Nebraska Director of DNR Resigns
The director of Nebraska's Department of Natural Resources has resigned.
Brian Dunnigan stepped down from the position on Thursday after more than 30 years with the department. He was appointed director by Gov. Dave Heineman in 2008. Heineman is leaving office in January.
As director, Dunnigan oversaw a department that helps manage the state's waterways, dams and flood plains. The department is also heavily involved in discussions related to the Republican River, which runs through southern Nebraska as well as parts of Colorado and Kansas.
Dunnigan becomes the second department head in a week to announce he is leaving. Department of Health and Human Services CEO Kerry Winterer announced last week that he also is leaving his post in December.
Garage Fire Destroys Grand Island Home
A fire in Grand Island severely damaged a family's home late Thursday morning. All of the occupants, a husband, a wife and their daughter made it out safely. Grand Island firefighters responded to a garage fire shortly before 11 a.m. It took about 20 minutes for them to put the fire out. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The garage was completely destroyed. The American Red Cross was on scene to assist the family.
Kearney Building Evacuated After Early Morning Fire
Several people were evacuated from a Kearney area industrial firm early this (Friday) morning after fire broke out in a maintenance storage area of the business.
At approximately 3:30 a.m., firefighters were summoned to Baldwin Filters located at 4400 East Highway 30. The fire was contained to a small area of the storage facility, due in part to two overhead sprinkler system heads which were activated when the fire broke out. One employee was taken to CHI Health Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney as a precaution due to smoke inhalation.
An investigation revealed the fire started from some recently used maintenance equipment which was being kept inside the storage building. A total of three fire trucks and about 20 firefighters were called upon the battle the blaze.
Total damage to the storage facility and the equipment inside was estimated at approximately $40,000. Firemen remained on the scene for about 20 minutes.
State Fair Considering Options for Concert-Goers
Nebraska State Fair officials are working on a plan to book a bigger musical act for a large, outdoor concert for next year.
The State Fair Board met for a retreat last week. Fair officials have noticed some county fairs are bringing in well-known performers that are as big or bigger than the ones at the state fair.
One of the plans being considered is perhaps moving one concert to the south end of the Fonner Park track. With the Heartland Events Center's capacity of 5,300 people, the venue is seen as too small to host the well-known acts.
An engineer and production manager have examined the park and say it could fit 10,000 people.
UNMC Paper Gives Advice to Other Medical Professionals
When the Nebraska Medical Center began treating patients for Ebola this fall, experts had to figure out how to safely conduct lab tests and handle samples.
A paper outlining some of the lessons learned in the lab has been published, so other hospitals can learn from their experience.
Pete Iwen, director of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory says that when the first Ebola patient arrived in September, some of the tests doctors wanted couldn't be performed safely with existing equipment, so the lab developed alternatives.
The American Journal of Pathology fast-tracked the approval of the paper, so other labs would have the advice available.
Gas Prices Dip Below $3 Average
Gas prices in Nebraska continue a downward slide ahead of the holiday. The statewide average price for regular unleaded dropped to $2.97 a gallon this week. It's the first time that average gas prices in the state have been below $3 since December 2010. Prices in Hastings are actually five cents below the state average at $2.92 a gallon. AAA Nebraska says prices are likely to stay low throughout the rest of the year as commodity prices continue to fall. They also project holiday travel will be at it's highest rate since 2007.
Nebraska Republicans Crying Foul Over Obama's Immigration Decision
The president's use of executive action to delay any move to deport as many as five million illegal immigrants has angered Nebraska Congressional Republicans. Congressman Adrian Smith says President Barack Obama's rationalization for the move is insufficient. Congressman Adrian Smith says Congress must respond. Smith suggests Congress might file a lawsuit to stop the president's move.
BCBSNE Rejects CHI Health's Proposal
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska is rejecting the latest contract offer from one of the state's biggest medical networks because the insurer says the offer still costs too much.
CHI Health officials offered a new agreement to Blue Cross earlier this week that would have cut rates by $10 million. But Blue Cross officials say CHI Health's rates have been roughly $60 million higher in the Omaha market.
So Blue Cross rejected CHI Health's offer on Thursday.
Numerous facilities and doctors affiliated with CHI Health have been out of the Blue Cross network since Sept. 1, so they are significantly more expensive for the insurer's customers.
In several rural Nebraska communities, CHI Health operates the only hospital in town.
