A tragic reminder

March 12th, 2014

Posted on Mar 11, 2014
by Greg Awtry

Just when you think you have everything figured out, life wakes you up with an elbow to the ribs and teaches you another lesson. This has happened to me (and most likely to you) several times in my life, but now at the age of 60, one would think I’d have all the elbow nudges behind me. Not so.

It was a beautiful morning. The wakening sun was doing its best to warm the cool air chilled by a cloudless night. The small group of friends was getting ready to enjoy a final day of a winter vacation before heading home to cooler climes.

One second we are laughing but the next; the unmistakable and horrifying sound of a human body falling helplessly to the ground. I had heard that sound one time before, the sound of a person’s head thumping on a hard surface when my son tumbled down a set of stairs.

There is no other sound like it. When we heard THE noise a friend said, “Someone has fallen.” Collectively we turned and saw it was our dear friend. He had fallen down a set of stairs, but unlike my son, who was not injured, here laid our companion, obviously in a desperate way.

Just seconds ago we were enjoying our morning together and now he was struggling for his life. How could this be? This wasn’t a car crash or a burning home. This was just a simple set of stairs leading up to a golf green. Our friend had done this thousands of times in his life, but now, at this particular moment, he lay there nearly motionless except for the irregular raising and lowering of his chest as he struggled for each breath.

The paramedics arrived quickly and soon our friend was whisked off to a hospital which would do everything it could to assess what happened and what should be done. As I write this, three days after his fall, our friend has still not regained consciousness and we wait for news and pray it will be good.

Why? Why does this happen? We all know we are mortal, but if you are like me, most of us live in denial of the fact we could die today. Are we ready? Do we have any regrets? Do we wish we had another chance?

I think God uses his elbow all throughout our lives, nudging us, trying to tell us, be ready, your day is coming too. These unfortunate events in our life tell us to live like it was our last day. I know you have had these same reminders and generally we follow God’s nudge, but only for a short time, then reality and difficulties of life get in the way and we return to our old ways.

I hope that doesn’t happen to me. As I knelt there just a few days ago, cradling our friend’s head in my hands, I said to myself, “I hear you God, but our friend doesn’t have to be the example. He isn’t ready, and I hear You.”

Life is so fragile, so temporary, and ends much too quickly. What a different world it would be if we all could live life as though today is our last day. That is what I learned again last week. I pray I won’t need any more reminders and I pray for a friend who could use your prayers as well.



Is the Keystone XL in the nation’s interest?

February 5th, 2014

The Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline has been released. It claims the construction of the KXL will not significantly increase the carbon emissions. The State Department, who conducted the study, stops short of recommending approval of the project and does acknowledge many of the environmental risks associated with the building of the pipeline.

Nebraska Representatives Adrian Smith and Lee Terry seem all too eager to sidestep the final process in TransCanada’s quest to receive a presidential permit from President Obama. This completed study is just environmental. The final stage will be to determine if this Diluted Bitumen pipeline is in the national interest of the United States.

Smith’s press release stated, “The State department has once again confirmed the Keystone pipeline would be safe and in the best interest of our nation… it’s time to move forward with this project which would improve our energy security, create jobs and spur economic growth.”

Terry’s comment, “There is no question that moving forward with Keystone XL is in our ‘national interest.’ …It would be a disgrace to allow extreme ideologues to obstruct this critical project that will create jobs and help us down the path of energy security.”

Smith and Terry must not understand that a 90-day period for other federal agencies to weigh in is required for the permitting process. Agencies like the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service and Rural Utilities Service Agencies. Others like Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and Office of Pipeline Safety must all weigh in. Smith and Terry must not be concerned about their input.

On the other hand, USA Today reports Congressman Raul Grijalva D-Ariz. responding to the study, “The State Department is asking us to believe this pipeline is in the national interest. How can a pipeline that ships Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, that does nothing to increase our energy independence, and that will deal irreparable damage both to our landscapes and our air quality possibly meet that definition?”
The federal study also goes into great detail about other concerns that people in Nebraska have become so knowledgeable about. The study states that after pipeline completion, the pipeline will create only 35 full-time jobs and 15 temporary contractor positions in the entire United States.

The study indicates that if the pipeline is constructed that the price per barrel of bitumen could increase “by up to $8 per barrel.” This increased cost will most likely be felt at the pump in the form of higher fuel prices.

