- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. May 13, 2016

Every vote counts.

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary election was the highest for a presidential primary since 2000. Seven rural counties, led by McPherson, topped 50 percent participation.

That’s the good news.

The not-as-good news is that the 309,079 Nebraskans who cast ballots still amounted to only 26.5 percent of the state’s 1,165,371 registered voters.

And once again, every vote mattered.

In a South Omaha legislative race, just 10 votes separate the second- and third-place finishers, one of whom advances to the November election.

In other close races, just 166 votes out of 35,343 cast separated the second- and third-place finishers in a race for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, while 57 votes was the margin in a Public Service Commission primary that drew a total of 43,579 ballots.

Nebraskans who stayed home could have made a difference.___

Lincoln Journal Star. May 11, 2016

Organic farming gains appeal.

In a planting season in which some farmers are trying to decide which crop would lose the least money, a new agricultural opportunity is gaining luster in Nebraska, particularly for small and beginning farmers.

A story in the Journal Star earlier this month reported that Costco has even begun to help farmers buy land and equipment to grow organic food. The program has just started, but Costco wants to expand it.

“We cannot get enough organics to stay in business day in and day out,” CEO Craig Jelinek told investors at a meeting earlier this year, according to the Seattle Times.

Among the organic products that Costco sells are chickens. So connect the dots.

Costco is looking at sites near Fremont for a chicken-processing plant, and the local City Council has taken the first steps toward annexing land to create a suitable location despite some local opposition.

Costco executive Jeff Lyons said the company would work with local farmers to provide chickens. Lyons said the local availability of corn and soybean feed would cut costs.

Admittedly, the company has not revealed whether organic chicken would be raised and processed for the new plant.

But there’s no doubt that sales of organic food are growing by startling amounts.

Organic food sales were nearly 5 percent of total food sales, but organic farmland is only 1 percent of total farmland.

“Organic food is one of the fasting growing segments of American agriculture,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last month as the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced another double-digit growth in the number of certified organic operators.

The number of domestic certified organic operations increased by almost 12 percent between 2014 and 2015, representing the highest growth rate since 2008 and an increase of nearly 300 percent since the count began in 2002, the USDA said. The total U.S. retail market for organic products is now more than $39 billion.

Costco last year also contracted with owners of organic fields in Nebraska to have local ranchers raise its cattle for is organic ground beef.

One of the reasons that organic food is in tight supply is that it takes three years for farmland to qualify as organic under USDA guidelines.

That’s why Costco has begun to offer help. Whole Foods has had a loan program for organic farmers since 2006.

A decade or so ago some viewed organic food as a fad and a niche market, but there’s no sign it’s slowing. The law of supply and demand remains as strong as ever.___

McCook Daily Gazette. May 13, 2016

Nuke plant shutdown foreshadows coming changes in energy mix.

Nuclear power was hailed as a miracle when it was first implemented back in the 1950s, and still shows promise in the form of nuclear fusion, which has been “just a few years away” for many decades.

We agree with the view that the most practical course is a cocktail of energy sources - coal, oil, wind, solar, hydro and nuclear - but in the end, simple economics will be the deciding factor.

That was the main factor cited by Tim Burke, president and CEO of the Omaha Public Power District, who has decided that the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is no longer financially viable.

Despite its ability to generate power without adding carbon dioxide emissions, Fort Calhoun has had its problems.

OPPD spends about $250 million a year on the nuclear plant, but had to spend $140 million to bring it back online following flooding and a small fire in 2011. After those problems and regulatory issues, the utility hired a Chicago firm to run it.

While it’s unusual for nuclear plants to be shut down, smaller plants like Fort Calhoun are less efficient and several have been shut down - in New Orleans, New York and Boston.

Cheap natural gas, made possible by fracking, coal and other low-cost wholesale power sources also make it difficult to keep small nuclear plants open.

Shutting down a nuclear plant is not a decision to be made lightly, in part because the problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste has never been completely solved.

It’s extremely expensive; OPPD has already set $373 million aside to decommission Fort Calhoun, but it will take another half a billion dollars over 10 years to complete the task.

Technological breakthroughs are likely to make solar energy more economically viable in the near future, and wind is finally gaining a foothold in Nebraska, but while the ingredients will vary, an energy cocktail will be on our menu for many years to come.___

The Grand Island Independent. May 13, 2016

Voters invest in G.I.’s future.

Grand Island voters showed overwhelming support for the city’s 1.5 percent food and beverage tax in Tuesday’s election. The measure passed with 59 percent of the vote.

While city officials were nervous before the vote, it should give them confidence moving forward.

Getting a tax approved is never easy. However, Grand Island voters saw the value in the occupation tax. They didn’t just see the word “tax.” They saw how it was applied, who would be paying it and what it was going for, and they wisely approved it.

Congratulations to the voters who studied the issue and then made a smart decision.

As Mayor Jeremy Jensen has said, the food and beverage tax is an investment in the future for Grand Island.

The proceeds from the tax, estimated at $1.7 million a year, will be used to fund the city’s 10 percent match of lottery funds that go to the Nebraska State Fair and for Grow Grand Island and quality-of-life projects.

Most Grand Island residents would agree that the move of the State Fair from Lincoln to Grand Island has been a boost for the city. The fair’s run brings people from all over the state to Grand Island and is a showcase for the state.

The occupation tax allows Grand Island to host the fair and receive the benefits of it without it becoming a burden on local government and local taxpayers.

Although Grand Island residents pay the tax when they eat out, they aren’t the only ones paying it. Visitors to Grand Island also pay it. In fact, it’s estimated that 30 to 50 percent of the tax is paid by people from outside of Grand Island.

The investment part comes because the revenue will help the city meet needs that would be difficult, or impossible, to meet otherwise. These could be such items as beautifying the city’s entrances, development at Husker Harvest Days or the Grand Island Veterans Home land, improving parks and trails and in the areas of housing, entrepreneurs and workforce development.

All of these are important to a growing community such as Grand Island.

The vote also shows confidence in Mayor Jensen and his administration. Jensen was honest with the public. He didn’t want a sunset clause in the tax measure because the city needed the money in the long term for flexibility and planning. That was a bold and transparent decision, and the public appreciated it.

Now it will be up to Jensen, the city council and a new oversight committee to determine that the occupation tax revenue is spent wisely. To keep building on the public’s trust, more transparency and openness are needed.

Voters gave city officials what they wanted. City officials will now have to make sure that trust was well founded.

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