Click It or Ticket Campaign Kicks Off Monday
A grant from the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety will ensure that more officers will be on the look out for safety violations as travelers hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. Extra law enforcement will be out on Nebraska roads beginning on Monday, Nov. 24 for their annual "Click it or Ticket" campaign. Police officials say Thanksgiving is an ideal time for the enforcement with increased traffic on the roads. The objective is to increase Nebraska's statewide observed seat belt usage to 86.3 percent.
Tax Revenue Growth Likely to Stall in Nebraska
Nebraska's state tax revenue likely won't grow as fast in the future because of a law passed earlier this year. State officials generally assume that revenue will grow at an average rate of 5 percent per year. Fiscal office director Michael Calvert told a legislative committee that a new tax-bracket indexing law will slow the increases over time. The law ensures that Nebraska's income tax brackets automatically keep pace with inflation. Previously, taxpayers who received a cost-of-living increase would get bumped into a higher tax bracket, where they ended up paying more. Lawmakers will craft a new two-year state budget in the upcoming legislative session.
Hastings to Hold Celebration of Lights Downtown
The City of Hastings officially gets into the holiday spirit tonight with the Celebration of Lights. It's a special celebration this year as the COL is celebrating their 25th anniversary of the event. Tiffany Crouse, Director of the Hastings Downtown Center Association says the event will be filled with fun for the entire family. The lights will turn on at 6:55 p.m. and KHAS Radio and the Breeze 94.5 FM will be broadcasting live from 5-7 p.m. in the Stein Building.
Kearney Police Investigating Restaurant Burglary
Police in Kearney are investigating a report of a burglary which took place earlier this week at a local restaurant. According to police reports, an unknown subject entered the Big City Burrito Restaurant on Monday and stole an undisclosed amount of money. An investigation revealed that the person or persons involved gained entry by throwing an object through the front door window. They then stole some money before escaping out the back side of the business. Anyone who may have information regarding the incident is asked to call the Kearney Police Department.
CHI Health to Cut 1,500 Jobs
Some area hospitals will see a workforce reduction in the very near future. On Tuesday, CHI Health CEO Cliff Robertson sent out a statement to some employees saying that a total of 1,500 administrative and support positions will be impacted by budget cuts by the end of January. Joan Neuhaus, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for CHI Health says it's unclear how much impact the budget cuts will have on Good Samaritan Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center. Any decisions about what positions, if any, will be eliminated in Kearney or Grand Island will not be final until Jan. 30.
Hastings Residents to See Rise in Utility Rates
Utility bills are likely to climb in Hastings as the city attempts to get rid of the water's dangerous nitrate levels. At a city council work session last night the utility discussed the need for the rate increase which would be about $1.66 per month. The issue will be presented to the Hastings City Council at their Monday meeting. The cost of fixing the nitrate issue is estimated at around $46 million. Sanitary sewer rates will go up 8 percent on January 1 to help pay for improvements to the city's water treatment plant.
Man Sentenced in Drunk Driving Crash
A man who killed his fiancee in a drunken-driving crash in Grand Island has been sentenced to five to eight years in prison. A judge on Tuesday sentenced 30-year-old Johnny Alvarez. He pleaded no contest to felony motor vehicle homicide and driving under the influence in September. Both charges were reduced in a plea deal. Alvarez was hospitalized for four months after the August 2013 crash that killed passenger Jamie Lohman Sandate of Grand Island. He had two previous DUI convictions and his blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit at the time.
Senate Strikes Down Keystone XL Pipeline
The U.S. Senate has struck down the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The measure fell one vote shy of the necessary 60 votes to pass. The vote came down just after 5 p.m. last night. Senators voted 59-41 against the measure. Bold Nebraska's Jane Kleeb called on President Obama to "stand up and reject Keystone XL now." Debate over the pipeline doesn't end here. The new GOP-led Congress is likely to introduce legislation in the next session, according to Senator Deb Fischer.
Adams County Crash Victim Dies
The man who was life-flighted following a Saturday afternoon crash in Adams County has died. 56-year-old Steven Anthony of Fairfield died Monday afternoon as a result of his injuries, according to the Nebraska State Patrol. Anthony was life-flighted to Lincoln after his car collided with another at the intersection of Showboat Road and Prairie Lake Road on Saturday. The driver of the other vehicle, 19-year-old Jared Jackson of Hastings, and two juvenile passengers were not injured. Authorities say winter weather may have been a factor in the crash.
