Public hearing details outlined by board of adjustment
October 1, 2020
istory, the Holt County Board of Adjustment held an organizational meeting, Sept. 24, to elect a chairman and set parameters for an Oct. 29 public hearing on the TC Energy pipeline construction permit application appeal.
O’Neill resident Gene Kelly was selected chairman and presided over the meeting, which ran approximately two hours.
Board members opted to hold the hearing at the O’Neill Community Center, scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., with sign-up scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.
A list of criteria for testimony was established, including:
• In-person sign-up to speak at the hearing will begin one hour prior to the meeting.
• A five-minute time limit will be in effect. Speakers will not be allowed to defer their time to another time slot or defer their time to another speaker. The time limit may be adjusted by the chairman if a board member has questions about the testimony.
• Only one testimony will be allowed per person.
• Testimony will be presented in order of sign-up.
• Written testimony will be allowed and may be read by a third party of the writer’s choosing or a reader designated by the board of adjustment. The five-minute time limit will be in effect.
• Concerns not addressed regarding testimony will be settled at the chairman’s discretion.
• A court reporter will be on-site to record the proceedings.
Attorney James Powers, of McGrath North Mullin & Krtaz, of Omaha, serving as counsel for TC Energy, asked if the board would address time allotment for rebuttal.
Board member Barbara Steskal responded registration for testimony will not be closed.
“If you want to race up and sign in, then sign in,” she said.
Powers said requiring them to sign up to be the final speaker is “asking for chaos.”
“Brent, have you ever been in an appeal where there hasn’t been rebuttal?” Powers asked.
Kelly said, “Even in a jury trial, whoever carries the burden gets to go last.”
According to Powers, there will be “a voluminous amount of testimony” from opponents.
“All we’re asking for is five minutes,” he said.
Kelly replied, “Anybody who opposes that, don’t think by just because they get the last word, they win. I know from experience that’s not always the case.”
Powers agreed, which drew chuckles from audience members.
“Whoever carries the burden gets the benefit of a rebuttal. that’s the general rule,” Kelly said. “People seem to fix some importance on being the last one and I don’t know I want to leave that as a wild west kind of scenario.”
After discussion, the board added a five-minute rebuttal by the appellant to the list of criteria.
Planning and Zoning Officer Mike Durre asked if sign-up will be allowed throughout the meeting.
Steskal said yes.
“Everybody gets a chance, nobody is denied,” she said.
The motion was approved unanimously.
Notices will be sent to landowners at least 10 days prior to the hearing.
State statute requires certified letters be sent to landowners within two miles on each side of the proposed pipeline.
“You can imagine that’s quite a project,” Kelly said.
The county attorney noted the board of adjustment does not have a budget for operating costs.
“TransCanada already has that information ... One of the things we discussed was, since it’s their hearing, they started this, would they be willing to handle the notice, do the legwork and you would send it out,” Kelly said.
TC Energy attorney Patrick Pepper said certified envelopes will be addressed and stuffed.
“We need to deliver them to the board of adjustment so the board of adjustment is responsible, under regulations, for the actual putting them in the mail, so you can verify it’s done correctly,” he said.
TC Energy will cover mailing costs.
Per a motion and vote, notices will be delivered to the Holt County Clerk’s office. The vote passed 5-0.
Steskal volunteered to take the mailing to the post office.
“I will definitely make an appointment, because it’s going to take a very long time (to enter the mailing) in the system. They’ll need staff and then we’ll have a receipt,” Steskal said.
TC Energy also offered to pay for rental of the community center for the hearing.
The vote passed 5-0 to approve the rental payment.
Whether the board of adjustment makes a decision at the Oct. 29 hearing will be determined following the hearing.
TC Energy offered to cover publication costs.
The meeting may be continued, depending on length of the public hearing.
The board will also hold another hearing Oct. 21, in case other questions need to be addressed prior to the Oct. 29 hearing.
The county’s planning and zoning committee held two public meetings to consider the application and made a recommendation to the supervisors to deny the permit “until TC Energy gains access into all lands either by voluntary easements or when, and if, condemnation actions are successful and can identify all private drainage tiles and comply with Section 2.1 Paragraph 3,” according to appeal documents.
On Feb. 28, Holt County Supervisors denied the Keystone Pipeline permit for reasons outlined by the planning and zoning committee.
TC Energy filed the appeal with the board of adjustment, March 13.