Dozens of pages of the report indicate the chances of a spill and cite recent oil pipelines as their reference source. In fact, the State Department reports crude oil pipelines have had 321 incidents in the ten years 2002 to 2012. The average incident for all oil pipelines was 16,000 gallons each. But for “large pipelines”, and that means 16 inch diameter and larger, (the KXL will be a 36 inch diameter) the news is even worse. In that same time span there were 71 incidents with the average being over 46,000 gallons.

Now, keep all that in mind as the State Department Report also calculates the “Potential Releases Associated with the Proposed Project.” They report potential oil spills of 22,000 gallons every year transporting oil by pipe, rail, marine, and truck. Keep that in mind as the proposed pipeline (according to the study) crosses 294 miles of the High Plains Ogallala Aquifer, 62 major water crossings, and will be laid in the ground “within 1 mile of 2,537 wells, including 39 public water supply wells. Wells that are in the vicinity could be affected by a release from the proposed project.”

And keep this is mind when the federal study clearly acknowledges what I have been writing about for years. This is not conventional crude; this pipe will carry DilBit, and diluted Bitumen (DilBit) sinks. The study states, “… in the event of a spill into water, it is possible that large portions of DilBit will sink and that submerged oil significantly changes spill response and impacts.” The study also must include, “a means to address the additional risks of releases that may be greater for spills of DilBit than other crudes.” The State Department says the study should, “more clearly recognize that this characteristic of dilbit is different from the fate and transport of oil contaminants associated with conventional crude oil and refined product spills from pipelines.”

So there you have it. DilBit is significantly different that conventional crude. Risks associated with spills may be greater than other oils. Large portions may sink in water. It crosses hundreds of miles of the aquifer and is near thousands of private wells. And, Keystone XL won’t lower the price of fuel, as it only transports DilBit to the Gulf coast so it can be sold for greater prices on the world market.

People in Nebraska, along with ranching and farming landowners, are being asked to accept all this risk for decades to come, for a little bit of construction activity and a few tax dollars that will depreciate over a fifteen-year time span according to Nebraska law.

And now, we have come to the point we have to decide if this pipe is in the national interest of the United States. To repeat Congressman Raul Grijalva’s question, “How can a pipeline that ships Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, that does nothing to increase our energy independence, and that will deal irreparable damage both to our landscapes and our air quality possibly meet that definition?”



Candidate 101, blah, blah, blah

January 21st, 2014

At some point, we get all of the statewide candidates running for Governor, Congress and the Senate through the York News-Times office. Why? Because it is free publicity, that’s why! And, despite all you may heave heard or read about newspapers being a dying business, these candidates still know newspapers are the primary source of local news, be it in print or digital formats.

So here they come, one at a time, some traveling with aides that drive them around like royalty, taking notes on every word the candidate says, presumably keeping them on a tight leash, and coaching them not to say anything that could come close to a campaign promise they might be held accountable for at a later time. (Which is why we shoot video of them when they are here, so we have a complete record of what they tell you though us.)

On a rare occasion a candidate comes into our office alone. Example: Sen. Deb Fischer did, but not any longer. In fact the last time Deb was in, her “keeper” refused to let us use video. In hindsight, we should have stopped the interview right then and there.

Not Tom Osborne. Tom always drove up to the office alone, came in and made sure he said hello to most of the News-Times staff. Can’t say we ever had any other candidate say hello to the staff before. Tells you a lot about the man, Tom Osborne, doesn’t it?

In our conference room, under the watchful eye of the candidates’ “handlers” the interview begins. Usually we ask, “Why are you doing this?” The normal response, “I think I can make a difference.” Then the actual issues are raised, and here is where most candidates drift off into that all too predictable “Party Line”. They tell us all the problems in Washington or Lincoln; can’t get along, spend too much, tax too much, need more bipartisanship, blah, blah, blah.

Well, here at the News-Times we are tired of hearing what the problems are. We know the dang problems. We have to live with them every day, and most of these problems were created by government in the first place.

We want answers. We want the candidates to tell us their solutions. We want to know exactly what they intend to do in exchange for your vote. But no… all we get are “positions”.

What is a position? Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you several positions, and then tell me if you would vote for this candidate.

“I am all for the middle class. The middle class will be high priority for me when I am elected.”

“We need to balance our budget, just like the voters have to balance theirs. I will not rest until we have a balanced budget.”