CHI Offers New Deal to Blue Cross Blue Shield
Last week, Blue Cross Blue Shield announced they would eat the cost to provide in-network benefits with CHI hospitals outside the Omaha metro area. At a press conference Monday, CHI Health CEO Cliff Robertson announced a proposal that calls for a $10 million rate reduction for the first year followed by a rate freeze for the second year for patients in the Omaha area. CHI has given Blue Cross until Thursday at 2 p.m. to decide on the proposal. Blue Cross officials said it doesn't appear the offer does enough to address their cost concerns, but they hope to meet with CHI Health officials Tuesday for clarification.
Grand Island Police Warn Against Mail Theft
Grand Island Police are warning people to monitor their mail. A recent spike in mail theft has prompted officials to issue the alert. There are currently 73 cases of mail theft on record from all across the city. They say credit cards, debit cards, bank statements and gift cards have been stolen. Police say to check your mail everyday and to never mail cash or gift cards.
Young Nebraskans Chosen For Ag Youth Council
Twenty-one college-aged Nebraskans have been chosen to serve on a youth advisory council that promotes agriculture. The new members of the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Council were unveiled Monday at the Capitol by Gov. Dave Heineman and Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach. The council coordinates events to teach youth about agriculture. Among the activities are elementary classroom visits to talk about the origins of food and visits to farms with urban youths. The council also puts on the annual Nebraska Agriculture Youth Institute each summer.
Ebola Patient Dies in Omaha
The third patient with the Ebola virus to be treated at the Nebraska Medical Center has died.
In a press release sent out this morning, doctors confirmed that 44-year old Dr. Martin Salia died this morning from complications from the disease.
Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the Biocontainment Unit said "We used every possible treatment available to give Dr. Salia every possible opportunity for survival. As we have learned, early treatment with these patients is essential. In Dr. Salia's case, his disease was already extremely advanced by the time he came here for treatment.
The deadly virus has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leona. Salia becomes just the second patient to be treated in the U.S. to die from Ebola.
An 11 a.m. press conference has been scheduled at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Keystone XL Vote Could End Up Before Nebraska Public Service Commission
Congress is scrambling to vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but the project could still end up before an obscure commission in Nebraska that regulates telephones, taxi cabs and grain bins. The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to rule within weeks on whether the Nebraska Public Service Commission must first review the pipeline before it can cross the state. Nebraska is one of six states the proposed $5.4 billion pipeline would cross once completed. Landowners who challenged the law say a ruling in their favor would force Calgary-based pipeline developer TransCanada to start over in Nebraska. Project supporters say the Nebraska case pertains only to its proposed route, and shouldn't prevent the federal government from approving a permit.
Local Petitioners Looking to Increase Signatures for 9th Street Initiative
The group pushing to keep 9th Street open in Hastings has reached their goal of 3,000 signatures. Larry and Lenie Wilson have been fighting since the summer to push the issue to a vote. If closed, they say it would have a negative impact on traffic flow through that part of town. While having reached their goal, they say they'd like to get that number up to 4,000 since some signatures could be ruled invalid. Hastings College President Don Jackson has said that closing 9th Street and connecting the campus is vitally important to the future of the school.
Man in Critical Condition Following Adams County Crash
A Fairfield man remains in critical condition after a crash Saturday in Adams County. The Nebraska State Patrol says the two car crash happened at the intersection of Showboat and Prairie Lake Road Saturday after 2 p.m. One man, 56 year old Steven Anthony was life-flighted to LGH West in Lincoln with injuries to the brain. Anthony was not wearing his seat belt. The other car had three passengers, who were all uninjured.
Hastings College To Build New Art Center
Hastings College has announced a press conference next week. Constructed in 1908 as the College's library, the current home to Hastings College's Art Department no longer serves the growing program's needs. President Don Jackson and other Hastings College officials are expected to announce the construction of a new art center on campus. The announcement will take place next Tuesday at 4pm at the grey center on the HC campus.
Heineman Grilled at First Testimony Hearing
The chairman of a legislative committee says 162 Nebraska inmates convicted of violent crimes were freed early under a furlough program. The program was revealed at a hearing yesterday as the chairman, Senator Steve Lathrop, questioned Governor Dave Heineman. The Republican governor was subpoenaed to testify under oath as part of an investigation into miscalculated prison sentences and other problems.