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By Sandy Schroth
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Holt County leaders address road-use agreements

 

February 20, 2020



The Holt County supervisors spent nearly two hours at a meeting last week, reviewing a road-haul agreement brought to the table by TC Energy representatives last October, paragraph by paragraph, despite having a new agreement drafted by Dave Domina in hand.

The scrutiny came after Holt County attorney Brent Kelly presented a preliminary agreement drafted by the Omaha attorney who was hired by the county officials on a 4-2 vote Oct. 31, 2019, to negotiate a road-haul agreement with TC Energy.

At Kelly’s suggestion, the supervisors held an executive session, “for contract negotiations,” prior to beginning the discussion and after he opined it was a legitimate reason for the closed session. When they returned to open session, Kelly handed out Domina’s draft agreement, indicating a copy would be on file at the county clerk’s office for public review.

Supervisor Steve Boshart, who presides during TC Energy discussions, due to chairman Bill Tielke’s declared conflict of interest regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, was one of the two leaders who voted nay to hiring Domina in October.

“The reason I put this on the agenda is we have to get something started,” Boshart said before review began.

TC Energy was represented by Robert Latimer and attorney Ronald Comes of Omaha.

Among several potential amendments considered are: A letter of credit to cover repair of damaged county roads, to be calculated at $300,000 per mile of asphalt road and $50,000 per mile of gravel road included in the agreement, a like amount of performance bonding for subcontractors; and $10 million per occurrence liability insurance coverage, with a company rated B+ or better.

Supervisor Don Butterfield expressed a need for inclusion of both township and county roads that may need to be accessed in the event of a pipeline leak, post construction.

Latimer stipulated the agreement would be subject to a pipeline permit.

“We need a successful outcome on a pipeline permit…In order to move forward with improvements like we are calling out in the road agreement, we need the pipeline permit,” he said.

He said TCE would contribute to the proposed Spencer/Naper bridge project and some grading projects included in the county’s 2020 One- and Six-Year Improvement Plan.

“TC has estimated some significant improvements we would do, particularly on 479 (Road) to (Highway) 281…We propose spending $1.5 million to essentially rebuild that road into a very robust access to our pump station site,” Latimer said. “In addition, where our optimal haul route is, there is no bridge between Holt and Boyd counties. TransCanada is prepared to contribute to building that bridge - in a significant way, as it makes sense for our project and it makes sense to both Holt and Boyd county constituents.”

When Kelly asked proposed construction dates, Latimer replied, “We would see some preconstruction activities as early as this summer, the larger segments of construction would be likely next year. As a number of you know, our project has gone through a number of scheduled changes, but we’re committed to this project.”

Earlier in the meeting, Bryan Steskal handed out a copy of a Feb. 13 Rueter’s article that read, “TC Energy Corp sees too much uncertainty to commit immediately to the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline project.”

The article, that was also posted on US News & World Report’s website, quoted TC chief financial officer Don Marchand, “If we can get comfort that the risk-reward proposition is attractive to us, we will proceed. If we can’t line all that up, the project will stay where it is.”

In answer to a question by Latimer, Boshart said changes made to the road-haul agreement will be addressed after the Feb. 28 permit hearing.

Butterfield asked if the Domina agreement would be reviewed last Friday.

Boshart responded, “No, you are going to take it home and study it, I haven’t got it read.”

Kelly reserved comment until Boshart concluded review of the agreement.

“That was good to make that progress through what I will call TransCanada’s road-haul agreement…There’s some of the stuff in there that I really like,” he said. “Overall, I would encourage you to review what I call the Domina road-haul agreement. I think the Domina road-haul agreement is a better starting place. So, I ask the board to look at that and come up with what ideas you have. And representatives with TransCanada, I would ask you to review it and get back to us with your thoughts or any changes you’d like to see.”

The TCE representatives argued the document they used was based on one used by the county for previous haul routes and would be used for an upcoming power line project.

“We are looking for the same treatment as any other project developer that comes through Holt County,” Latimer said.

Kelly countered, “You are allowed, supervisors, to live and learn from previous experience.”

He then addressed Comes and Latimer, “I will consider that your response to the Domina road-haul agreement…What I am hearing is, ‘we want to use our road-haul agreement.’ I’m going to urge my supervisors to use whatever is in the best interest of their constituents, (who) elected me and elected them; and that’s the Domina road-haul agreement.”

Comes said the document they worked from was a Holt County document and questioned if the Domina agreement will be used for “everybody else,” again citing a potential agreement with Nebraska Public Power District.

“We may,” Kelly answered. “I think it’s a good starting place.”

Butterfield opined that wind farm road use was different from what will take place during pipeline construction.

“I told you this,” he said. “(It’s) different ground and everything.”

Diane Steskal questioned the TCE officials about size of equipment county road travelers can expect to meet on the narrow roadways, as well as frequency.

Latimer said the largest loads will be pipe-hauling trucks that are 99 feet long and have a gross vehicle weight of 65,500 pounds, with transport of pipe to the pipeline right-of-way moving along in an assembly-line process.

Steskal also asked Latimer if he had the name of the pipeline construction contractors.

“No, not right now,” he answered.

She then specifically asked, “Do you use Michels?”

He said contractors have not been named for this project.

She persisted, “Have you ever used a contractor by the name of Michels up in South Dakota?”

