Lake proposal nothing new
by Nancy Hicks, Lincoln Journal Star
A great Nebraska lake, stretching from Omaha to Lincoln and bigger than
Lake McConaughy, would be a great boon to economic development Ashland
But creating a large lake at a cost of $1 billion to $3 billion would
be difficult. The proposal obliterates homes, farms and the entire town
of Ashland. It also faces strict environmental regulations.
"All we can say is good luck," said John Miyoshi, general
manager of the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District. He's worked
for 15 years to build a much smaller lake, Lake Wanahoo, northwest of the
area proposed for a lake this week.
Omaha Sen. Pam Brown has introduced a bill (LB1121) that would create
a $3 million study to look at building a hydroelectric dam along the Platte
River in the Interstate 80 corridor between Lincoln and Omaha.
The dam would create a big lake in the footprint of a prehistoric lake,
an idea that has been around for more than 70 years, Brown said. The Corps
of Engineers first looked at the idea in the 1930s. It became a public
controversy in the 1960s and again in the late 1990s.
Brown also took her proposal this week to the Nebraska Innovation Zone
Commission, a group she established in state law last year to encourage
cooperation on development in that corridor.
For Brown the idea makes perfect economic development sense. The hydroelectric
plant and development of surrounding land might cover most of the costs.
In other places -- North Carolina and Austin, Texas -- big, beautiful lakes
have drawn people and good jobs. It attracts the Silicone Valley types
of industry, she said.
But Brown acknowledges the hurdles. In her concept, the lake covers
the City of Ashland. And people whose homes might be covered in water have
already said they oppose the idea.
Her conceptual drawing calls for a lake that makes Branched Oak look
like a puddle. The lake might be 25 miles long, with 145 miles of shoreline,
80 square miles of water and 1.25 million people within a half-hour driving
distance. It would draw recreational dollars and attract industries with
good jobs, Brown said.
The map, Brown emphasized, is conceptual only. Exactly where such a
lake would be and what land it would cover are decisions that would be
made in the future.
There are plenty of roadblocks, beyond the estimated cost. The state
would have to consult with an assortment of federal agencies from the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission to the Environmental Protection Agency, which
handles the Endangered Species Act. And there is an endangered species
-- the pallid sturgeon -- in the project area, said Dean Edson, executive
director of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts.
There's also a silting issue.
"We have a tremendous sand load moving down the Platte River. Any
lake in that area would have a limited life unless there was extensive
dredging plan," Miyoshi said.
"It's a pretty extensive process and a lot of studies and a lot
of high hurdles," Edson said.
Beyond the environmental issues is the strong reaction from those whose
land would become part of the lake. The Corps of Engineers' proposal in
the 1960s was killed by stiff opposition from area farmers, Miyoshi said.
"It would be a great project, but it would be difficult to put
together," Miyoshi said. "The day of building big dams in the
U.S. is over."
A successful project would take decades of planning and work to meet
federal regulations. The site work itself would take two years, and it
would take three years to fill the lake, Brown said.
Brown reminds folks that while she's excited about the future, all she's
doing this year is seeking money for a study.
The study has appeal with some senators, though there's no guarantee
it will be funded.
"This would have such enormous potential for good, for economic
development. But there are also enormous costs and problems," said
Lincoln Sen. Chris Beutler. It's too early to judge whether the concept
is feasible, but Beutler, a member of the Legislature's Appropriations
Committee, said he would likely support a "real study of the question."
"If we are ever going to seriously think about it, we ought to
do it now before the area gets more populated," he said.
Brown says she believes the idea is "conceptually possible."
She doesn't know whether it is practical. The study would help determine
And people, she said, are getting locked into the details that are still
One details is certain: The lake would be big. "Big enough to really
capture our imagination," she said.
So big that "it would make that drive between Omaha and Lincoln,
that I've done a gazillion times, very attractive."