The city of Hastings would like to see planning, and possibly construction, occur in 2020 on railroad quiet zones, but participation is needed from other stakeholders.
Railroad quiet zone stakeholders are anticipated to gather in Hastings later this year to review crossings in town and then state a notice of intent to establish quiet crossings.
That review will provide a clearer timeline on how to proceed.
Members of the city’s quiet crossing committee met Thursday with David Huntley, grade crossing inspector for the Federal Railroad Administration office of safety.
“David has been invaluable as far as showing us the path forward of what we need to do,” City Attorney Dave Ptak said. “I’m just really happy he could make it out here.”
Huntley is based out of central Iowa but serves Region 6 of the Federal Railroad Administration, which includes Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, eastern Wyoming and western Illinois.
Huntley provided the city with the section of Code of Federal Regulations that pertains to the use of locomotive horns at public highway rail grade crossings to show the steps that need to take place in order for the city to implement quiet crossings.
“Getting him here was a real plus for us, and it really helped the committee feel more comfortable about the way forward,” Ptak said.
Huntley also promoted awareness of the small, blue emergency notification signs at railroad crossings. The signs include a phone number to call in the event of an emergency.
The next step for quiet crossings is a diagnostic review of all railroad crossings in Hastings and a decision on what needs to happen, followed by issuance of a notice of intent to install quiet crossings.
Mayor Corey Stutte anticipates the diagnostic review to occur after the start of the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The diagnostic review requires the on site participation of stakeholders: City of Hastings, Nebraska Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration and the railroads.
“Really, looking at the timeline, we are trying to be aggressive on that to get the diagnostic review team out to make that happen,” he said.
Huntley said all options, from closing crossings to upgrading to an overpass, may be considered.
“So what we really want to do is get to a point where we have an understanding of what the railroads are wanting from us on the crossings,” Stutte said. “That way we can figure out how long the process might take.”
He hopes the initial phase of quiet crossing construction will begin next fiscal year.
“But it will really depend on what the railroads will require of us to get this to moving forward,” he said.
The quiet crossings are being paid for as part of the city’s half cent sales tax, which was renewed in September 2017. Collection began in April 2018.
There is $350,000 set aside for engineering or construction work on quiet crossings in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. That amount is based on what has been collected so far.
In approving the city’s one- and six-year street improvement plan, members of the Hastings Planning Commission and Hastings City Council both identified 2020 as the year for work to begin on quiet crossings.
“I would like to see some progress and that lives up to the timeline based on the half cent sales tax monies that are coming in,” Stutte said. “We want to make sure we’re not getting too far out ahead and overspending up front for money that hasn’t been collected.”
The city will be mindful of spending on quiet crossings.
“The people voted for it, so we want to make sure it happens and happens as quickly as possible, but what we want to do is get this initial diagnostic review completed and get the notice of intent out,” he said.
There will be a 60-day comment period after the city issues a notice of intent. Huntley told the city to anticipate comment from the railroads. The city then would have an opportunity to respond to those comments.
“We want to move as quickly as possible, but we also want to have the understanding, and I think the public needs to be aware that timelines aren’t always up to us on getting them done,” he said. “It’s the third parties that are available to make that happen.”
Senior citizens moving into an assisted living facility can be apprehensive or overwhelmed with the change.
Samantha Rundle, assisted living director of the Villa at Good Samaritan Society-Hastings Village, said adults who are used to living on their own may feel pressure from family members to enter a facility for safety reasons.
They may not be completely ready to give up their own home or understand exactly how such places operate.
“When anybody moves into a new facility, they can feel like they’re losing their independence,” she said. “It’s a jolt to the system if they’re not proactive.”
But staff at licensed assisted living facilities in Hastings say they recognize those struggles and are working to alleviate that stress for residents.
Amy Birkel, chief operating officer for Heritage Communities, last week visited the Heritage at College View in an effort to garner the perspective of residents who have made the change.
Her visit was one stop on a multi-state tour to each of the company’s 13 facilities to experience the first day that residents find moving to an assisted living facility.
At each stop, Birkel checked into the facility with the executive director, chatted with residents and ate meals with them, and slept in an empty room.
