- Associated Press - Monday, October 6, 2014

Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 5, 2014

End of secrecy on oil trains

Better late than never when it comes to state government’s decision to release information on shipments of crude oil through Nebraska.

The refusal to divulge that information to residents at risk from the shipments was a high-profile example of the unfortunate tendency of government officials in Nebraska to kowtow to corporate interests.

Other states chose to inform their residents about the shipments, but Nebraska officials decided to heed the request by BNSF that the information be turned over only to certain public safety agencies on a confidential basis.

So Nebraska residents were basically kept in the dark on the number of oil tank cars rolling through their communities carrying volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.

Sad to say, the change in state policy cannot be attributed to a newfound concern for the public good.

State officials decided to release the information after BNSF officials abandoned their claim that the information was commercially proprietary, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency told the attorney general’s office.

Many states had already released the information months earlier.

Now, finally, Lincoln residents know that more than 100 tank cars carrying volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields come through Lincoln every week. The BNSF route runs through Havelock, along Cornhusker Highway, past the Pinnacle Bank Arena and close to Wilderness Park.

The cars also roll through South Sioux City, Oakland, Fremont, Ashland, Waverly, Hickman, Firth, Adams, Tecumseh, Table Rock and Falls City, according to BNSF’s system map.

As the Journal Star editorial board said months ago, the public has a right to know about the shipments because “disaster is only a loose crosstie away when oil tank cars coming rolling down the track.”

The number of trains carrying crude oil has soared with the boom in shale oil development in North America.

The number of accidents involving the cars also has been rising. An accident involving an unattended train in Quebec killed 47 people last year. A huge fireball exploded over Lynchburg, Virginia, earlier this year when 15 cars derailed. Fortunately no one was injured.

BNSF said last year that it plans to purchase more than 5,000 new tank cars with a safer design than the older models now being used.

The new tank cars will help make rail transport of crude oil safer. So will the public scrutiny that comes with the release of information on the oil tank cars that rumble through Nebraska communities on a regular basis.


The Grand Island Independent. Sept. 30, 2014

Kindness legacy celebrated next week in Grand Island

There’s a special place in heaven for people with a kind heart - a place where every life is valued, where no need goes unmet and malice and selfishness do not exist. In this place the well-being of others is always placed above self in thought, word and deed. Gloria Wolbach was called from her home in the “City of Kindness” on June 27 to be there.

Gloria and her husband, Bud, were two of Grand Island’s most caring and giving benefactors. She often said, “One of my happiest and greatest blessings was when God gave me 28 special years being married to Bud Wolbach.” As her memorial tribute attested, “Gloria chose happiness and doing for others as a way of life.”

Gloria had a remarkable capacity for spreading positivity. In 1997 she gathered a group of 60 like-minded women to institutionalize the mission of kindness in Grand Island. Building on the motto “Kindness is as contagious as violence and hate,” the group known as the “Acts of Kindness” (AOK) ladies set out to prove the theory in practice - by “randomly doing good deeds and spreading kindness throughout the community.”

In 1999 the AOK ladies decided to set aside a week each year to mobilize the entire community to celebrate by hosting events and performing a variety of kind acts.

In 2002 Mayor Ken Gnadt enacted a change in the city’s motto from “Grand Island, the Third City” to “Grand Island, City of Kindness.”

The 16th annual AOK Week takes place Oct. 5 through 11. Some of the activities planned are: The Grand Island Police Department and the Hall County Sheriff’s Department will be handing out pink “AOK Citations” in place of warnings or as an acknowledgement for observed good driving. The library will forgive late book fines and hand out “No Late Book Fine” cards. AOK Ladies will read a book about kindness at Engleman Elementary, and students will be encouraged to do acts of kindness all week.

Sutter Deli, Arby’s of Grand Island and Starbucks and Baristas Coffee will randomly provide free meals and coffee to patrons with encouragement to pass the kindness forward. CHI Health St. Francis will place AOK pink cards on patient dinner trays. AOK Week signage will be displayed all over town.

All Grand Island area residents are encouraged to pay kindness forward in any number of ways by giving another driver first dibs at a parking spot; being a buddy to a new student or co-worker; sending an unexpected letter or message to a friend; picking up litter; being a considerate motorist; letting the person behind you in line go first; cleaning up a neighbor’s yard; paying a teenager to mow the yard of an elderly or disabled neighbor; offering to take a senior citizen shopping for groceries; visiting a neighbor with a bouquet of flowers, a plate of cookies or basket of fruit as a random gesture; or volunteering for any number of worthy causes in the community.

As the saying goes, what goes around comes around. Gloria found happiness and her life’s calling in doing for others. She permanently changed a community for the better. Take a moment to honor her memory and support the community’s namesake by doing a random act of kindness next week. Better yet, make a conscious effort to do so every week.


Kearney Hub. Oct. 3, 2014

Obama in minority on Keystone opposition

Nebraskans might have missed the large demonstration last weekend in New York City while they sang along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young at a performance to block the Keystone XL pipeline from crossing through the Cornhusker State. Although the concert in a pasture near Neligh grabbed most of our attention, much of the nation caught glimpses on their evening news of the People’s Climate March in New York.

