NRD, citizens’ group differ on ownership of NCORPE land

Members of a citizens’ group, Landowners for a Common Purpose, urged the board of the Upper Republican Natural Resources  District (URNRD) to sell the 19,000 acres owned by NCORPE in Lincoln County.
    The group met with the URNRD board during their regular meeting in Imperial Tuesday, Nov. 7.
    Spokesman Kurt Olson told the board their group has a legal opinion that NCORPE can sell the land while retaining rights to groundwater underneath for the entity to operate its augmentation project.
    The Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (NCORPE) was formed through an interlocal agreement to purchase the land and develop the augmentation project.
    The augmentation pumping serves as a key tool for the NRDs and State of Nebraska to remain in compact compliance with Kansas. The pumping aids in delivering water from the Republican  River Basin to Kansas.
    The URNRD is one of four NRDs involved in NCORPE. The others  include the Middle and Lower Republican NRDs in the Republican River Basin and the Twin Platte NRD located in the Platte River Basin.
    The group has now met with three of the four NRD boards in NCORPE.
     Olson said Lincoln County taxpayers had to absorb the loss of property taxes when the governmental entity of NCORPE took over ownership of the land and it went off the tax roll.
    Since the project started, NCORPE has paid Lincoln County the amount of money equal to what the taxes would be, with the land assessed at grassland values.
    The group presented an economic study by Creighton  Economics Professor Ernest Goss and Economist Scott Strain.
    Strain said the loss of property tax revenue to Lincoln County by removing the ground from ag production would total $6 million between 2014-2021.
    Strain pegged the economic effect from the loss of ag production on the property at more than $113 million over the same time frame.
    He also estimated the $10 occupation tax added in Lincoln County would create economic loss of $36 million.
    When asked by URNRD Manager Jasper Fanning if they had looked at the economic  impact that would have occurred without the NCORPE project, Strain said the study did not.
    Fanning said without the NCORPE augmentation to aid compliance, about 60 percent of the irrigation wells in the Republican Basin would have been shut down.
    Fanning said the economic impact of a shutdown of that magnitude would have been far greater than any loss created from removing NCORPE land from production.
    The group’s attorney, Stephen Mossman of Lincoln, also addressed the board.
    He said he had prepared a legal opinion for the group that shows no statutory regulations that would prohibit NCORPE from selling the land to private entities while retaining water rights for augmentation.
    He noted NCORPE had already sold off 313 acres and specified in the deed that NCORPE retained all water rights.
    URNRD Board Chair and NCORPE representative Terry Martin told Mossman the deed was mistakenly prepared and that it is wrong.
    He said they are in the process of trying to get the deed prepared properly.
 

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