2019 Year In Review

A summary of the years most important stories of the area.

The following is a look back at events that occurred throughout 2019

January

The 2018 First Baby of the New Year to arrive in Holt County was Lilia Aitana Castañeda Navarro who was born Tuesday, Jan. 1 at 3:07 p.m. at Avera St. Anthony’s Hospital in O’Neill. She weighed 7 lbs. 3 oz. She was born to Christina Bohm of O’Neill. 

A ribbon cutting was held Jan. 10 to celebrate the completion of a 209 kw solar farm in Atkinson. Located at the east edge of the city's sewer plant, the 668 solar panel farm was built by FenPro Energy Soltuion of Piedmont, SD. The project will power the City of Atkinson's sewer plant.

O'Neill High and St. Mary's hosted their winter formals with Heydon Strope being crowned king and Amaya Dinslage crowned queen at O'Neill High School and Jack Krotter and Brook Benson being crowned royalty at the St. Mary's event.

The O'Neill Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual banquet at the end of January. Honored were Margaret and Steve Reiser and out going mayor Bill Price.

February

The Holt County Highway Superintendent, Gary Connot presented the road departments one-and six year plan. project discussed were the Malmberg Bridge near 470th  Ave. and 873 Rd located eight miles southwest of Atkinson costing $35,000. The Mlnar Bridge near 478th Ave. and 874 Road located 5 miles southeast of Atkinson estimated at $90,000; other projects were St. John's Bridge 10 miles south of  of Ewing. Woods Bridge 8 miles east of Chambers, Lorenz Bridge 4 miles west of O'Neill and Olson Bridge 2 miles southeast of Atkinson. A big project in the county was an 11 mile stretch east of O'Neill ending at Kenndy's corner its cost was estimated at 2.5 million and another project south of Kenndy's corner into Page was another 1 million. 

On Feb. 12 the City of O'Neill began chlorinating the public water for 30 days. This time it was a Level 2 assessments triggered by two consecutive total coliform test that were positive. No E. Coli was present in either sample

Stuart held their Sweetheart Dance Feb. 9 in the high school gym. Freshman sweethearts were Emma Alder, daughter of Steve and Jenny Alder, and Cameron Sattler, son of Chris and Jenny Sattler. Sophomore sweethearts were Alyssa King, daughter of Tara King, and the late Aaron King and Wade Paxton, son of Dana and Amanda Paxton. Junior sweethearts were Lainey Paxton, daughter of Darrin and Sharon Paxton, and Alex Jarecke, son of Amber and Jeff Skrdla and Justin Jarecke. This year's senior sweethearts were Elle Schmaderer, daughter of Jon and Jennifer Schmaderer, and Zachary Michka, son of Richard and Terri Michka.

Community Foundation funds in both Atkinson and O'Neill recently announced each organization successfully raised $200,000 securing a $100,000 matching grant that will increase each community's unrestricted endowment by $300,000.

Through their affiliation with Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF), Atkinson Community Foundation Fund (ACFF) and O'Neill Community Foundation Fund (OCFF) applied for and were selected by a group of peers hailing from communities across the state to participate in the Rural Development Philanthropy initiative. A 2:1 matching grant was offered by The Sherwood Foundation, an Omaha-based foundation that is promoting equity through social justice initiatives enhancing the quality of life in Nebraska.

Volunteers from both funds met their ambitious goal through generous donations from individuals and organizations who care deeply about the future of their communities as well as personally meaningful contributions of their own.

March

The Central Nebraska Economic Development District (CNEDD) recently announced it generated $1.6 million in grant funds during 2018. 

Through the district's partnerships with communities and grant funders, the following grants have been awarded in the region in 2018:

Atkinson Rental Duplex Project — CNEDD awarded $295,000 in grant funds with $111,000 matching contributions. The grant came from the Nebraska Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The duplex will include units with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a one-car garage. A storm center will be on site, but there will be no full basement. The project will target individuals whose gross household income is at or below 120 percent area median income.

O'Neill Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Project — CNEDD awarded $252,000 in grand funds. The funds came from Federal Community Development Block Grant Program. The rehabilitation project will focus on owner-occupied housing and will address health, safety and quality of homes within the municipal boundaries of O'Neill. Gross household income must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income. The loan repayment will include 50 percent of the loan being forgivable after the owner has lived 10 years in the home and 50 percent monthly repayable with low to no interest depending upon the level of household income.