The purpose of the NYC event was to create the appearance of overwhelming support for the environmental agenda - which includes blocking the Keystone pipeline from carrying Canadian crude to refineries in Louisiana. It was a large crowd that marched in Manhattan, but the demonstrators fall very short of numerically equaling the overwhelming number of Americans who are in favor of building the pipeline and turning open the tap on more North American petroleum.

Pollsters tell us that as few as 17 percent of Americans oppose the Keystone project. They fear potential groundwater-polluting leaks along the path and more greenhouse gas emissions as American motorists fuel their cars with Canadian crude.

Among the most prominent people opposed to Keystone is President Barack Obama, who has dragged his feet for six years, refusing to issue the federal permit needed for the project. For a president so driven by public opinion to stand so irreversibly opposed to the pipeline is remarkable. Support for Keystone crosses nearly all political lines. Americans know that until there are viable alternatives, petroleum products will fuel their autos and power their industries and homes. Reality drives support for Keystone, regardless of political allegiance.

In March, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 65 percent of Americans favor building the pipeline, versus 22 percent who oppose. A recent Pew Research Center study divided the public into seven political categories - not just the usual liberal-conservative division - and found strong support for the pipeline in six of those seven categories. They ranged from mostly conservative to mostly liberal. The final score: 83 percent for the pipeline, 17 percent against.

It is amazing how Obama has, for all of his six years in office, stonewalled an issue with such popular support. While it’s crazy to imagine the president reversing his position in the next two years, we wouldn’t be surprised if his unpopular stance affects a few major political races. Will Obama stand in the way of Keystone even if it contributes to Democratic losses in this year’s elections and in 2016?


Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Sept. 30, 2014

Highways: Nebraska gets good rankings, but money for projects is becoming more scarce

A research group ranks Nebraska second in the nation in overall highway performance and cost-effectiveness.

That’s the good news.

The latest annual highway report by Reason Foundation, a Libertarian-leaning organization that sometimes advocates toll booths as a way to pay for highway improvements, said Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota had the most cost-effective state highway systems in 2012.

Because of our vast open spaces, Nebraska’s state-controlled highway mileage makes it the 28th largest system in the nation. At Reason, spending less is considered a positive. Nebraska ranks fifth in total disbursements per mile and fifth in administrative spending per mile. Nebraska’s best rankings are for rural interstate pavement condition (first), administrative disbursements per mile, (fifth) and total disbursements per mile (fifth). Nebraska’s worst rankings are rural arterial pavement condition (30th) and deficient bridges (28th).

Nebraska’s highways also rank 22nd in fatality rate, ninth in urban interstate pavement condition and 12th in urban interstate congestion, Reason said in its recent report.

In the wake of ongoing bureaucratic train wrecks in the state’s social services and prisons departments, it’s good to hear that at least one state agency appears to be doing a good job.

Regardless, of the state’s 15,500 bridges owned by the state, counties and cities, about 19 percent were rated structurally deficient in 2013. A highway official told the Lincoln Journal-Star that the number is skewed by a rating that doesn’t take into account the size or length of individual bridges. Many small bridges in bad shape make our rating appear worse, he said.

Highway spending has become a national problem as cars get more fuel-efficient. Politicians have been reluctant to raise fuel taxes, which are the standard source for most transportation funding, and revenues haven’t kept up with needs.

TRIP, a national transportation research and advocacy group funded in part by the highway construction industry, also made note of Nebraska’s structurally deficient bridges, ranking ours the seventh-worst in the nation at 19 percent of total rural bridges. The TRIP report, focused more on rural roads, found that traffic crashes and fatalities on the state’s rural roads are also significantly higher than all other roads in the state. In 2012, noninterstate rural roads in Nebraska had a traffic fatality rate of 1.67 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, more than 2 1/2 times higher than the fatality rate on all other roads in Nebraska.

Most of those roads and bridges are under the control of county governments, which often struggle to come up with adequate funding to maintain hundreds of miles of roads, many of them unpaved. In some areas, agricultural producers are sharing the roads with heavy traffic created by the nation’s domestic energy boom, including oil tankers and semis hauling drilling equipment and windmill parts.

“Counties must make sure roads are safe for kids to travel to school and for agricultural products to get from farm to market,” said Larry Dix, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials. “It has become all too evident that an adequate funding source needs to be established so that bridges can be updated and modernized. Together with the state we must resolve this funding issue for the safety of children and the prosperity of future generations of Nebraska farmers and ranchers.”

Nationwide federal funding for highways is expected to be cut by almost 100 percent from the current investment level for the fiscal year starting tomorrow, because of a projected cash shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. Congress recently had to extend funding on an emergency basis until lawmakers figure out a more permanent fix. In Nebraska, the shortfall means cuts of up to $288 million for highway-related improvements.

There’s nothing new about the problem. Highway projects, including maintenance, have been falling farther behind and getting more expensive as lawmakers debate how to maintain an up-to-date transportation system. To keep agricultural products flowing to market, not to mention providing much-needed investment and jobs in rural areas, they need to break the gridlock and get it done.

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