Planned merger of central Nebraska power districts short-circuited by Friday vote

By: - July 28, 2023 5:49 pm
ditch irrigation

Pipe irrigation using water provided by the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. (Courtesy of Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District)

LINCOLN — Plans to merge two central Nebraska power districts ground to a halt Friday after the board of one of the districts failed to muster enough votes to move forward with the controversial proposal.

The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s board voted 7-5 on Friday to approve a charter amendment and proceed with the merger with Dawson Public Power.

But the 7-5 vote fell short of the eight-vote, super majority required in state law for such a merger.

Overflow crowd

A leading opponent of the merger called Friday’s vote “a huge victory for everyone who depends on the water Central delivers.”

“The vote means that control of the water will remain in Central’s hands,” said Gary Robison, a farmer and president of Citizens Opposed to the Merger.

Friday’s vote drew an overflow crowd to the meeting in Holdrege. The Dawson district’s board was scheduled to consider moving ahead with the merger next week, but it was  unclear if it would still be considered.

The Citizens, a group of irrigators served by Central Nebraska, had formed to block the merger, arguing that they would have less control over water deliveries that they rely on, and that there were no benefits to Central patrons.

Merger discussion began in 2020

The two districts first announced plans to study a potential merger in November 2020.

Studies indicated that creating a merged district, called the Platte River Public Power and Irrigation District, would cut costs, and would be an ideal marriage of one district that generated hydropower (Central) with one that provides electricity it to homes and businesses (Dawson).

But the proposal had travelled a rocky road — opponents filed a lawsuit, and then the State Power Review Board (which approves such mergers) rejected the proposal on a technicality.

That forced the two districts to go back to the drawing board and once again vote to proceed with the merger.

A delay in the vote earlier this month, to allow more talks with opponents, failed to quell critics, leading to the vote that fell short on Friday.

Most recently, several groups voted to oppose the merger, including the county boards in Kearney and Phelps Counties, the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District, and economic development organizations in Phelps County and Holdrege, where Central is headquartered.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.