At the recent Papio NRD board meeting in September, only three directors possessed the fortitude to resist yet another budget increase. This, however, should come as no surprise, considering the board’s notorious penchant for abusing taxpayer wallets. Since my last update, the NRD’s informational wing (a.k.a. propaganda machine) has hastily gone into overdrive, insinuating that the district’s spending is under control. Why is it that only a handful of board members seem to understand the link between property valuations and NRD revenue streams? You’ve probably heard the phrase that ignorance is bliss. Well, in this case, the metaphor is justified. In my previous column, I didn’t think a lesson in basic budgeting and accounting principles was necessary, but apparently some directors could use a refresher course. So, I’ll be more parsimonious and put this into words that even the most budget-illiterate person can understand. As property valuations rise (particularly rural property valuations, as I noted in my previous editorial), the NRD collects more tax revenue, thereby increasing its overall budget. The NRD board, instead of choosing to lower the tax rate and provide rebates to everyone in the district, votes to spend an even greater portion of your hard-earned money on projects of questionable repute. You will, nonetheless, have to excuse the quintessential humor in director Rich Tesar’s ridiculous statement that the NRD board is looking after the taxpayers’ interests because it has not voted for a rate increase.
What is unforgivable, however, is the criticism leveled at this director for pointing out inherent deficiencies in the NRD’s current flood control strategy. As we experienced two years ago, dams on the Missouri River system designed to protect property in the floodplain failed. Now, Colorado residents are experiencing a similar situation; six dams designed to control a 100-year rain event have subsequently burst. One may wonder, How is this relevant to the Papio NRD? Well, the 100-year rain event dams presently being implemented by the NRD are a veritable carbon copy of the dams that failed in Colorado.Nebraska Planning and Zoning Association Handbook states: “Experience has proven that flooding cannot be controlled to prevent damages to life and property, despite government expenditure in excess of 20 billion dollars on flood control structures during the past century. Clearly, an approach is needed that does not participate in the delusion that nature’s most powerful forces (time, water, and gravity) can be reliably harnessed. Rather than incur high costs and inevitable failure at controlling the floods, wise zoning with adequate development standards can instead be used to ensure that new development anticipates and has limited susceptibility to the flooding that can occur.”
Furthermore, the Papio Creek 1976 Summary Report of the Engineering Board (of which our assistant general manager, Marlin Petermann, was a participating member) states: “If the Corps of Engineers assumes the floodplain will be intensively developed up to the 100-year flood line after the reservoirs are built, damages due to floods would actually increase… [T]he board’s analysis of the existing and proposed projects has shown that these will not achieve the desired results… Floodplain management is directed toward reducing flood damage and loss of life by using actions not necessarily requiring extensive investments structures… [F]loods are acts of nature, flood damages result from the acts of man.” The board goes on to say: “The Engineering Review Board has determined that the basic hydrologic data and analysis tends to be inaugurating as a basis for designing the proposed project. Further, the Board is of unanimous opinion that neither the reservoir system nor the channelization alternative will best serve the needs of the Papillion basin.”
Why does any of this matter? It matters because none of the NRD board’s recommendations included structure projects. Instead, all of the recommendations pertained to floodplain management zoning ordinances. Ask yourself why cities’ boards, with the help of the Papio NRD, would implement a billion dollar project that does not provide adequate flood control and will ultimately fail according to the Nebraska Planning & Zoning Department. Moreover, why would the Papio NRD trumpet a 40-year study and design by the Corps of Engineers, which was proven in federal court to contain false and inaccurate information? To answer these questions, let’s examine the people and companies who might stand to benefit at significant cost to the public.
This project potentially represents a billion dollars in funding for groups like HDR, which has exclusively provided all studies, design, and construction oversight. Ordinarily, NRDs are supposed to solicit bids from multiple vendors, which detail the service costs associated with prospective engineering contracts. Strangely, though, the Papio NRD has not followed this well-defined model. Instead, the board of directors selects an engineering firm and then lets the staff negotiate a contract. As a result of the current process, the Papio NRD pays substantially higher engineer construction fees compared to otherNatural Resource Districts. Could this be due to the contributions that HDR, Olsson Associates, and Mike Sotak have provided to current board members Tim Fowler, John Conley, Fred Conley, Rich Tesar, Jim Thompson, and former Chairman, Rick Kolowski? Do these current and former Papio NRD board members have anything to gain from bailing out financially troubled developers such as Dial? Do they, in some way, shape, or form, benefit from providing a three-year, interest-free loan to Gerald Torczon’s development at Dam Site 5? And do they receive compensation, monetary or otherwise, for approving the use of the Papio NRD’s bond credit rating for the debt-laden Sarpy County SID 162 named Milard Park?
With regard to the latter issue, my concern is that the Papio NRD, as a bond note co-signer, will be held financially liable if SID 162 defaults on its obligations. I have subsequently asked the Papio NRD’s attorney, Mr. Paul Peters, for a legal opinion, yet he refuses to comply. This is despite the fact that such opinions fall squarely within the purview of his job description. Might he also have something to hide? All in all, an ominous cloud of suspicion hangs above the Papio NRD, and the opaqueness of this cloud is such that one is left to wonder about the NRD’s future projects. In particular, do any current board or staff members stand to prosper from the construction of Dam Site 15 near 180th and Fort Streets? Given some of the board’s past actions, we may not like the answer.
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