Lake development, water recreation projects advance

A proposal intended to spur economic development and recreational opportunities in three areas of the state advanced from the first round of debate March 9.

Sen. Mike Hilgers
Sen. Mike Hilgers

LB1023, introduced by Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, would authorize two state agencies to carry out projects recommended by the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability special committee, created by the Legislature last year.

The first, which would be built and managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, is a proposed lake of at least 3,600 surface acres in or near Sarpy County and within the Platte River’s floodplain.

No dam would be built on the main channel of the Platte River, and no city or village would be flooded in order to build the lake.

The state Game and Parks Commission would carry out the other recommended projects, including new and expanded marinas at Lake McConaughy and Lewis and Clark Lake and an event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park.

Hilgers said the Appropriations Committee’s initial budget proposal includes $200 million for the proposed projects.

Of that total, he said, approximately $20 million would be for hydrological and other studies related to lake construction and $40 million would be set aside for the project’s future costs.

LB1023 would allow for the state to partner with private entities to develop the land around the lake, he said, which would draw residents to the state’s two largest cities and provide recreational opportunities for all Nebraskans.

A Natural Resources Committee amendment, adopted 30-2, would extend the special committee’s termination date from Dec. 31, 2022, to 2026.

The amendment also would require the state Department of Natural Resources to give preference to lake-related contract proposals from a certain nonprofit corporation and those that provide for a public-private partnership.

The nonprofit’s board of directors would include the state attorney general, at least four other members appointed by the governor and a member of the Legislature, who would serve as a nonvoting member. All directors would have to agree to conflict-of-interest provisions, and the corporation would be bound by the Open Meetings Act.

Norfolk Sen. Michael Flood supported LB1023, saying the proposed lake is a “visionary” project that could benefit generations of Nebraskans.

He said the lodge and event center, which could be built at a scenic overlook at the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers, and the larger marina at Lewis and Clark Lake would be tourist destinations to help the area compete with nearby Yankton, South Dakota.

Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood also supported the bill, saying it would fund several flood control and mitigation projects on Platte River tributaries and stabilize an eroded riverbank near Schuyler.

However, he said, lake construction should wait until studies show that the project is feasible, and any future development must respect the rights of affected landowners.

Also in support was Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart. She said the Appropriations Committee’s proposed budget would appropriate $1 million to an independent study that would determine whether the proposed lake would affect water supplies for Lincoln and Omaha.

Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha said he would work with Hilgers to amend the bill on select file to ensure that at least part of the state-owned lake would be accessible to the public. Additionally, Cavanaugh said, it would be in Nebraska’s interest to establish a new state park adjacent to the lake.

Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen opposed the bill, saying lawmakers need more information about how the proposed lake would be built, developed and managed.

Among other concerns, he said, the state Department of Natural Resources does not have such experience, and the bill does not specify which entity would be responsible for building the infrastructure needed for residential development around the lake.

Senators voted 29-4 to advance LB1023 to select file.

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