Lake development proposal amended, advanced

Lawmakers gave second-round approval March 29 to a proposal to build several water recreation projects across the state after amending it to prohibit conflicts of interest and ensure public access to a proposed lake between Omaha and Lincoln.

Sen. Mike Hilgers
Sen. Mike Hilgers

LB1023, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, would authorize the state Game and Parks Commission to oversee the construction of marinas at Lake McConaughy and Lewis and Clark Lake and an event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park.

The bill also would authorize the state Department of Natural Resources to build and manage a lake in eastern Nebraska within the Platte River’s floodplain.

The department could purchase, sell or lease land and enter into contracts for construction and management services. It also could enter into agreements with natural resources districts.

As amended on general file, the bill would require the department to give preference to contract proposals from a certain nonprofit corporation and those that provide for a public-private partnership.

Under an amendment introduced by Hilgers on select file, the nonprofit’s board would include at least four directors who are appointed by the governor with the approval of a majority of the Legislature.

The board also would include a member of the Legislature and a representative of the state Game and Parks Commission, both of whom would be nonvoting members.

The Hilgers amendment would require the department to ensure that the public has complete access to the lake. The land selected for the lake would be owned by the state, and the amendment would prohibit any private entity from designating any portion of the lake for exclusively private use.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha introduced an amendment, adopted 25-2, that would prohibit the director of the state Department of Natural Resources and the department’s employees from having a financial interest, either personally or through an immediate family member, in any purchase, sale or lease of real property relating to the construction or development of the lake or in any lake-related contract.

A similar prohibition would apply to members and employees of the state Game and Parks Commission.

Cavanaugh filed an additional amendment that would have removed the lake-related provisions of LB1023, saying she is concerned about the project’s final cost and the possible use of eminent domain to acquire land where the lake will be built.

The amendment failed on a vote of 6-25.

After voting 32-2 to adopt the Hilgers amendment, lawmakers voted 29-4 to advance the bill to final reading.

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