at Bryan West Hospital. She will soon begin receiving occupational and physical therapy treatments as an out-patient in her home. A Live Like Linda Benefit is scheduled for her at the Fairmont Legion Hall on Saturday, August 24 from 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. It includes a silent auction, meal and dance in the hall.


News
Funding for 16th Street viaduct discussed during budget work session

One of the biggest discussion points during Monday’s Hastings City Council work session was about something that doesn’t have much of a presence in the 2019-20 budget.

The 16th Street viaduct was closed at the end of May because of safety concerns due to declining condition.

Rehabilitation is estimated to cost $2.275 million with a service life of 30 years.

Full replacement is estimated to cost $5.7 million with a service life of 75 years.

Permanent closure, which would reroute traffic to one of the nearest open railroad crossings, is estimated to cost $500,000.

“We need make a decision on what to do with the structure itself, I think sooner rather than later, so it doesn’t become a problem,” Mayor Corey Stutte said. “Then if there’s ever a desire from the community to rebuild or take that to a vote of the people I think that’d be appropriate in the future.”

There is $428,000 recommended in the 2019-20 budget for in the street budget professional services. City engineer Dave Wacker estimated of that amount $300,000 to $350,000 could be spent on engineering and design work for either demolition or renovation of the structure.

Those are the only funds budgeted for the 16th Street viaduct.

City bonded debt is anticipated to be $1.1 million at the end of the current fiscal year.

To fund the full replacement would take a public vote.

However, City Administrator Dave Ptak said a portion of the renovation cost could be covered by the city’s $12 million cash reserve to avoid increasing the city’s indebtedness.

“On the other had you hate to look at your cash reserves and leave those down too far,” he said.

Wacker said it would take eight to 10 months to plan for renovation and three to six months to plan for demolition.

Ptak pointed out that with as much time as it would take to do design work for the structure, as well as the construction schedule, the actual construction, or demolition, would most likely take place in the next fiscal year.

Councilman Chuck Rosenberg said based on feedback he’s received, renovation seems to be the most popular option among Hastings residents.

“The majority of people I talked to were saying ‘Why wouldn’t you fix it’ you could save $500,000 on tear down by fixing it,” he said. “Twenty to 30 years is a reasonable life expectancy.”

Council President Paul Hamelink said he is reluctant to support paying to renovate a structure that has long outlived its life expectancy.

Ptak gave council members a thorough tour of the city’s 2019-20 budget during the work session.

Hastings Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson also gave a full run down of the HU budget.

The fiscal years for both the city and Hastings Utilities begin Oct. 1.

The city budget includes $61,503,628 in total expenditures.

However, Ptak said there are a lot of contingencies built into that amount.

“We never spend everything we budget for,” he said. “The thought of spending the entire $61,503,000 isn’t going to happen. As a result, we always budget conservatively on the revenue and a little more aggressively on the expenditures because we’d rather be in a situation where you keep reasonableness in the budget.”

For instance, the city’s total budgeted expenditures for 2018-19 was just more than $53 million, but the estimated year end expenditure amount is $41.667 million.

Within that $61.5 million, $20.368 is from the general fund, which includes traditional municipal services such as police, fire, parks and recreation, code enforcement, finance and administration and is covered by property taxes. The $41 million outside of the general fund is for specific services with specific revenue.

The city has anticipated to receive $49.445 million in revenue for 2019-2010.

The $12 million difference between expenditures and revenue is the amount of cash the city has on hand.

The city received Monday its certified 2019 valuation of $1,454,956,540 from the Adams County Assessor’s Office. That amount is similar enough to the estimate the Assessor’s Office previously provided to the city that the certified figure increased anticipated general fund revenues by just $3,000 more than what the estimated valuation would’ve produced.

The Hastings Utilities 2019-20 budget includes $87.8 million in expenditures and $81.6 million in revenues.

HU staff is not proposing rate increases for electric, water and sewer services. There is, however, a 5 percent natural gas rate increase proposed.

That would be the first gas rate increase since 2000 and is proposed because distribution, transmission, administrative and general expenses, plus capital replacement costs have exceeded gas revenue.

This has been the case since 2012.

Those extra costs would have meant the gas department has operated in a deficit — or would have if not for credits that have been available.

Johnson said those credits now are exhausted.

He said no electric rate increase is proposed because the cost-of-service study that is planned has not yet been undertaken.

No water and sewer rate increases are proposed because Johnson said those departments have amassed ample monetary reserves and because bids for water projects have come in lower than anticipated.

