I have read the installments printed this week in the Norfolk Daily News regarding the proposal by Larry Wewel, also of O’Neill, to create a new national park on the Niobrara River. My family has lived and owned land in the proposed park area since the 1960s. The Niobrara is truly a beautiful, unique and largely undiscovered area of Nebraska. It is also mostly privately owned, many local residents make their living and homes there. The vast majority of landowners are excellent caretakers of the Niobrara Valley and always have been. Many of us from the area like it that way, want it to remain that way and absolutely oppose any half-baked idea of forming a new national park in the Niobrara River Basin.
In 1991, the Niobrara River was designated a National Wild and Scenic River to be administered by the Niobrara River Council jointly with the National Park Service. That designation already protects the Niobrara River and surrounding land from overdevelopment and environmental concerns. At that time a national park designation was also considered and found to be economically and environmentally unsound. The National Scenic River designation already protects the Niobrara River Basin, and in my opinion that is enough. I don’t care to turn the area into another Yellowstone Park or Grand Canyon Park.
While some with opinions opposed to Mr. Wewel’s idea were presented, not a single landowner who lives and makes their living solely from agriculture in the Niobrara River Valley were quoted. That is highly disappointing and a disservice to them by the author and the editor of the Norfolk Daily News. The majority of land in the proposed park area is privately owned, something Mr. Wewel acknowledges. While I believe Mr. Wewel’s dream may be admirable, the reality of his idea and the front end economic cost is ludicrous.
Under the assumption it would take at least an average cost of $1,000 per acre to acquire the private land from “willing” landowners, that cost is $175,000,000. I don’t believe either the State of Nebraska or the Federal Government has that much “extra” money nor should they borrow it. Mr. Wewel seems to imply in one of his quotes that the land should be given to the federal government by local landowners. I would be all for that as soon as they can run the United State Postal Service (USPS) in the black. Absent direct government funding Mr. Wewel would need to raise the $175,000,000 privately, which I find doubtful.
Perhaps Mr. Wewel also plans to donate his livelihood and home to the cause, that would be impressive. Has Mr. Wewel considered what local and county governments in the affected area will do to offset local property taxes lost once the land is owned by the federal government? I did not see that issue addressed in his proposal.
The local property taxes on our land averages $5 per acre annually. That means approximately $875,000 in property taxes annually would be taken from local government budgets. Has Mr. Wewel considered how that would be replaced for local governments or is he even aware that would be the outcome? Has he done an economic study to determine what the specific local tax impact would be or does he care? Afterall, he does not live in the affected area.
While certainly some local economic benefit may result in new taxation I doubt it would ever replace $875,000 of annual property taxes lost. For example, it would take $14,500,000 annually in new economic sales at a 6 percent combined sales tax rate to replace the existing property tax raised by local governments. Again doubtful.
Finally I would like to quote Mr. Wewel in the Daily News’ third installment published Aug. 22, 2019, “a dog-and-pony show” “will be presented in Lincoln during January of next year ... Nebraska state senators and governors will be invited.” With all due respect to Mr. Wewel, he does not appear to know what a “dog-and-pony show” is. It was his quote not mine. Wikipedia “Dog-and-Pony Show is a colloquial term which has come to mean a highly promoted, often over-staged performance, presentation or event designed to sway or convince opinion for political, or less often, commercial ends. Typically, the term is used in a pejorative sense to connote distain, jocular lack of appreciation or distrust of the message being presented or the efforts undertaken to present it.” There are many more definitions of the term, dog-and-pony show, most much less flattering than this one. However a dog-and-pony show does seem to describe this idea accurately!
I just hope the Norfolk Daily News will give as much space consideration to the “locals” who disagree with Mr. Wewel as you have given to him. I would be happy to give you two more installments.
Ed North, O'Neill