The cities of Valentine and O'Neill were awarded $480,780 for Workforce Housing Construction and Rehabilitation. The funds came from Rural Workforce Housing Funds and Nebraska Investment Finance Authority. The City of O'Neill matched $150,000 and the City of Valentine matched $100,000.

March also began with the usual preparation for the St. Patrick's Day celebration announcements for the Mr. Irish Pagent and a listing of events to come. Friday March first saw 6" of snow and then 2" again on March 3rd and cold temperatures barley raising above single digits. March 7th we took another inch of snow. The World's largest Shamrock managed to get painted on the Monday before St. Patrick's day.

On Wednesday, March 13 a Bomb Cyclone  dumped 2.2" inches of rain and then 3" of snow. Deadly flood waters in central Nebraska took its vengeance on the Niobrara River and surrounding areas early Thursday morning. Overwhelming ice and water breached the Spencer Dam just south of Spencer at approximately 5:30 a.m. 

The Holt County Sheriff’s Department, O’Neill Fire Department and Holt County Emergency manager were called out. 

Sheriff Ben Matchett and Assistant Fire Chief Roger Miller made their way to the dam site along with an O’Neill Police Department officer and HCS deputy. On arrival, the destructions of the dam and highway were confirmed. Also lost were Angel's Straw Bale Saloon and numerous structures including houses in the valley below the dam.

One male victim was rescued from his house by the fire department using a boat and rope rescue equipment after he was found trapped by flood waters. Another male victim, Kenny Angel who resided in a house close to the saloon, is believed to be lost to the flood.

All though much of the flood attention may seem to be focused on the areas closer to Omaha, residents from Boyd County continue to have donations delivered from all over the U.S. to storage sites in Lynch, Spencer and O’Neill.

Lynch, one of the communities hit the hardest around two weeks ago by the "bomb cyclone" storm, has had constant donations for more than a week. Trucks, vans and semi-tractor trailers have brought relief to the community which had 60 houses  damaged by the flood waters. Drinking water continues to be the favorite item donated, but everything from dog kennels to all kinds of animal feed has found its way to help the survivors.  Relief deliveries have come in  from neighboring communities such as O’Neill and Atkinson and as far away as Imperial and Kansas. 

April

Stuart voters were asked to consider a $4.79 Million bond project. The bond would require a 17 cent levy to pay the annual debt service. If the bond is passed, the Stuart Board of Education has agreed to reduce the special building fund levy from 10.1 cents to 0 cents for the fiscal year 2019-20. The board also will retire a Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund bond levy of 1.25 cents this year. With those two tax levies removed, the net effect will be an increase of 5.65 cents. Individual net levy increases can be calculated by using the following formula: taxable valuation x .000565 = net annual increase.

Marc Munford and Jay Spearman, representatives from Ameritas also were at the meeting. The public finance firm based in Lincoln was hired to provide guidance to the school district through the bond election.

One of the alternatives, if the bond is not passed, is raising the building fund from 10.1 cents to 14 cents to complete necessary improvements.

Hundreds of people are still without running water after the Spencer Dam collapse, nearly two weeks ago.

An 11-foot wave of ice and water took out the 90-year-old dam in the early morning hours of March 14. The dam collapse took out the main waterline feeding nearly all of Boyd County.

"While plenty of water has been donated, we are trying to raise money to hire a contractor to bore a new water line. We expect towns in Boyd County to be without water for another four to eight weeks," said Boyd County Rural Water District (RWD) 2 Board President Rex Black. "We have received word that we will receive money from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), but it won’t cover all the costs and we likely won’t receive money for up to three years."

To bore a new line, the cost will be approximately $1.1 million. Right now the Boyd County RWD is trying to raise $400,000 to pay for their share of the boring in addition to providing temporary water to the district.

The search for Kenny Angel, who lived below the Spencer Dam, continued with 45 local volunteers and 17 specialized search and rescue personnel participating in one of the most extensive searches ever conducted in the area.

Local law enforcement from the Holt County Sheriff's Office, Nebraska State Patrol and O’Neill Police Department as well as members from all six Holt County fire departments engaged in a search with  the state’s premier rescue group Nebraska Task Force 1 (NE-TF1).

At the Holt County Supervisors meeting Road Superintendent Gary Connot reported  that an estimated $7 million in damages occurred across Holt County since the "bomb cyclone" storm caused massive flooding across the area and state. During the March 18 meeting the board of supervisors signed a disaster declaration so county officials could begin executing emergency funds from all available resources. 

Holt County is one of 76 counties designated for public assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The county was not approved for individual assistance. 