“We need to concentrate on creating jobs. I will work across party lines to create jobs and put Americans back to work again!”

“Taxes are too high and the amount of waste, fraud and abuse is unacceptable in Washington. We need to hold our government accountable and get back on solid fiscal policy.”

“Washington just doesn’t get it. We need to take Nebraska values like common sense and hard work to Washington.”

“We must take care of our seniors. We made promises to them and we need to do all we can to keep those promises.”

“We need to make education more affordable and accessible to all children. I’ll work hard on making college education more affordable.”

“Nothing is more important than our nation’s security and I’ll be there for our current military and our brave veterans.”

“Healthcare remains unaffordable despite the Affordable Care Act. We need to repeal Obamacare and offer a different solution.”

More blah, blah, blah. Did you see anywhere above where our make-believe candidate tells you exactly what they would do to change anything? Of course you didn’t. That’s the idea. Don’t say anything that means you actually may have to produce some measurable results.

I can just hear some of the handlers when they get back in the car. “Good job! You followed the two rules of politics perfectly! One, say what you must to get elected, and two, say what you must to get re-elected. You are good!”

So the next time you listen to a candidate, don’t pay any attention when they tell us all the problems in government unless they follow it up with their specific plan to remedy the problem. Don’t pay any attention when they tell you all their positions, unless they follow it up with exactly what they intend to do to make it happen.

Then and only then will you have a candidate worth listening to.

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TransCanada has trouble with the truth

October 30th, 2013

10/29/13 – “Tuesday’s meeting was to speak with representatives of TransCanada to see where everyone is at with that 2011 agreement,” explained York County Commissioner Chairman Kurt Bulgrin. “The issue is whether it is still in effect. The county leans toward that it is null and void. TransCanada believes that the agreement is intact and still good.

Are you kidding me? TransCanada thinks the York County Haul Route Agreement is still good? If they do, then it proves what we suspected all along. They have trouble with the truth!

On 9/20/11, the day York County signed the agreement, Chairman Bulgrin asked specifically if the president denied the permit, then the contract would be null and void. Bob Bradley, project manager for TransCanada said, “Yes, then it was just a great exercise.”

On January 18, 2012 President Obama denied the permit. According to TransCanada project manager Bob Bradley, the York County Haul Route Agreement was then null and void.

Now they (TransCanada) say they believe the agreement is “intact and still good.”

Hey TransCanada, you might think we are a bunch of hicks, but we can read, and we can hear, and most of all we can see you are lying… again.

Here’s the 9/20/11 story from the York News-Times, quoting the null and void comments.


By Melanie Wilkinson, Staff Writer | 0 comments
YORK — The county commissioners have given their approval to a haul route agreement with the TransCanada company regarding the use of rural roads during the potential construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

If the pipeline is constructed, as currently designed, it would cut through York County. The company wants to use rural roads to haul pipe, equipment and other heavy loads.

The original contract was sent to the county’s highway department a year ago and the topic of discussion has been on the commissioners’ table for months now.

Numerous public meetings have been held and the board members decided Tuesday was the day to make a decision.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the board members enlisted legal assistance from Deputy County Attorney Candace Dick to review the standing agreement further.

Commissioner Kurt Bulgrin asked Dick to bring forward her findings and give her legal opinion.

“This agreement is only about the haul route, not the pipeline itself,” Dick reminded the board.

“This is only about the use of the county roads. Some issues have already been addressed and we’ve looked at others further.

“This says that the county is responsible for normal maintenance of the rural roads as we always are,” Dick said.

“Keystone would be responsible for repairs and additional maintenance that are the result of their activities.”

The agreement says that a third party consultant (who will be chosen by the county and TransCanada) would determine and document the quality of the designated rural roads, “so at the end of the project they can determine what repairs need to take place,” Dick explained.

“My concern is what happens during the project — who determines that the pipeline company may have created a greater burden (on the roads) than what we have over the course of a year?”

Ronald Comes, an Omaha attorney working as counsel to TransCanada, spoke to the matter.

“During the course of the construction, the contractors in the field — they will need to have good quality roads for their uses and they recognize that for residents and business activities, the roads need to be in good condition,” Comes said.

“They will have a good dialogue with your road department and that contractor will make sure the repairs are made. We don’t expect any disagreements.”

“We also know that the roads are necessary for the community’s commerce, so everyone would be well served to have them in good condition,” commented Jeff Rowe from TransCanada.