She said the goal was to learn first-hand about the living experience and learn from the residents about things they like or dislike about each facility.
She has been a certified nursing assistant, worked in marketing and administration, and served as executive director before becoming the chief operating officer.
She wanted to go through the same process that residents do so she could have a better understanding of what they go through.
“I have never lived in one our buildings,” she said. “I wanted to experience it to the best I can.”
With that knowledge, she plans to help keep decisions at the company’s headquarters focused on clients.
Birkel said residents shared their thoughts on a variety of subjects, ranging from the meals offered to the way the laundry rooms are set up.
Some told her that they enjoy when staff members call them by name and recognize them as individuals.
“I keep hearing it’s really the small things are the most important,” she said. “The small things are very important to them. They have the time to appreciate them more.”
Stephanie Torczon, executive director at Heritage at College View, said they have several ways to help make residents feel more comfortable as they consider moving to assisted living, but it starts well before move-in day.
Generally, she said the decision to move into an assisted living facility is a process. Both the client and family have to be comfortable with the transition.
“Sometimes it takes people years to get to this point,” she said.
During that time, Torczon said they try to learn as much about the potential resident as possible.
They ask about hometowns, potential friends, activities and interests.
On move-in day, they make a special day out of it. Displays around the facility announce the incoming resident. A name placard is placed on their room door. Staff members introduce the new client to the other residents during meal times. They try to match new clients with existing residents to show them around.
“We try to set them up with people they might know,” she said. “We help by introducing them to people who have similar interests.”
Rundle said such steps are needed to make residents feel at home.
At the Villa, she said they stay in contact with potential residents through the process and try to identify any friends already living there.
“We try to find people who they know,” Rundle said. “We use those connections to make them feel more at home.”
She said there has been a shift the way people look at assisted living facilities. Previously, it was a quick decision made while in crisis mode. Now, Rundle finds more people are doing research ahead of time. Assisted living facilities offer housekeeping, meals and laundry as well as other services that can be individualized.
Rundle said she often suggests that potential residents try it for three months to see how they like it. Occupancy agreements are generally month-to-month, making it easy to set up a trial run.
“By then, they usually realize life is so much easier and it is safer,” she said.
GENEVA — The city of Geneva wants to bring back 24 girls who were transferred from Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center-Geneva campus to the all-boys Kearney campus Aug. 19.
The Geneva campus was closed following an investigation concerning facility damages, under-staffing and lack of programming.
“My goal as a mayor here is to see that this facility stay open in Geneva,” said Mayor Eric Kamler. “This won’t be an overnight fix.”
The YRTC-Geneva campus is one of the largest employers in town and has been operating in the town since 1891.
Originally, it was known as the Girls Industrial School.
YRTC serves as a correctional facility for 14- to 18-year-old girls when less restrictive methods have been unsuccessful.
Following the transfer, the town’s concern has mostly been about job loss. Kamler said payroll alone is about $2 million and there have been no job losses caused by the move.
YRTC-Geneva employs about 75 people. Staff from Geneva are being bused daily from Geneva to Kearney and back — over a 3-hour round trip.
Kamler said the employees are being paid their hourly wage during travel times.
While the girls were in YRTC, they also worked in Geneva.
They helped referee soccer games, work concessions at the city’s theater and volunteer at local churches.
“Some communities might see that as uncomfortable, but since it has been here for so long, we’ve just become accustomed to that. They are definitely welcome, and it’s a part of their rehabilitation,” Kamler said.
It has only been two weeks since the girls’ transfer, but Kamler expects the town to feel their absence soon.
Kamler said the facility repair will take “at least a few months.” Buildings need to be updated to fix security and safety problems. This includes fixing walls made of plaster and drywall, securing sprinkler systems and electrical wiring, and removing tile floors.
The town will hold a job fair at the city library in mid-September to correct the under-staffing issue. Jobs like psychiatrist and mental health specialists will be a few of the positions available.
The Nebraska Department of Administrative Services has owned YRTC-Geneva facilities for about two years, but the Department of Health and Human Services leases the campus and operates it. DAS is responsible for repairs. Kamlers said there have been known miscommunications between DAS and DHHS in the past but he was told the two will work together to fix the facility.
