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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

July 29, 2019

Omaha World Herald. July 26, 2019

Forever North initiative can be a community plus in north Omaha

Community input is the focus of a commendable new initiative to promote development along North 24th Street and surrounding neighborhoods. This approach has encouraging potential to provide new opportunity for the historic heart of north Omaha.

The initiative, titled Forever North, encourages public buy-in, so that goals are compatible with residents’ needs and preferences. Housing and transportation needs are two of the main discussion points.

Two community workshops next week will allow residents to speak with consultants and the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency about neighborhood needs. The sessions are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at The Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St.

People from north Omaha’s Malcolm X Memorial Foundation center started going door-to-door this week to seek opinions.

“We’re trying to use every method we can to connect to the people who this will affect the most,” said LaVonya Goodwin, a businesswoman and nonprofit leader who’s on a community stakeholder committee of Forever North.

Forever North will build existing planning strategies already adopted by the city government. MAPA is supporting the effort through a $100,000 mini-grant of state funds, plus $25,000 from the City of Omaha.

The project involves the area from Cuming Street to Ames Avenue, between 20th Street and the Kennedy Freeway. North 24th Street is the central corridor.

Residents have indicated that they want a variety of housing types, including affordable rental housing, senior housing and single-family, owner-occupied homes, said Jeff Spiehs, MAPA’s community relations manager.

The area has seen positive development, including the $2.4 million Fair Deal Village Marketplace, The Union for Contemporary Art and the under-construction Heart Ministry Center. Apartments and town houses were built several years ago. New businesses include restaurants, a coffee shop and a business that serves shaved ice.

“There’s tangible proof of positive change and investment,” Goodwin said.

Indeed so. With community input and proper coordination, Forever North offers hope for further progress ahead.

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Kearney Hub. July 25, 2019

Gibbon needs assistance with floods

Residents of Gibbon clearly and emotionally stated their case on Tuesday for assistance in preventing more major floods. Appealing to the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners to take the lead, the residents said they’ve suffered the effects of two historic floods in the span of just six months and doubt whether their town can absorb another of Mother Nature’s gut punches.

Residents of Gibbon now have survived floods of such severity that they’ve been labeled 1,000-year events.

Clearly, Gibbon needs help, and we believe Chairman Bill McMullen of Kearney and his colleagues on the Board of Commissioners will put things into motion. Where the process leads is likely to the Central Platte Natural Resources District.

Headquartered in Grand Island, the Central Platte NRD has proven its capacity to tame streams that are prone to flooding and to greatly reduce their capacity for damage. Stretching from east to west across 10 counties, CPNRD has the experience and expertise to work with engineering contractors to thoroughly assess flood threats and devise strategies to reduce the threats.

We in the Kearney area already have witnessed or been involved in a number of CPNRD’s efforts.

They include assessing flooding concerns in the Elm Creek area. Engineers suggested building upstream from the town, but the project was expensive and lacked public support and funding, so it was dropped.

A flood prevention project that was carried through involved the partnership of CPNRD, Buffalo County and the city of Kearney. The project reduces the potential for flooding in the Wood River by retaining excessive runoff from northeast Kearney in a detention cell. Channel improvements and drop structures help manage the water when it enters the Wood River.

According to its website, CPNRD also has worked with Gibbon on drainage issues, including improvements to its storm water system, a project that was completed in 2010.

Several Gibbon residents said Tuesday the Wood River poses a continuing flood threat because hundreds of fallen trees are acting like a beaver dam. Rather than flowing easily in the Wood River, the logs impede flows and the water rises in town.

We hope the logs can be removed immediately.

Six months ago as Gibbon residents cleaned up after the first historic flood, who could have imagined a second flood of great destructive force was just six months away?

We agree with the people of Gibbon. Removing the logjam requires urgency or another freakish rainstorm could deal the town of 1,850 people a death blow.

Long-term we believe CPNRD can determine what is the best option to protect lives and property along a broader stretch of the Wood River.

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Lincoln Journal Star. July 26, 2019

Aging farm workforce will require action plan

Nebraska faces a future workforce shortage, with the number of baby boomers set to retire anticipated to exceed the available replacement employees within the next decade or two.

Perhaps no industry will face more of a resulting upheaval than agriculture.

The median age of farmers and ranchers eclipsed yet another record, reaching 56.4 years in both this state and country in 2017, at a time when the labor force as a whole got younger. By doing so, production agriculture further cemented its position as having the oldest workers of any major occupation in the country, according to the Current Population Survey.

Accordingly, government officials, trade groups and other related agencies must begin preparations now to head off this trend before it reaches a tipping point.

The most recent Census of Agriculture, released in April by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, highlighted myriad troubling trends in Nebraska’s leading industry we laid out in an editorial that month.

From 2012 to 2017, the years the report covered, the number of Nebraska producers younger than 25 has increased by all of 23 farmers. Those between the ages of 25 and 44, meanwhile, have dropped over the same span.

More Nebraskans from 55 to 64 years old (22,517 people) were identified as farm producers than all those younger than 44 (17,503). The next largest was the 65-to-74 age bracket (15,676). And the fastest-growing age bracket was for farmers 75 and older, which increased by more than 26% in the five years between surveys and mirrors national trends.

No doubt technology can help older ag producers stay on the job longer, as detailed in a piece by the Associated Press last week. But, at some point, those farmers and ranchers will have to leave their operations.

And then what?

Rural areas have long battled against depopulation as the landscape has gradually shifted from smaller family farms to much larger operations that require fewer workers. This ticking time bomb could detonate a couple of decades down the road, and Nebraska must be prepared for what follows.

A handful of programs exist to reduce the massive barriers to entry for young farmers or other demographic groups underrepresented in agriculture. These efforts, many of which use grant money or easements for this purpose, hold promise as one of the best investments that can mitigate pitfalls associated with this transition.

Breaking into agriculture can be nearly impossible for those who aren’t born into it, given the price of land and implements. Some estimates place the startup costs at $1 million or more, which is far beyond the financial means of anyone interested entering this field - particularly at this time of low commodity prices.

Reversing the tide ahead of an impending wave of farm retirements may well be impossible. Mitigating the flood, however, seems well within reach, with ample preparation.

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