Ashland fights lake study bill
by Marion Rhodes, Omaha World-Herald
A white notepad lay on a table outside the Ashland-Greenwood High School
gym Monday night.
Ashland residents line up Monday night to sign a petition opposing a
legislative bill that would authorize a study on developing a recreational
lake that would displace their town.
On top, red letters read: "For LB 1121 and lake proposal."
Underneath those words: blank blue lines.
People were busily scribbling their names on five other lists, however.
Those were against Legislative Bill 1121, introduced by State Sen. Pam
Brown of Omaha nearly two weeks ago asking the state to spend $3 million
to study creating a recreational lake between Omaha and Lincoln.
The lake would put virtually all of Ashland under water. The 150-year-old
community would be moved to a lakeshore spot about 8 miles to the west.
Roughly 1,000 people came to a special meeting the city called to organize
a grass-roots effort to defend this community.
"Ashland is irreplaceable," Mayor Ronna Wiig told the crowd.
"We've gotta fight for it, and the only way we can fight for it right
now is what is at hand, and that is the bill."
The city is planning a rally Monday at the State Capitol during the
Appropriations Committee's hearing on Brown's bill. Buses will take residents
Several community leaders talked about the impact the study and, ultimately,
the lake would have on the town.
"Every time that there has been a threat of a dam like this, Ashland
has suffered," said State Sen. Carol Hudkins, who grew up near Ashland.
Similar lake proposals over the past four decades have all been quashed.
During Monday's City Council meeting in Ashland, business owners Cheri
O'Kelly, at the podium, and Mary Ziegenbein, to her left, present protest-sign
suggestions to the crowd. Ashland residents are planning a rally in Lincoln
As long as the lake study casts uncertainty on Ashland's fate, Hudkins
said, homeowners and businesses will be deterred from moving there.
"This study alone would create a shadow over this entire community
and would severely hurt our economy and property values," said Bob
Luebbe, a local business owner who was speaking on behalf of the Ashland
Chamber of Commerce.
Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools Superintendent Craig Pease said the
proposed lake would inundate about 50 percent to 75 percent of the school
district and split it into three parts on opposite sides of the reservoir.
Mergers with surrounding districts could become unavoidable, he said.
"Just as the parents of students in Millard, Elkhorn, Ralston and
Westside are pretty passionate about losing their school district, I think
our parents will be pretty passionate about losing our school district,"
Luebbe said area residents should not make the mistake of assuming the
study will not go through.
"There's a lot of big money behind it, and there (are) some ignorant
people that are behind it," he said.
"I am not going to let an Omaha senator or anyone else tell me
what's best for my family and my future," he said. The crowd applauded.
"I will not let anybody water-ski over my house," he added.
Cheers and laughter roared through the audience.
Vivian Maxwell, who has lived in Ashland since 1959, said she has signed
all the petitions used to defeat previous lake proposals, and she won't
give in now.
Her friend, 65-year-resident Marie Lutz, said they can't imagine living
"I just can't imagine being a playground for millions of people,"
Lutz said. She also expressed concern about filling the lake with water
from the notoriously shallow Platte River.
Wiig said those supporting the plan don't have the right picture of
Ashland in their heads.
"Somebody forgot we've got paved streets here, we're not shacks
along the river anymore," she said. "This is our home, we built
it up, and we're gonna keep it."
The meeting lasted just over an hour. Residents signed up for the bus
ride to Lincoln next week. And on the white notepad for supporters of the
legislation, someone had written in blue capital letters: