|NCORPE project topic of legislative hearing in North Platte|
|Written by Wauneta Breeze|
|Thursday, 24 September 2015 20:56|
Jasper Fanning, Upper Republican NRD Manager, gives testimony during Monday’s hearing. Senator Dan Hughes, right, is a member of the Natural Resources Committee. (Russ Pankonin | The Wauneta Breeze)
More than 120 attend; 34 offer testimony
By Russ Pankonin
The Wauneta Breeze
More than 120 people turned out in North Platte Monday for a legislative hearing on the effects of the augmentation project in Lincoln County, known as NCORPE.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte offered LR323 at the end of this year’s session to study the project. Monday’s hearing was held before the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee chaired by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala and including 44th District Senator Dan Hughes of Venango. Eight other senators were present.
The Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (NCORPE) was formed in 2012 by four natural resources districts to purchase 19,000 acres of land in Lincoln County. Of that, 16,000 acres were irrigated.
The four NRDs include the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican NRDs, located in the Republican River Basin; and the Twin Platte NRD, located in the Platte River Basin.
The irrigation was retired and a new well field was developed to augment stream flows in Nebraska by pumping groundwater into Medicine Creek. This allowed Nebraska to remain in compact compliance with Kansas.
Tax value of ground changes
In his opening statement, Groene addressed the loss of tax dollars to Lincoln County.
With irrigation retired, the land has been reclassified as dryland for valuation purposes. Groene said this cost Lincoln County $345,000 in tax revenue in 2012 and would be even higher today.
He also questioned why NCORPE needs to continue to hold the 19,000 acres versus selling off the land and keeping the water rights.
He didn’t believe that pumping 65,000 acre-feet of water from the project was sustainable. Plus, he said the project provided no benefit for surface water irrigators.
34 testify during hearing
During the 3.5 hour hearing, 34 people testified. The first 10 were testifiers invited by Groene.
Most took issue with the project for one reason or another.
Aaron Thompson, the NE/KS area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation in McCook, said the project does nothing to reduce groundwater use. Nor does the project address the needs of surface water irrigators, he said.
Brad Edgerton, manager of the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District, agreed. He said the project was built for compliance purposes only with no regard for other water users in the basin.
Kurt Pieper, who owns property near the project, said water levels in his wells have dropped as a result of the NCORPE pumping.
While he noted he wasn’t against the project, he didn’t feel Lincoln County should have to bear the brunt of the tax loss. Since the project was for state compliance, he felt the state should be paying for it.
Wallace School Superintendent Tom Sandberg said the project helped avoid a shutdown of irrigation wells.
However, the Wallace school district was hit with the loss of $206,000 in revenue in 2012-13, due to the change in valuations from irrigated to dryland.
As a result, he said they had to request more taxes to make up for the loss. He, too, believes the state should make schools and counties whole from the loss in taxes.
Fourteen people testified in support of the project including Champion farmer Ryan Stromberger, Chase County Commissioner David Hogsett and Imperial Community Development Director Jason Tuller.
Several bankers in the Lower Republican region also testified in favor of the project.
URNRD Manager Jasper Fanning said the possibility of a shutdown of irrigation in the basin wasn’t a scare tactic to get NRDs on board.
Instead, he said the state would have been obligated to implement measures to reduce irrigation in the basin for compliance purposes.
The primary purpose of the project was to keep Nebraska in compliance with Kansas, he said.