On Monday, April 22, Elkhorn River Farms closed its fresh pack operations — which involves the washing and bagging of potatoes — at its location east of O'Neill. 

"We are shifting our business model to do things we do well — grow potatoes," said Mark Dickerson, director of communications for R.D. Offutt Co.

According to a press release, the company will continue to grow potatoes in Holt County for its processing customers.

"We will not be conducting fresh pack operations in 2019-20 to concentrate more the growing and shipping side of the potato business," read the press release. "We want to reiterate that the farming operations here will not be closing. In fact, this move may open the potential for growth opportunities in Holt County."

Team members who have been affected by this closure have been offered a severance package and other work-related benefits.

"Around 35 employees were effected by the closing. Some of them may find other positions on our farms in the area," Dickerson said.

May

The O'Neill Veterinary Clinic has added a new veterinary to its staff. Melissa Dykshorn, DVM, joined the clinic. 

"It is a mixed animal practice, so essentially everything that Dr. Kirk Sholes and Dr. Nate Dierks do I will do. I will specialize in companion animals such as cats and dogs," she said. 

Dykshorn, daughter of Everitt and Evelyn Thompson of Page, grew up helping with the family ranch  Thompson Farms. 

Certified personal fitness trainer Shannon Olberding and her husband Kole of Atkinson purchased three fitness centers in the area. Current owners of Corkledings Fitness center in their hometown, the couple took over the Fitness First locations in Atkinson, Stuart and Bassett last month.

"All three locations will have 24-hour key access. There is a little variance in equipment, but for the most part the equipment is the same from one facility to the next. The neat thing is members will be able to utilize any of the three facilities with their interchangeable access key. Once we get everyone's keys activated, members can work out at all three locations," Olberding said. 

On May, 27 Around 9 a.m. Thursday area emergency personnel were notified of an ethanol spill at the Green Plains Inc. storage facility west of O'Neill near Highway 20.

"Our best estimate is about 5,000 gallons of ethanol spilled. The driver had hooked up to offload the ethanol. After it had begun to pump the camlock, which holds the hose to the truck, malfunctioned. It failed to continue to do its job. That is what caused the spill," said Jim Stark, Green Plains Inc. spokesperson. "We have containment ponds on the property. We also have tested water on the other side of the railroad tracks that set next to it. We have not found any ethanol that has gotten away from the property at this time."

Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) announced that Hawkins Construction of Omaha has been awarded the contract to begin immediate work on the Highway 281 bridge over the Niobrara River south of Spencer.

The department anticipates the temporary roadway to be in service by Aug. 1.

The $25,470,887 contract covers the single lane temporary roadway and bridge as well as a permanent 1,050-foot bridge over the Niobrara River channel. Hawkins Construction began work at the site on Tuesday, May 28. The company also has begun the process of mobilizing equipment and materials.

The department estimates the permanent bridge to be open by November 2020 with project completion anticipated to be spring of 2021.

“The Highway 281 project is one of the department’s most complex reconstruction efforts,” said NDOT Director Kyle Schneweis. “We’ve followed a very aggressive schedule through design and procurement in order to expedite construction and now we are looking at turning dirt less than a week after awarding of the contract. The Nebraska contracting and engineering industries have been great partners as we look to rebuild our transportation system following the 2019 flooding.”

June

Current county road permits for oversized and overweight vehicles as well as road haul agreements was a hot topic during the Holt County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 31 at the courthouse in O'Neill with more than 30 people attending.

Questions and concerns were focused on how the county's permitting system came about as well as the threat of Transportation Partners and Logistics (TP&L) Management Solutions, owner of the trans-loading facility for wind turbine equipment near Cargill, pulling its company out of O'Neill.

The county's current road permit system was approved unanimously by the board of supervisors during its meeting on Oct. 31, 2018 and was put into place in May of this year. 

The permit system is designed for oversized or overweight vehicles using county roads that have more than eight axles and/or require a flag or pilot car. Under those two requirements large businesses that fall within those categories have the option to contact the supervisors and/or county road department to set up a road haul agreement.

If a road haul agreement is not required individuals or businesses need to buy a $25 permit from the Holt County Road Department and will be charged an addition $175 road and maintenance fee per load.

O'Neill Area Chamber of Commerce Business Boosters recently kicked off a new campaign "Shop Local" where patrons that shop with a participating chamber business can win "BooKoo Bucks" in the Shamrock City.

