The Middle Republican Natural Resources District board of directors voted 11-2 Tuesday afternoon not to pay a $131,500 bill submitted by N-CORPE.Jack Russell, director of the MRNRD, told his board members at their monthly meeting Tuesday in McCook that he has "no justification" to bring the bill to his board. The NRD is billed periodically for N-CORPE'S operating expenses.
Board member Rick McConville of Indianola said he wants more information before paying the bill.
Another board member pointed out that N-CORPE has a cash balance of $730,000, questioning the need for similar bills sent to each of N-CORPE's project partners -- the Upper Republican, the Lower Republican and the Twin Platte NRD's. However, that could not be confirmed Wednesday by the Twin Platte NRD office.
Russell said the other three NRDs each paid the $131,500 bill.
The two dissenting votes were from Benjie Loomis of Maywood, who is also a member of the N-CORPE board, and Kevin Fornoff of Hayes Center. They voted against the motion not to pay the bill without more information.
At the end of the regular meeting agenda, the MRNRD board went into a closed session to discuss N-CORPE legal issues and personnel.
N-CORPE, the "Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement" project, is an interlocal agency formed in late 2012 by the four Natural Resources Districts to increase stream flows in the Republican and Platte Rivers.
N-CORPE bought 19,400 acres in southern Lincoln County, of which 15,800 were irrigated with 115 groundwater wells. By February 2014, 30 high capacity wells were operating on the property, with more than 20 miles of pipeline installed. About 14,326 of those acres have been retired from crop irrigation so the underground water can be transported via pipelines and tributaries to the Republican River to ensure Nebraska's compliance with the 1942 Republic River Compact with Kansas and Colorado.
Water is also planned to be pumped to the South Platte River for compliance with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (1997).
The purchase of the "Lincoln County water farm" cost $83 million. The bonds to finance the purchase as well as construction costs total $120 million and are paid cooperatively by the four NRD's.
The land purchase, construction of pipelines and maintenance/operation are funded through occupation taxes levied on irrigators.
Loomis said the N-CORPE board is considering re-financing the bonds with the possibility of saving $7-11 million in interest.
Also, at the Lower Republican NRD board meeting on Dec. 17, N-CORPE manager Kyle Shepherd told LRNRD board members that the N-CORPE board is considering a study on wind farm development at the Lincoln County site, to generate extra operating funds and Lincoln County tax revenue.
Sen. Mike Groene has introduced a bill in the state Legislature to require the N-CORPE board to put the farmland into private hands, while N-CORPE would retain the water rights.
(The North Platte Bulletin contributed to this report.)