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Thankful in Nebraska PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 01 December 2011 22:13

Resolution of pipeline controversy reveals many silver linings


A Capitol Commentary

By Erinn Wakeman

Nebraska News Service


For most Nebraskans, the fall season is a relatively calm time — the kids are back in school, Husker football provides the excitement on Saturdays, the leaves are changing.

With the controversy surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline this fall, however, the atmosphere around the state wasn’t so calm. Just in time for Thanksgiving, though, good news has arrived with the decision to move the pipeline away from the Sandhills.

Hundreds of opponents of the pipeline came out to U.S. State Department public hearings in Lincoln back in September to voice their anger and concern over the proposed route of the pipeline, which would cross the Ogallala Aquifer.

The aquifer yields about 30 percent of the nation’s ground water used for irrigation.

It also provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the boundaries of the aquifer.

The proposed pipeline would carry up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Nebraska environmental groups, Bold Nebraska, the Sierra Club, farmers, ranchers, college students and everyone in between spoke out against the pipeline.

In August, six Nebraskans were even arrested during a protest against the pipeline in Washington, D.C.

With no pipeline siting legislation in place, however, at times it seemed there was little the state could do to stop TransCanada from building the pipeline.

Gov. Dave Heineman gave pipeline opponents hope when he called for a legislative special session to find a solution to the pipeline issue, but many were confused when he didn’t offer any guiding legislation proposals, which is customary.

As recently as last week, no one could say what legislation, if any at all, would pass in the special session. Yet here we find ourselves, with not one but two bills passed and signed into law Tuesday.

Last Monday, Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk announced he had negotiated a deal with TransCanada in which they agreed to move the route of the pipeline out of the Sandhills.

Flood also offered an amendment to LB4, the pipeline siting bill introduced by Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, which would allow the state to pay for an environmental impact study of the new pipeline. This would allow the state the authority to work with federal officials on the study, after which the governor would sign off on the pipeline.

Lawmakers also approved Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas’s bill (LB1), which give the Nebraska Public Service Commission authority for siting future pipelines.

Most observers consider the special session a success. Although some said they didn’t want the pipeline at all, most people just wanted a different route that wouldn’t endanger the Ogallala Aquifer.

As the controversy around the Keystone XL pipeline finally dies down, I propose that Nebraskans make a few additions to our lists of things we are thankful for this Thanksgiving.

First, we should be thankful that we have finally reached a settlement on the pipeline issue that most of us are actually happy with, something that seemed nearly impossible just a few months ago.

We should be thankful that our neighbors are brave, outspoken people who stand up for what they believe and don’t allow foreign companies to dictate what we should do with our land.

We should be thankful that our state has an open system of government that gives voice to the people and cares about what we think and what is best for us as a state. We should be thankful for our legislature, for their willingness to listen to our concerns and work for a solution.

We should be thankful to those oddballs, the few whose passion for a cause was matched only by their quirky methods of expressing that passion. At the very least, they provided welcome comic relief in tense moments and showed us that no matter how strange or unusual a voice may be, it is still a voice that is free to be heard.

We should be thankful that not only as Nebraskans, but as Americans, we have the right to hold public meetings on controversial issues, to peaceably assemble.

We have freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

This fall, during a time when many Nebraskans were angry about the proposed pipeline, we exercised those freedoms, and for that, we should be proud. And thankful.


ERINN WAKEMAN is a columnist with the Nebraska News Service. Wakeman can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 December 2011 22:15
A breath of fresh air: Openness and transparency in the Legislature PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 21:55

A Capitol Commentary

By Renee Pflughaupt


Government often gets a bad rap.

With all the news of scandals, closed doors and shady deals going about, it’s no wonder only 15 percent of Americans trust their own elected officials to do what’s right, according to a CNN/ORC International Poll released in September.

Walking into public hearings last week, these feelings of distrust were strong.

Hard-edged, weather-beaten faces told senators coldly their own government was abandoning them and their farmland.

Tom Cone of Atkinson accused senators for not listening to their people. In fact, he said he invited each and every senator to his home to see where the pipeline would go.

Only one senator came, he said, anger creeping into his voice.

Multiple times, a tissue came out to dab away tears as testifiers told, again and again, how precious Nebraska’s land and resources were.

These were interspersed with (to put it lightly) “interesting” testimony. Carol and Noah Reed created quite the dynamic duo with their presentation at nearly every public hearing last week.

Noah, a toddler, was proudly (and obliviously) showing his support of the Sandhills by wearing a red jumper with Ogallala Aquifer factoids written on it.

After stating and spelling her name, Reed lifted him up before the Natural Resources Committee, stating: “He’s an expert on leaks and spills.”

After a few testimonies like this, I wondered at the cordiality of Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler. Everyone laughed together when the first witness banged the recorder mic.

“Don’t touch the mic!” Sen. Chris Langemeier said with a laugh. He explained the mic was only for recording, not amplification purposes. With a smile he said he didn’t want to get complaints from the transcribing clerk about the bad recording quality.