“We have used Michels Contracting, yes, for a wide variety of projects, but I can’t exactly say they were on that spread, on the Simpsons,” he confirmed. “What is your concern?”

Steskal alleged post-construction reclamation issues encountered by Simpsons.

She also addressed the supervisors regarding procedures for the Feb. 28 public hearing for TCE’s zoning permit. She asked the length of time individual speakers will be given.

Boshart estimated three minutes per speaker. He said speakers will be asked to sign in and will speak in order.

In response to a question about hiring a court reporter, Boshart said, “No I don’t believe so, I’ve been on here seven years and we’ve never done it.”

Steskal then specifically asked the board to hire one.

“I like consistency,” Boshart answered. “The lawyers have told me if you consistently have court reporters at all your hearings, you should consistently keep ‘em, and that I’m aware of, we have never had one in the seven years I’ve been here.”

Steskal was consistently persistent. She said, “I’m asking you to put it before the board.”

Boshart then asked his peers, “Does this board want to hire a court reporter? It’s several hundred dollars, I’m not sure of that, I don’t know for sure. My personal opinion is it’s not going to really do us any good… To me it’s a lawyer thing, it should be up to Brent.”

Kelly asked Latimer and Comes if they would share their transcripts from both the planning and zoning hearing and the upcoming hearing.

“Yes. Yes, but we have to confirm with our other folks on that. We will take that request back, certainly,” Comes replied.

Kelly then said he would hire a court reporter.

Janene Petersen addressed the supervisors, asking the status of an engineering drainage study proposal for an area north and west of the city of O’Neill.

Connot said engineer Mainelli Wagner had looked at charts but wants to conduct a field study.

Petersen asked, “So, after we flood again?”

Area landowner Pat Robertson also addressed the board, offering his opinions. Connot and Tielke agreed to meet with Robertson to look at his suggestions for resolution.

The county’s One- and Six-Year Road Improvement Plan presented by Connot was adopted following a public hearing.

During the hearing, several Stuart area residents questioned progress on the Spencer/Naper bridge project.

Connot recapped the federal-funded project timeline. The 524-foot bridge floated downstream last March. In May, county officials signed a program agreement with the state, to replace the bridge for about $7.5 million and hired an engineer. Holt and Boyd counties entered an agreement, committing to the project in December.

Additional right-of-way easements will be needed for the new 950-ft. bridge. Acquisition will be handled by the Nebraska Department of Transportation soon, according to Connot.

He said, “Right-of-way acquisition is a sensitive subject, this is federally funded, so they need to follow the Uniform Act.”

He said, while DOT officials have told him they are “fairly comfortable” with the project moving to bid letting in May, the state’s scheduling system showed it in October. The local officials contacted Nebraska Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton.

“Gragert must have rattled a few cages fairly quick, because we did get some replies,” Tielke said. “It’s not anybody around here that’s dragging their feet, It’s out of our hands.”

Connot said DOT and the engineers are still striving for a May letting. Construction is expected to take two construction seasons.

Boshart advised the area residents to call their senators and the governor.

“I don’t think a friendly phone call hurts a thing, just to let them know that we’re still suffering here,” Connot added. “It’s still costing us money every day.”

During his monthly department report, Connot informed the supervisors he had been contacted by members of the Grievance Committee, Greg Hall, Bob Young and Bob Weber, regarding safety, communication, rumors, cameras and a pickup traveling to the District 2 shop from O’Neill every day. He said they want to talk to the Personnel Committee, without Connot’s presence. A meeting will be scheduled.

Connot also said Hall had announced plans to retire.

He asked for direction on the department’s equipment rotation schedule, related to budget. The plan had been to purchase a motorgrader, a service truck and possible a side-dump trailer yet this fiscal year. A previously ordered dump truck had recently arrived in Omaha. The supervisors advised replacing the grader and service truck, but to delay the trailer purchase.

He was given the nod to rent a mini excavator to remove bridge timbers and permission for himself, the asphalt foreman and two crew members to attend a two-day asphalt technical workshop in Lincoln, with registration, lodging and travel paid by Nebraska Workforce Development Board.

Boshart reported on a meeting of a newly-formed special road department efficiency committee. He said a human resource consultant company was contacted and asked what service was available.

“They basically named off all the things we need them to look at,” he said.

A consultant would visit every two weeks at a cost of about $4,000 per month. Services include rewriting personnel policies and providing workmen’s compensation-related plans. He said the service would be available to all county departments. Connot recommended an audit of road department practices and training to start.

Boshart and Connot suggested a March 16 presentation to the full board.

Connie Krotter’s treasurer’s report included a reminder that tax receipts will be slow for the next two months.

“You need to continue on that conservative approach, where we kind of watch what we are doing as far as cash-flow expenditures,” she said. “We have a little inheritance boost, so that does help. That was a nice bonus, but we need to continue to be conservative and watch what we do during March and April.”

While convened as a board of equalization, the leaders approved one tax roll correction and a list of permissive tax exemption applications, as recommended by assessor Tim Wallinger. The exemptions included a new application for the Page American Legion, Wallinger recommended approval, with the exception of the portion occupied by a restaurant and the land under it.

Veteran’s service officer Ken Stenka presented his quarterly report and introduced a new member of his staff, Mick McIntire of O’Neill. McIntire is a Marine Corps veteran with 22 years’ service.

 

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