“We’d like to have a good relationship with your highway superintendent to provide for a fast line of communication,” Comes added.

“The project would be in phases,” Dick said.

“If you give approval, the first step would be the pre-assessment by the third party consultant who is working with both sides but is entirely paid for by Keystone. The county would only share in fees at the end if there were to be a dispute and the third party would have to mediate. The road quality assessment would be done before the county would give its OK to the actual haul routes.”
It was explained that the board’s approval would “start the ball rolling,” and that the roads specifically chosen for haul routes would be determined during the consultant process.

“The purpose of this agreement, at this point, is to put the sequence in place,” Comes said.

“You sign the agreement, then the third party consultant would evaluate the proposed roads. Then, with the advice of the consultant, we’ll look at issues with particular roads and talk about the costs on the front end.

Then, the county will have the opportunity to say ‘we prefer you don’t use those particular roads and here’s our requirements.’ Ultimately, the county has the veto power over the use of the roads.”

“So all the steps have the third party consultant involved?” asked Commissioner Paul Buller.

“Yes,” responded project manager, Bob Bradley. “We’d like to work with smaller firms if possible and we will accept any recommendations.”

“Once the agreement is entered, then the assessment can be done,” Dick said.

“The county will decide which roads will be permitted for use. If the county enters into this, it’s saying the county will be reasonable and ‘if this route doesn’t work, we’ll help find a way to do this somehow.’ This has to be something that you want to do.”

“This agreement would acknowledge that we will be using your roads,” Comes said.

“If they are damaged, it would be good to have benchmarks so we can compensate the county. So there’s a baseline — if we get to the end, if they aren’t already restored, our commitment is to get it there.”

“This gets the fish on the table,” Bradley said, “it opens the dialogue between us and your roads superintendent. He will have key contact people he can talk to. We know things will come up along the way — then he can call us and we’ll address it immediately.”

“As far as the actual presidential permit (to allow the pipeline itself, to be decided in November or December), if that is denied, then this agreement between TransCanada and the county would be null and void, correct?” Commissioner Kurt Bulgrin asked.

“Yes, then it was just a great exercise,” Bradley said.

“We try to front end these conversations and agreements, that’s how the process works. This agreement was sent out to all (potentially) affected counties — I don’t think this is a bad way to approach it.”

“How many counties in Nebraska have already entered into this agreement?” Bulgrin asked, with the response being five: Saline, Holt, Wheeler, Greeley and Jefferson.

“This agreement seems to have an infinite time frame,” Dick commented.

“I understand they have to have the permit and all that, but is there any way to quantify how long (this agreement would be in place)? I’d assume the project would be done in a reasonable amount of time because it would be in their best interest to get the job done.”
Commissioner Pat Bredenkamp asked if the company would be hiring any people from Nebraska. Company representatives said each construction spread (Nebraska would have three) would have approximately 600 workers at peak times and that the workers would be drawn from union labor halls.

It was noted that if any interested Nebraskans want to look into these jobs, they should check with unions — which is used by the company in order for them “to get the most qualified people which will then provide speed with the construction.”

“When you are working on a project and you are in a field, you dig the trench, put your pipe in there and cover it, what happens with the extra dirt?” Bredenkamp asked.

Bradley acknowledged there would be excess dirt from time to time which would have to be hauled away, noting it could be used in a variety of different ways.

“And we have to make sure we allow for settlement.”

“Do you have a problem with bonding?” asked Commissioner Buller, referring to a way to make sure funds are available to fix problems a year or more after the pipeline construction is completed. Company representatives said they didn’t feel that would be a problem.

“If the goal is to let the pipeline construction get through, then it’s a good idea to sign a contract that says if there is damage to the roads, then they will pay for it,” Dick said.

“The only thing I’d like to add to the agreement is that they use reasonable effort to make improvements in a timely manner, which is obviously understood. I think this agreement accomplishes that goal.”

Brad Covert, the county’s interim highway superintendent, said he’s “happy with the agreement. I checked with all the counties through which the first Keystone pipeline crossed. All of them said that TransCanada lived up to every part of the agreement they had.”

“The government has to approve this before we can go any further,” said Commissioner Tom Shellington.

“Well, if the federal government denies the presidential permit, then this agreement is null and void and there is no expense to the county,” Bulgrin noted.

“This just says that we agree on the roads on which there is an evaluation so we have the basis to understand (the level of repair that may have to be done in the future,” Bradley said.