“The message that I received very loud and clear today was that those two departments are going to work together to get this fixed,” Kamler said, after visiting the facility with DHHS Aug. 24.
Kamler said damage to the buildings have been accumulating for years. A crisis situation occurred after Aug. 10 when a group of girls damaged a sprinkler system, causing one living unit to be closed.
A second unit already was closed for renovations. The sprinkler system damage served as a catalyst for the girls’ removal.
Four state senators visited the facility Aug. 16. The senators also noted damage to drywall, tile floors and electrical wires sticking out of walls. Reports also say some girls were living in rooms with no working lights.
Kamler said most of the damage was caused intentionally by the girls — similar to the fire sprinkler damage Aug. 10.
“It’s very obvious that there was a lot of aggression done. They tried to break the facility, tried to make it look bad and tried to damage it so they could get out,” he said.
Kamler said walls were made of plaster and drywall and could be broken easily. Room dividers had holes, allowing girls to communicate or move between rooms. Rooms that did have holes were usually patched up by boards.
“They were some band-aid type repairs,” Kamler said.
Kamler said the girls at YRTC have become more aggressive over the years. He said YRTC-Geneva facilities were not equipped to handle more aggressive youth.
“Some of the high-risk girls, they were literally picking up the tile to use as suicide material. I bent down myself and tried to peel up the tile myself and I couldn’t do it,” Kamler said. “I have no idea of the motivation it must take for a young girl, who is in a bad condition, a bad place, to want to have the motivation to do that.”
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 its audit. The audit was based on 43-45 elements graded as: standards not met, standards met or standards exceeded.
Flooding is a possibility in parts of Tribland early this morning and again tonight into Saturday morning, depending on much rain fell overnight and how much more may be received throughout today, the National Weather Service reported in a webinar Thursday afternoon.
The possibility of flooding covers areas south of Interstate 80.
A little over an inch of rain is expected in Hastings over the two-day span, with about a quarter inch of that to come on the front end of the system, from Thursday night into this morning.
“August has been a wet month for nearly the entire area,” said Aaron Mangels, meteorologist at the NWS in Hastings. “We’ve had three to 15 inches of rain generally in north central Nebraska and Kansas. Normal for this time is two to four inches.”
The expected timeframe of the storm stretched from 5 p.m. Thursday into the early morning hours Friday, Mangels said.
Hail up to the size of golf balls and 70 mph wind gusts were among the possibilities for the areas to be hit hardest near I-80 and southward, moving west toward North Platte.
Previous rainfall forecast amounts fell by about half an inch across much of central Nebraska on Thursday, though areas in the south still were considered subject to heavier rainfall totals.
Mike Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS in Hastings, said the rain count may vary significantly from one side of Hastings to the other.
“You can’t focus in on the single amount,” he said. “Realize that precipitation forecasts are an aerial look at that rainfall. So with a quarter inch forecast in Hastings tonight, you could get up to 1 1/2 inches in some areas of town.”
The tail end of the Friday’s storm system is expected to linger into the morning hours Saturday, with temperatures staying in the high 70s throughout the day.
The rest of the holiday weekend figures to be dry, with no rain expected on Sunday or Monday locally, Moritz said.
“Once we get through tonight and tomorrow night, we’ll have a few drying days over the holiday weekend,” he said on Thursday afternoon.
A flash flood advisory watch still is possible closer to the event, with the biggest threat trending further south of I-80, he said.
The thought of any amount of rain is disconcerting to many in the area, as storm cleanup continued Thursday across Tribland from an Aug. 23 storm that caused significant property damage and flooding in and around Hastings.
Residents of Amick Acres near Doniphan will be among those monitoring the latest storm updates as they continue to deal with flooding issues that have left them displaced from their homes.
Residents continued to run generators overnight to pump out homes after piling sand bags around intersections and other areas affected by the 11-plus inches of rain that fell this month in and around Grand Island, leaving basements at Amick Acres flooded with one to four feet of water.
Flooding closed roads across Hastings last week, with the city’s west side still picking up branches from broken tree limbs Thursday.
Several windows were reported broken in homes and cars, with roofs and house sidings also damaged by hail, rain, and high winds, especially in areas near and around the now defunct Imperial Mall.