Capital expenses budgeted for Hastings’ Aquifer Storage and Restoration project in 2019-20 total $1.9 million. Another $400,000 is anticipated for 2020-2021.

The ASR project includes a lagoon, and a pump and storage system that will remove nitrate-rich water from the city’s highly concentrated wells.

“We had spirited debates within my leadership group about not recommending any increase for water and sewer,” Johnson said.

Hastings Utilities received assistance crafting the budget from its auditing firm Almquist, Maltzahn, Galloway and Luth of Grand Island.

“We’re very comfortable that we can take a breather on water and sewer,” Johnson said of rate increases.

Utility Board members Jeanette Dewalt and Shawn Hartmann were present at Monday’s meeting.

When Hamelink asked Johnson about how not increasing water rates may affect finances down the road pertaining to the ASR project, Dewalt, who recently joined the Utility Board after having previously served on the Board of Public Works, said she initially had similar concerns. However, after reviewing finances for the project she said the favorable bids for aspects of the ASR project have put the HU water department in a good position and she agreed with the staff recommendation.

Hartmann encouraged council members to communicate with Johnson and receive many of the same reports from HU staff about projects like the ASR project that Utility Board members have received.

“I’ve got people,” Johnson said.


News
Girls moved from Geneva treatment center

Staff and wire

GENEVA — Nebraska officials are moving 24 teenage girls out of a state-run facility for female juvenile offenders after learning that many were confined to buildings with fire hazards, holes in the wall and mold and water damage.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced the move Monday after some state lawmakers voiced concerns about the conditions and a lack of staff and programming at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva.

The campus serves as a rehabilitation center for girls ages 14-18 who have broken the law and been rejected by other private treatment facilities. All of the 24 girls who live on campus were sent there by the courts as a last resort, and many have significant behavioral and mental health problems.

The problems came to a boil two weeks ago, when one girl damaged the sprinkler system in one of the four residential cottages on campus, leaving the building uninhabitable.

Four state lawmakers made an unannounced visit to the campus on Friday and described decrepit conditions in several of the four buildings on campus.

“It was far worse than I could have imagined,” said Sen. Sara Howard, of Omaha, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Lawmakers who toured the campus discovered that three girls were confined to their rooms alone with nothing to occupy their time, and two of the three had no working lights in their rooms. One of the girls was lying on a wooden bed frame with no mattress. The girls reported being confined for up to five days at a time.

In one building, lawmakers said a mechanism designed to simultaneously unlock all doors during a fire was broken. To release all of the girls during a fire, staff members would have to open each door individually.

Howard said several rooms suffered water damage, and one girl said she didn’t want to sleep in her usual space because she had asthma and was worried about mold and mildew in the building. Two other girls reported feeling nauseous, she said.

At one point, Howard said girls used a broom and an electrical cord as weapons and barricaded themselves in a room with a phone.

They used the phone to call their parents, a child abuse hotline, the state ombudsman’s office and local law enforcement before the situation was defused, Howard said. At least one girl found sharp metal inside a wall that was damaged and used it to cut herself.

Lawmakers also learned that the department was pulling staff members from facilities in surrounding communities to fill numerous job vacancies at the 82-bed center. And because of the staff shortages, the center offered little therapy and few activities to keep the girls occupied.

“I was very dismayed about what we saw when we went there,” said Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln. “It was just not a healthy environment.”

The center is a part of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, but the building’s maintenance was recently put under the authority of another agency.

Pansing Brooks said lawmakers are just as much to blame as the agencies for not watching the situation more closely and for cutting the state budget at a time when Nebraska is struggling to hire public employees.

“We’ve been lulled into complacency, thinking everything’s fine,” she said.

Department officials said they would temporarily move the girls to a facility for male juvenile offenders in Kearney, but would not be allowed to commingle with them.

Julie Rogers, inspector general of Nebraska Child Welfare who is investigating the issues at the Geneva campus, told the Tribune that the girls are being housed in a separate and secured building

Department CEO Dannette Smith said she ordered the move out of concern for the safety and well-being of both the girls and staff members. Clearing the buildings will give the state more time to examine and refurbish them, she said.

Smith acknowledged that the department is struggling to hire people in the rural area, which in turn makes it harder to develop trusting relationships with the female offenders. But she pledged to fix the problems identified by lawmakers.

“What I’m most concerned about is making sure we have a clean, healthy and safe environment for the girls,” she said.

Rogers said she planned to launch an investigation into the conditions at the center as well as possible violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal law designed to protect inmates from being sexually assaulted. She declined to elaborate.