“I don’t agree,” Shellington responded.

“I’d like to add to the agreement that the company bond for at least a year,” Buller said.

“I want to wait for the new highway superintendent to come on board,” Shellington said.

“But the process wouldn’t change,” Bradley said.

“What would be the point of bond?” Bulgrin asked.

“If there’s something that has to be fixed after the fact,” Buller said.

“I think that issue is already in the agreement,” said Commissioner Bill Bamesberger.

“I don’t see the need for a bond,” Bulgrin said.

“Before we commit to anything, I think we need the new guy here,” Shellington said.

“He hasn’t indicated anything to me, as far as problems,” Bulgrin said, referring to the person who has been offered the position of highway superintendent.

“I understand your point, but this is an agreement between the county and TransCanada, not between the road superintendent and TransCanada.”

“I think we’ve procrastinated long enough,” Bamesberger said.
“Well, yes, we’ve been talking about this for quite awhile,” Bulgrin agreed.

Several tweaks were made to the wording of the agreement before the board took a vote on the matter — which resulted in all five commissioners saying yes to the matter.

There is no condition related to company bonding, as initially suggested by Buller.

Whew! Crisis averted!

October 19th, 2013

So finally, the big government shutdown is over and the debt limit, which allows the U.S. to borrow more money, has been raised. Now, we can get back to business as usual. Whew, crisis averted!

Immediately the national media began to score Washington’s game, and make no mistake about it, it is a game with real winners and losers. You probably think, like the national media is quick to point out, the President and the Democrats won and the Republicans lost. Well, you would be… wrong!

The only winner in this disgusting game of politics was Washington. Both parties won as they get to continue what they do best. Spend money they don’t have and talk about how it isn’t their fault, blaming each other for their complete and utter incompetence.

The big loser was the American people. Do you realize that after this entire childish political game of “gotcha!”, nothing happened. The government was partially shut down for a couple weeks, but is now reopened. The laid off government employees got back pay for not working, and we are right back to where it began.

The debt limit which caps the amount America can borrow was raised, allowing Washington to continue to borrow money we can never repay, pushing insurmountable debt onto future Americans, our children. Nothing was fixed, nothing was changed, nothing was done.

Now we are in debt to the tune of $17 trillion (and increasing by $2 billion a day!). Whew, crisis averted?

$17,000,000,000,000! That is $53 thousand for every man, woman and child in the U.S.A. or about $120 thousand for every working American!

How large is our debt? Can we even begin to imagine what $17 trillion looks like?

If you laid down a million dollars, end-to-end it would go about 94 miles, roughly the distance from York to Omaha. A billion dollars laid end-to-end would be 94 thousand miles, or roughly about 4 times around our planet Earth! A trillion dollars laid end-to-end would be 94 million miles, roughly the distance to the sun!

Our $17 trillion dollar debt, laid end-to-end would go back and forth to the sun nearly nine times! And now, thanks to the big winners in Washington, we can borrow even MORE!

We can borrow more money to give away to other countries. We can borrow more money to fight undeclared wars around the globe. We can borrow more money to fund unaffordable entitlements and even add a new one, Obamacare. We can borrow more money to pay our congressmen and women, and Nebraska Representative Lee Terry can continue to pay for his “nice house and a kid in college”. Whew! Crisis averted!

So, if you are a Democrat, don’t get your chest all pumped out and gloat. If you are a Republican, don’t find solace thinking you stood your ground. Don’t listen to President Obama when he says now that this is over we can all get along because we are Americans first, because less than twenty four hours after his kumbayah speech, he took to the podium trashing Republicans.

And for crying out loud, don’t listen to politicians when they travel back home to tell us Washington is broken. They are Washington! They broke it! And “They” need to lose their jobs.

This is Nebraska and we know a few things about winning and losing games, and folks, we are losing this one. It seems we are all just a bunch of spectators shouting our displeasure at the Washingtonians, while they ignore us and go on executing their game plan.

And it is a simple two-step game plan; One, keep their job; Two, either stay in power or regain power. And they will fight to the political death to make it happen. Think I am wrong? Well, think again, and think about what happened in Washington the past month. And think about what was accomplished. Nothing.

President Obama ran on and won two elections convincing the voters that Washington, under his leadership, could change America. He was wrong. It isn’t America that needs change, Americans’ need to change Washington!