Even though the pipeline debate often gained a fevered pitch the past few months, it mostly took place out in the open here. Anyone and everyone came to tell their two cents about legislation and the proposed pipeline route.

And that, as Joel Sartore of National Geographic said, made us all very heartened about our state’s open government.

We’re all Nebraskans here. And we don’t turn our backs on our own.

Even when one of our own proudly presents a singing, stuffed Western Meadowlark before a legislative committee.

I can still hear that tinny representation of our state bird’s song in that chamber, followed by her final words:

“This is Nebraska. You don’t want to silence this voice.”

I’m glad to say that won’t happen anytime soon.


RENEE PFLUGHAUPT is a columnist with the Nebraska News Service. Pfluchaupt can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2011 21:57
Winter is its way - are you ready? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 04 November 2011 18:03

The Nebraska Department of Roads’ crews are prepared for winter weather’s annual badgering. Workers and equipment will be out to clear the highways and to monitor changing conditions through the snow, the cold and the bold (drivers).

Motorists should be prepared too.


Watch For

When traveling outside of a business or residential district, it is unlawful to follow a highway maintenance vehicle (snowplow, truck, or grader) more closely than 100 feet when it is

plowing snow, spreading salt or sand, or displaying a flashing amber or blue light.

If conditions permit, however, drivers may carefully pass a maintenance vehicle. Snowplows cause soft snow to swirl. It can become difficult to see a plow, or the plow operator to see you.

Drive with your headlights on.

Make sure your headlights, taillights, and windows are clean and clear of snow so you can see and be seen.

Plowing snow on a multi-lane roadway is often done in tandem (more than one snowplow at a time). Give them plenty of room! Do not pass on the right side and always stay where the operator can see you.

Beware of icy spots when driving, especially on bridges and in sheltered areas. Drive at a reduced speed and allow plenty of distance for reacting to traffic. Slow down gradually when approaching curves and intersections.

Motorists may use studded snow tires in Nebraska from November 1 to April 1. School buses, emergency vehicles, and mail carrier vehicles may use them anytime during the year.

Check often for current weather reports through local media sources before you travel.

Keep a radio on. Weather conditions change rapidly and so do the road conditions.


Check For

For 24-hour-a-day, year-round Nebraska traveler information, dial 511 on your cell phone or landline. If outside Nebraska, dial 800-906-9069. 511 provides motorists current

information about weather conditions, road conditions, and travel advisories.

Know before you go. The 511 system and various other weather links are available at or

Make sure everyone in a motor vehicle wears a seat belt and children are in a car safety seat. Do not use cruise control in wet or snowy weather and do keep your gas tank full.


Winter Weather Words to Know

Winter Storm Watch — A winter storm is possible or approaching.


Winter Storm Warnings ­— A winter storm is imminent.


Snow Advisory — One to five inches is expected.


Blowing and Drifting Snow Advisory — Visibility can be at or below a quarter mile.


Wind Chill Advisory — Wind chills of -30 to -35 are expected.


Freezing Rain/Sleet Advisory — An accumulation of freezing rain or sleet could make exposed surfaces dangerous or cause damage.



Heartfelt war-time hospitality should not be forgotten PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 27 October 2011 17:12

Another Perspective

By Lori Pankonin


“Once Upon a Town,” by Bob Greene just opened a whole new perspective for me about the North Platte Canteen during World War II.

Wow! Wow! Wow! And might I say, WOW!

What started out as the intent to surprise Nebraska troops at the North Platte depot turned into an ongoing unselfish effort of indescribable Midwestern hospitality.

It was 10 days after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941. Rumor had it that the Nebraska National Guard Company D would be making a stop in North Platte, headed to the West Coast to be shipped overseas. Approximately 500 parents, sweethearts and friends were at the North Platte train station before the sun came up with food, treats, letters and love to share.

Alas, the train arrived and the folks scurried to meet their loved ones. But Nebraska boys weren’t on board. The troops were from Kansas. Yet the Nebraska folks graciously passed out their gifts to soldiers they didn’t know, thanking them and wishing them well.

A 26-year-old sister of a Nebraska military commander was touched by the boosted spirits and high morale among the soldiers. Smiles, tears and laughter spoke loudly with appreciation showing on more than 300 faces. It had been the first time anyone met their train.

The young woman wrote a letter to the editor in a local newspaper, volunteering her time to run a canteen and encouraging others to get behind the soldiers.

An unbelievable outpouring of love and labor commenced. Starting Christmas Day 1941, volunteers showed up in droves to meet trains filled with young Americans who were off to war.

Starting at 5 a.m. until after midnight, trains made stops where the guys rushed in to find sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, cakes, cookies, candy, milk, coffee, fruit, magazines, popcorn balls, notes of encouragement and treats of great variety awaiting them. It happened every single day for more than four years, even months after the war ended. Every day brought 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers with numbers growing to 8,000.

Just how in the world could they have enough help, enough food? People came from 125 surrounding communities to spend their committed days.