The Holt County Board of Supervisors recently amended the 2018-19 county budget to allow for additional capital expenditures in the road fund due to extensive damages throughout the county due to flooding. The increase will be funded by $4 million in bonds. The board voted unanimously on the increase during the May 31 meeting.

"There will be an increase to the taxes to pay the bond, but at this time we don't know what that is," said Chairman Bill Tielke. "The county anticipates the $4 million in bonds will cover roughly half the damage that we have lined up. We are also hoping that FEMA will step in so we don't have to borrow an additional $4 million in bonds. There is a high probability that taxpayers will see an increase in the levy to offset the repair costs," he said.

That amount will not be known until the county begins working on the 2019-20 budget in July and later approving it in September.

The Evergreen Assisted Living Residence in O'Neill recently announced it will be adding a 36,040 sq. ft. expansion, almost doubling the size of its current facility and will include independent living apartments and a community center for the residents. 

"We hope to get started on some of the dirt work next week," said Marv Fritz, The Evergreen business manager. 

The additions will be located in the empty lot to the southeast of the current facility between Kros Drive and Center Avenue. Boone Avenue will be closed. 

It will include 12 independent living apartments with the option of a closed-in garage. Eight of the apartments will be 1,024 sq. ft. with two bedrooms and four will be 800 sq. ft. with one bedroom.

July

When patients or visitors come to West Holt Medical Services (WHMS) over the next 22 months, they will see the sights and sounds of progress being made on the hospital’s $4.2 million renovation and expansion project.

Phase 1 of the project was completed in the fall of 2018 which involved relocating the board room and updating the business office area.

Phase 2A began in June, which involves renovating the old administration offices near the hospital’s front entrance to house five new specialty clinic exam rooms, a stress testing room and offices for visiting specialists and staff.

August

The classroom addition at the O’Neill Jr.-Sr. High School is nearing completion. In anticipation of the opening of the school year, the administration and board will be offering tours of the new facility from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2. 

Tours also will be available at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 2 during the O'Neill Area Chamber of Commerce Friday coffee

Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) announced Friday. July 26 that Highway 281 over the Niobrara River south of Spencer is open to traffic.

The highway has been closed since March 13 due to flooding that caused significant damage and washed out a segment of the highway just south of the bridge.

State officials including Gov. Pete Ricketts and District 40 Sen. Tim Gragert attended a "Bridging the Gap" community celebration of the opening of the bridge on Monday, July 29, north of O'Neill on the southside of the river. 

September

It was announced in the Sept. 5 addition that  Holt County property valuations  have decreased almost $1 million for 2019-20.

The Holt County Assessor's Officer released the valuations with the county decreasing 2.78 percent from approximately $3.47 billion to $3.37 billion.

All cities and villages in Holt County saw an increase except O'Neill which decreased almost $6 million making this year's total value around $172 million. 

The highest increase was noted in Atkinson with property values rising $1.69 million pushing them to more than $71.8 million.

Other changes included Stuart decreasing just over $1 million making its total valuation over $31 million. Ewing increased $321,900 with a final tally of more than $10.8 million. Page grew by $266,236 making their valuation over $5.56 million. 

Chambers rose by $137,833 to make its total valuation more than $7.73 million. 

Inman increased $9,592 with a total valuation of over $1.74 million. Emmet also rose by $37,066 ending with a total valuation of more than $1.54 million.

All of the major public schools in Holt County also decreased in valuations.

October

The Hwy. 11 bridge south of Butte was said to be closer to having one lane open for traffic.

Gil Poese long time radio pioneer in Holt County passed on. Mr Poese was the founder of KBRX in O'Neill.

November

Voters of Ewing, Clearwater and Orchard approved construction of the Summerland School Project. The Project will combine all three schools with a new structure located between the three contributors.

December

LINCOLN – Two people from O'Neill have been sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to harbor undocumented workers in North Central Nebraska.

United States Attorney Joe Kelly announced that Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado and his wife, Magdalena Castro-Benitez were sentenced.

Chief Judge Gerrard described the conspiracy as “one of the most egregious financial crimes,” that he had seen before sentencing Sanchez-Delgado 10 years in federal prison.

The Court also sentenced Sanchez-Delgado to a $150,000 fine and approved a preliminary order of forfeiture based on ICE seizures of over $130,000 in cash along with 3 Las Vegas residences owned by both Sanchez-Delgado and Castro-Benitez.

The residences have an estimated worth in excess of 1.5 million dollars. Castro-Benitez was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison for serving as Sanchez Delgado’s “money manager.”

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