Photo by George Lauby
Dennis Brosius in front of the company's hangers and storage sheds.
Photo by Bulletin graphics
Arial diagram of Brosius' air strips on both sides of U.S. Hwy 83
Courtesy of the Nebraska Public Power District
150-foot-tall power lines like these would line the west side of U.S. 83.
Photo by Bulletin graphics
The preferred route of the transmission line. (click on image to enlarge)
A Lincoln County businessman is stunned by the prospect of a high-voltage electrical power line that is planned to be installed right in the midst of his airstrips.Dennis Brosius and wife Trudy own and operate Brosius Ag, providing aerial spraying in eight counties in west central Nebraska. Their business headquarters is located in northern Lincoln County next to U.S. Highway 83, where a new electrical transmission line is planned to run from Sutherland to Thedford and then to points east.
The 220-mile-long line will start south at the Gerald Gentleman Station, head north nearly all the way to Thedford, and then east to near Neligh.
The line will enhance reliability, relieve congestion and provide opportunities for more wind energy, said spokesman Mark Becker of the Nebraska Public Power District.
The line will skirt across northern Lincoln County until it reaches U.S. 83. Then, at least according to the preferred route plan, the line will run along the west side of U.S. Highway 83 to Thedford.
That's bad news for Brosius.
“If they put it there, we’re done,” he said.
Brosius applies pesticides and fire retardants with airplanes -- the primary function of their 35-year-old business.
For years, Brosius had two airstrips on the east side of U.S. 83. More recently, he bullt two airstrips on the west side of the highway. If the power line is installed along NPPD’s preferred route, it will create a 150-foot tall obstruction between those airstrips.
“It will cut us in half,” Brosius said. “We just put in a new 3,000-feet airstrip last year on the west side, in addition to two on the east side of the highway.”
He said no matter what he does, the power lines will be in way. Even if he only used the farthest strip from the highway, a loaded plane does not belong anywhere near power lines, especially on a hot day and especially if the lines are 150 feet tall, he said.
Brosius said spraying is the only business they have. They built the new strip last summer for around $35,000 to have it ready to use this summer.
Their business is expanding. They also have a new hanger/warehouse. Two sons and a son-in-law, plus their spouses, help during busy times and are geared to work full time.
A year ago, when the latest airstrip was still in the planning stage, Brosius went to a meeting hosted by NPPD in Tryon, after he heard about plans for the new line.
He said at that time, three routes were under consideration.
“There was nothing definite, but this route was not on their list,” he said. “I didn’t get the impression they were coming up our highway so I wasn’t too concerned.”
Custer Public Power District installed a new line in 2008 and was “very accommodating,” he said, lessening his initial concern. The CPPD line runs along U.S. 83 for a ways, but turns west before it reaches his property, looping around to give his operation a wide berth.
But the new NPPD line will be higher voltage. Poles will be taller and require a deeper foundation. The right of way will be wider. Installation and maintenance will be much easier if it is along the highway.
Brosius said he can’t consider moving his business, because land, if he could find it, would cost too much. After a five-year boom, land prices are now as high as $1 million for a quarter-section of cropland.
The situation is even more discouraging because the Brosiuses had to rebuild his operation, and his house, after a wildfire nearly wiped them out in October 2011.
The fire, started by static electricity from a combine running in a soybean field, burned up their home and outbuildings.
Through the afternoon and evening, the fire covered nearly 13 square miles.
After a slow and steady rebuilding process, the Brosius business is ready to take off, but the power line could ground them permanently.
Becker said the new line will be a big boost in the reliability of electricity from Gerald Gentleman.
“It will be a second path (for electricity) out of Gerald Gentleman,” he said. “In the past, ice storms broke off lines to eastern Nebraska and we had to buy electricity elsewhere. In 2012, a heat wave overloaded the main transmission line from Norfolk to Broken Bow. We could generate enough electricity, but we couldn’t get it through the existing lines.”
Another major transmission line will fix all that. Also, Becker said the new line will provide more opportunities to sell Nebraska power out of state. And, the lines will be available to connect to more wind energy farms, when they are established.
“That is a rich area for wind energy for export to other states,” he said. “There is an opportunity for growth.”
The final route will be set iin November. Becker said another path or two is possible.
However, installing the new line along the highway would be relatively easy, compared to going off the road, and minimize damage to the hills during construction.
Becker said alternative routes have not been completely ruled out. NPPD has a thorough process for determining the best route, Becker said.
So far, more than 2,000 comments have been filed from people along the way as well as agencies such as Nebraska Game and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and University of Nebraska rangeland specialists.
NPPD rates the prospective routes by the number of homes, buildings, highways, railroads and trees and crop fields it would cross, plus other criteria.
UPDATE, July 7
The NPPD project staff had a cordial discussion with the Brosiuses the week of June 23 at his property, Becker said, and the staff plans to follow up the week of July 7.
The NPPD staff has asked Brosius if there are "any alternatives on his property that he could suggest that NPPD could look at possibly doing," Becker said.
Becker stressed that at least one alternative route is still under consideration, and a final route will not be determined until fall.
Brosius’ aeronautics business is fully licensed by state and federal authorities, but since it is private, NPPD is not required by law to divert the line around the airstrip, which it would have to do if Brosius were a federal airport.
Brosius said in late May that he understands the process, but that doesn’t help.
“It has to go somewhere,” he said of the line. “They basically want to build someplace close to the highway. But if they do, I have no idea what we are going to do.”
This report was first published in the May 21 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.