Just one group of volunteers brought a reported 480 candy bars, magazines, 10 crates of oranges, 80 cases of soft drinks, 400 loaves of bread, 300 pounds of meat, 3000 hard-boiled eggs, 75 sheet cakes and more.

People used their rationed sugar allotment to bake for the soldiers. Some would walk everywhere so that they could use their rationed gasoline to travel to North Platte.

Can you imagine the delight and spark felt by the soldiers? Many were teenagers who had never left home and fear and loneliness consumed them. That is until they made the stop and felt sincere love and compassion.

How key that this book’s author made the trip to North Platte 60 years later to capture first-hand stories, finding others from around the country to speak out . . . and to cry. Yes, emotion seemed to be a part of every veteran’s conversation as they recalled the North Platte Canteen experience and what it still means to them.

A 77-year-old veteran who was raised in New York City admitted that he hadn’t grown up in a very happy home environment. With tears, he told how overwhelmed he was by the pure simple generosity in Nebraska. He felt the volunteers couldn’t have treated their own sons with any more kindness than he was given. He brought that precious memory home from the war.

A native northeast Nebraskan dreaded the three-day trip from Omaha, Neb., to San Diego, Calif., where it was cold outside but terribly hot in the train cars. If you wanted to lie down to sleep, it was on the aisle floor.

He grew up with the impression that North Platte was a railroad town consisting of cowboys from the ranches. Much to his surprise, North Platte was the highlight of the trip where he first got a package from a little girl, then motherly hugs and food galore. He was more than astounded, recalling that that was the only stop where such kindness was extended.

Thank you notes came from wives and mothers after hearing from their loved ones about what happened in North Platte.

Nebraskans wrapped their kindness around an estimated 6,000,000 soldiers. That’s SIX MILLION. And those who made it home didn’t forget it. Many returned to North Platte to recapture the memory and to say thanks.

Not only soldiers carry heartfelt Canteen memories, but the volunteers fondly recall the days they devoted their labors to a rewarding cause. Some were young girls who went along with their moms. Some were from church groups or clubs.

Some put their names in popcorn balls and exchanged letters with soldiers, some of those connections resulting in marriage.

It’s somewhat of a shame that the depot was torn down after passenger trains no longer passed through North Platte. Although museums take efforts and dollars to maintain, there certainly was a story there that should live on. On the other hand, it was the people that made the story, not the building.

It’s our job to pass it on!!


LORI PANKONIN is co-publisher of Johnson Publications newspapers in Imperial, Wauneta and Grant, and part-owner of the Holyoke Enterprise in Holyoke, Colo. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Nebraska Legislature has authority to dictate route of tar sands pipeline PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 08 September 2011 18:22

Capitol View

By Ed Howard


Gov. Dave Heineman decided to flat out oppose the route proposed for the TransCanada XL Pipeline.

Some people wondered: “What’s that about?”

Others said: “It’s about time!”

Heineman said what other critics have said in arguing that TransCanada’s preferred path for transporting tar sand oil across the porous Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer represented too great an environmental threat.

His opposition was offered sans the vitriol and adjective-laden rhetoric of many pipeline opponents.

Importantly, it also was offered after the feds issued a favorable, final environmental impact statement. Most observers, for and against the pipeline, said the report virtually assured a green light for the project.

The pipeline would transport the controversial tar sand oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Heineman attributed his change in position to his sense that more and more Nebraskans are opposed to the pipeline route.

The question from here: If the governor opposes the proposed route, why didn’t he summon the Legislature for a special session to address the issue?

The Congressional Research Service said last year that states — and not the federal government — have authority to dictate routes for all manner of pipelines. The federal government can determine whether a pipeline may be built, but the states can say how it will get from one place to another.

For Nebraska to do that, the Legislature would have to enact new laws and regulations to implement its authority. The only Nebraska law now on the books is one giving pipeline companies the power of eminent domain — the right to take private property if owners won’t make a deal to sell their land.

Heineman said he’d just written to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stating his opposition. He urged all 49 state senators to do the same.

However, he simultaneously said that approaching the feds would be the fastest way to deal with the problem.

It’s hard to figure out how that could be accurate.

Lawmakers could quickly be called back to Lincoln.

They would operate on their own schedule, but they would have the ability to pass legislation within a matter of days and send it to Heineman for his approval or veto.

The Obama administration has said its decision won’t come until sometime in November.

The Legislature can also call itself into special session with approval of a super-majority of its 49 members.

Some lawmakers have said a move to do that will begin this month.

A TransCanada spokesman said Heineman’s opposition was regrettable, and late.

The company always has argued that environmental risks have been overstated by a variety of scientists and other critics.

The latter have in turn argued that TransCanada has grossly understated the threat the pipeline proposes to the aquifer, their view that it is virtually certain to leak, and that no cleanup operation could be sufficiently thorough.

Pipeline supporters have joined TransCanada in its position, as well as arguing the project would provide thousands of jobs while giving America additional oil assets from a friendly nation.


ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 September 2011 18:24
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