Rogers said she hadn’t received any complaints about the center in the last few months, but Smith brought the issue to her attention in hopes of pinpointing issues the department needs to address.

District 32 Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, who also toured the Geneva campus Friday, told the Tribune that while moving the girls to Kearney doesn’t put that center over capacity the additional occupancy could cause problems such as limiting access to certain recreational activities.

The Kearney campus has a pool and gymnasium.

“A high school kid needs to run off a lot of energy,” he said.

Brandt said he hopes the Geneva center can be put back in use soon.

I hope it’s just a short-term solution,” he said. “We need to do what’s best for our kids. I’ve got every expectation that the administration will fix the Geneva facilities, improve the programming and the staff and get everybody back to Geneva as soon as possible.”

In November 2018, the Geneva campus had met all standards in a Prison Rape Elimination Act audit.

The Kearney campus had also met all standards in their audit. The audit was based on 43-45 elements graded as: standards not met, standards met or standards exceeded.

The Youth rehabilitation and Treatment Center falls under the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Resources, but the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services is handling the repair of Geneva-campus facilities. NDAS took over maintenance responsibilities two years ago.


Crowd turns out to question proposed fertilizer regulations

YORK – Farmers from across a wide swath of south central and southeastern Nebraska crowded into a convention venue here Monday to raise concerns with proposed new nitrogen fertilizer regulations being eyed by their natural resources district.

Roughly 300 people turned out for a public hearing conducted by the Upper Big Blue NRD at York’s Holthus Convention Center. The crowd filled the venue’s ballroom and spilled out into the hallway.

The purpose of Monday’s event was to provide information and gather public input on a proposal by the district to place new restrictions and requirements on farmers’ use of nitrogen fertilizer prior to spring planting.

Over about an hour’s time, patrons came to the microphone one by one to ask how district officials arrived at a proposal to require extensive use of nitrification inhibitors and, in much of the district, limit to 120 pounds per acre the amount of pre-plant nitrogen fertilizer farmers may apply. The crowd applauded as each speaker finished.

Several said the proposed Groundwater Management Area regulations would add thousands of dollars to their production expenses, stressing their families and rural communities economically but with no real reason to expect improvement in the current problem with elevated concentrations of groundwater nitrates in many locations within the large district.

“The proposed rule changes may well put young producers such as myself out of business,” said Wade Walters, a Shickley area farmer.

Members of the UBBNRD board of directors listened to all the testimony but, as had been announced beforehand, were unable to comment or respond to the patrons’ comments. An informational open house preceded the public hearing.

A follow-on NRD board meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Sept. 10 to discuss the issue further. The location for that meeting will be announced.

The proposed regulation changes before the board would require all farmers in the district applying anhydrous ammonia prior to March 1, and any other form of nitrogen fertilizer at any time prior to planting, to apply an approved nitrification inhibitor along with the fertilizer. The other forms of nitrogen fertilizer may not be applied prior to March 1 in any event.

A nitrification inhibitor is a compound that slows the conversion of nitrogen fertilizer into nitrate, which can leach down through the soil and toward the groundwater table. Various nitrification inhibitor products are commercially available.

In addition, the proposal before the district board would limit all farmers in Level 2 and Level 3 management zones to applying no more than 120 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to their fields prior to planting. Additional nitrogen could be applied once the crop was in the ground.

Farmers in Levels 2 and 3 also would be required to inform the NRD prior to spring fertilization how much nitrogen they were planning to apply, and compare that planned application to best agronomic management practices.

In the UBBNRD, Level 2 zones are those where the median groundwater nitrate concentration reading from designated monitoring wells is at least 7 parts per million. Within Tribland, land in Adams, Clay and Hamilton counties is designated Level 2.

Level 3 zones have median groundwater nitrate concentrations of 10 ppm or higher. Part of York County is designated as Level 3.

The Upper Big Blue district, based in York, encompasses all of York County, almost all of Hamilton County, northeastern Adams County, northern Clay and Fillmore counties, and parts of Saline, Seward, Butler and Polk counties. The district has more than 1.2 million irrigated crop acres

Many of the patrons testifying on Monday asked the board to do an economic impact study prior to enacting any new regulations. They also asked to know more about the information the district used to develop the proposal now being considered, and indicated the district board and staff could learn a lot from the experiences of the farmers in the room.

“I kind of feel like we have a group of interns making the decisions when you are facing a roomful of professionals who are the best in the world at what we do,” said Tom Petersen, a farmer from Cordova.

Editor’s note: Another story on Monday’s meeting with additional information and comment is planned for Wednesday’s edition of the Tribune.