Two protesters of development near Lincoln sweat lodge see split results in court

By: - September 12, 2023 5:12 pm
Wilderness Park protest

Protests against the Wilderness Crossing development escalated in May 2022 with the erection of tipis on the site, just west of Lincoln’s Wilderness Park and across the road from a sweat lodge ceremonial site. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Two people cited after months of protests against tree removal for a new housing development near Lincoln’s Wilderness Park are absorbing a split result in their misdemeanor cases.

Wilderness Park
Protesters objected to a planned housing development at the edge of Lincoln’s Wilderness Park. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Lancaster County Judge Tim Phillips convicted Louis Braatz III and Delan E. Lonowski of trespassing but said the state failed to prove they refused to comply with a police officer’s order.

Braatz and Lonowski face fines of up to $500 and the possibility of up to six months in jail for trespassing under city ordinance. Their sentencing hearings are Sept. 29. Neither had an immediate comment through their lawyer, Spike Eickholt. 

Both were cited in February after Lincoln police cleared people from a protest camp. Police said they tried to prevent construction workers and heavy equipment from reaching the development site. 

The crux of the fight

The development on 75 acres of farmland formerly owned by the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln drew protests because it is across the road from a Native American sweat lodge ceremonial site.

Opponents had first tried to sue to stop the development. Then they camped. They have argued the housing development could disrupt sweat lodge ceremonies and increase flooding risks.

Wilderness Park protest
A “zoning action in progress” sign near the property. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Visitors to the sweat lodge area, called the “Fish Farm,” have said they would wrap prayer bundles in the trees. Some described the spiritual nature of the hills and their importance.

Manzitto Construction said it added a buffer between the housing and the lodge. The Wilderness Crossing development will host 162 homes, 134 townhomes and 205 apartment units. 

Two others cited are awaiting the judge’s decision on their cases. He took their cases under advisement last week.

A separate lawsuit challenging a city board’s decision not to hear objections to the development is pending. As reported, a possible out-of-court settlement is being discussed.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.