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Rancher challenges N-CORPE water projectTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Water flows across Estermann's meadow, March 21. The natural creekbed is in distance, near railroad track.
Courtesy Photo­Image
Another part of flooded meadow (click on images to enlarge.)
Photo by Bulletin graphics
The Medicine Creek route, (dotted) from Lincoln Farm to the Kansas line. The route of a similar "augmentation" project at Rock Creek is also depicted.
Photo by Bulletin graphics
A closer look at the well field, pipeline and Medicine Creek.

A Lincoln County landowner filed suit last week to stop a government project from flooding his land along the Medicine Creek.

Rancher Dan Estermann took aim in court last week at a $120 million water project to send underground water from southern Lincoln County 170 miles to the Kansas border.

The project is intended to settle a long-standing disagreement between Kansas and Nebraska -- that Nebraska is using more than its fair share of river water.

Accordingly, nearly 100 center-pivot quarter-sections farmland have been taken out of production. The irrigation wells have been linked together near Lone Star Road and are pumping water into a pipeline toward Kansas.

The water project is operated by a board of appointed members from four natural resource districts. That inter-local (government) board is called NCORPE, short for Nebraska - Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project.

Estermann and his father Joe own a ranch near the head of the creek, about a mile and a half below the end of the pipeline that pours water into the open waterway.

After intermittent test pumping in late February, water started down through Medicine Creek on March 15, flooding Estermann’s meadow and overflowing a road across the creek that the Estermanns use to get to pasture and cropland on the other side.

Estermann and project organizers have discussed, but not agreed, on an easement to limit damages and/or compensate for losses.

Estermann told the Bulletin he had been unable to get accurate figures about how much water will be piped into the creek. Nor has anyone measured the effects on the water table of adjoining property, so he can't accurately estimate the amount of damages the farm and ranch will sustain.

Because negotiations failed, project organizers are condemning the land through eminent domain – the taking of private property for public use in exchange for fair payment. Appraisers are scheduled to consider the situation Monday afternoon in Lincoln County Count.

Estermann claims organizers do not have the legal authority to file an “eminent domain” claim, because the project is operated by an “interlocal” board -- a government agency whose members are not directly answerable to the voters in an election.

Estermann asked for a temporary restraining order, stopping the condemnation proceeding until a higher court could rule if it’s legal. He did not ask the court to stop the water from flowing.

In response, N-CORPE attorney Don Blankeneau said the water is running into a natural waterway and only about 10-12 acres have been flooded.

However, Blankeneau said N-CORPE intends to send as much as 60,000 acre-feet of augmentation water a year to the Republican River – enough water to cover about 95 square miles with a foot of water.

Estermann told the court that his land has been in the family since 1919 and the now-flooded area has been used for hay production and pasture since.

Estermann said historically, although a heavy rain will raise Medicine Creek to flood levels, he has only seen flooding comparable to the flooding caused N-CORPE just once. On that occasion, water receded within the banks 3-4 days later.

Birch denied Estermann’s request for a temporary restraining order, ruling that there is no evidence that Estermann will not be able to seek a favorable court decision through normal channels. He said Estermann could appeal the easement after appraisers meet, and he also said Estermann could challenge N-CORPE’s authority to claim eminent domain, citing a case of a well field and pipeline development near Beatrice.

Appraisers -- real estate appraiser Jeffrey Bain and attorneys Kent Florom and Michael Nozicka -- are scheduled to convene at 3 p.m. Monday to set a value for the easement.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/6/2014
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