Lincoln County Feedyard consists of a half-section of cattle lots, feed mill and office, with additional pens about a half-mile away that were built two years ago.
Up to 25,000 head of cattle are on feed there, on the north edge of the county near the Logan County line.
For a half mile or more, Cattle Growers Road that leads to the main feed yard has often been a mess – at times nearly impassable.
On Monday, tempers flared at the county commissioners meeting, where the five commissioners grappled with ways of fixing the road, pressed by the feedlot, which threatened to take matters into their own hands.
The hostility was ignited by the snow and rain that fell on March 13-14. The feedlot sent a scraper out on the road to try to clear the road. They scraped some of the mud off the road in hopes it would dry quicker, which ran against the road departments efforts to increase the crown on the road so it will shed water, according to the discussion at the meeting.
If the road doesn’t have a crown (a peak in the middle), a big rain will turn it into a small lake, Commissioner Jerry Woodruff said.
The feedlot relies on the road for supplies, and to move cattle and feed.
The soil is comprised of fine sand, the kind that blows in a strong wind, making it hard to develop a roadbed solid enough to withstand semi-truck traffic.
Former Lincoln County Roads Supervisor Jerry Hitchcock foresaw the problem when the feedlot was developed a decade ago. He left a written statement of concern with the county planning commission.
Winter weather the last two months has multiplied the problems, with lots of moisture, rapid snowmelt and a sudden warm-up that pulled the frost out of the ground.
At the same time, the roads crews have their hands full all over the place.
Lincoln County is the third largest geographical county in Nebraska, and this spring has been one of the worst for county roads.
The commissioners recently authorized a prompt, special $3.5 million bond to repair the worst blacktop roads this summer.
At Monday’s commissioner meeting, real estate salesman Duane McClain defended the feedlot owner’s need to repair the road. McClain said the business operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Road supervisor Carla O’Dell said county road crews were too busy to work on Cattle Growers road after the heavy snow March 29 because of other obligations.
The feedlot owner asked O’Dell if he could do some work on it, or team up with the county efforts. O’Dell asked the chairman of the commissioners, Joe Hewgley.
Hewgley said a decision would have to wait until the board could consider it together.
The county is responsible for the road, and liable for damages if someone is injured driving on it. The county also has the expertise to do it right.
McClain noted that the feedlot provides 80 jobs, pays taxes, buys a lot of feedstuffs, including ethanol byproducts, and contributes to the county’s economy.
“Would you not be willing to support that?” he asked. “They didn’t ask for tax breaks or tax increment financing. We are a livestock friendly county, but there seems to be a resistance on the board to more industry.”
“Who is resisting?” Hewgley retorted.
“We are only resisting him doing what he (the feedlot owner) wants to do with the road,” Commissioner Kent Weems told McClain.
McClain said he knows it’s been a tough spring for the roads department, but the feedlot needs a reliable road.
“He’s the largest buyer in the county of ethanol byproducts from the Sutherland plant,” McClain said. “He adds value to the county’s feed crops. He’s been waiting on Carla to come up there.”
Hewgley said the commissioners deserved the heat for that delay.
“She (O’Dell) was waiting on some direction from us.”
McClain admitted that he is in real estate, and in the business of bringing other businesses to the county. He implied that Hewgley was blocking progress.
“He pays payroll taxes, personal property taxes…,” McClain continued. “Someone could have at least called him.”
“That’s my fault (for not calling),” O’Dell said.
“Maybe the timing wasn’t the best,” Hewgley said, “but it (the responsibility) falls back on the county.”
Hewgley said the feedlot scraper was taking the crown out of the road while the county was trying to build it up.
Commissioner Jerry Woodruff told McClain, “Any industry is vital to the county. We want to support him. We can’t make the road perfect but we want to work with him — but he’s got to work with us.”
The situation was tense between McClain and Hewgley. At one point, McClain told Hewgley to “stop looking at me that way.”
By the end of the meeting, Hewgley apologized twice if he’d let his frustrations get out of hand.
“I don’t know, Joe,” McClain replied. “Seems like every time I come to a meeting you end up apologizing, but I accept your apology.”
Hewgley did not respond.
The board of commissioners appointed two members – Walt Johnson and Jerry Woodruff – to work with the feedlot on ways to combine forces to haul in crushed concrete and clay to improve the road. The two commissioners will report to the full board, who will make the final decisions.
It will be a work in progress; the road can be improved but it won’t be a great road, O’Dell said during the discussion. Ten years ago, the county obtained an estimate to build up the road and top it with asphalt. The cost then was $1.7 million, Hewgley said, more money than the county has available.
When that discussion was over, the board passed along compliments from constituents to O’Dell. Johnson said a resident on Miller School Road had compliments for the road grader operator.
Hewgley said a grader operator on the east side of the county helped a truck get into a small feedlot there.
Weems said a resident in the northeast corner of the county on East Garfield Table Road was happy with the effort to get that road back in shape.
O’Dell credited her crew.
“They’ve been doing a fantastic job, working long hours and weekends,” she said.
Then, Hewgley said the priorities for major road repairs this year have changed, and the $3.5 million bond money can be used in better places than originally thought.
“We didn’t expect Walker Road to break up like it did,” she said. “We’ve looked again at a couple of subdivision roads, and believe they can wait (while the county fixes West Walker Road.)”
Commissioner Bill Henry said lowering the speed limit on the damaged section of Walker has helped, and added, “We hope the (pothole) patches hold until we can do an overlay.”
Hewgley urged O’Dell to use a hot patch material to fill the potholes, even though it takes longer to make the repair.