Do Natural Resource Districts Covet Your Land?

Since when does government know how to run your business? This is a question I find myself asking in the wake of the state Natural Resource Districts’ most recent attempt to stick it to farmers and landowners by proposing a statutory change to a law that has served us well over the last 28 years. While you are obviously familiar by now with some of the more underhanded actions taken by the Papio-Missouri River NRD board, the state NRDs appear to be following suit. Unpalatable enough that the Papio NRD is firmly ensconced in the pockets of developers, apparently the state NRDs also may want to give developers a piece of the pie by seizing your property through extraordinary measures.

As onerous governmental requirements continue to expand, the NRDs yearn to reduce funding for required conservation practices.  At the September NRD directors meeting, it passed a resolution approving the issuance of cease and desist orders on landowners and farmers they believe have ephemeral and gully erosion. If the state’s NRDs gain the ability to issue cease and desist orders, they can force property owners to take their land out of production. Just as alarming, the NRDs also could build approved conservation structures and bill the landowner for the project’s full cost. If the landowner refuses to pay for these structures out of his savings, property liens could result, with government seizure and subsequent auction of  land.

Washington County, the area I have the privilege of representing as an NRD director, leads the state in implementing conservation structures.  40 % of the entire total of terrace systems constructed in the State of Nebraska over the past 10 years lies in Washington County. These landowners and farmers should be commended for their prescience with regard to soil and water conservation. In 1938, Washington County became the first county in the state to form a conservation district, while Burt County was the first county to form a drainage district. The culture of conservation and land improvements in my area passes down from generation to generation. With NRDs only wanting to provide lip service rather than financial assistance for conservation and land improvements,  NRD objectives need to be reformed and priorities reestablished.

This summer, numerous property owners in my area received letters from the NRCS stating that it had found small amounts of ephemeral and gully erosion. As a result, landowners must now implement approved NRCS conservation practices or risk losing their FSA farm payments – even though these same property owners have spent tens of thousands of dollars performing conservation practices, while the Papio-Missouri River NRD has continued to cut funding and refused to provide farmland improvement assistance. Shockingly, the NRCS is following up on “anonymous” complaints.

Additionally, it’s stupefying that this state’s NRDs want to change the law to shirk their mandated fiduciary obligation to landowners and farmers. NE Code § 2-4610, for example, specifies that, “If there is not available to any owner or operator at least ninety percent cost-sharing assistance for the installation of permanent soil and water conservation practices which are required in an approved farm unit conservation plan or are required to conform agricultural, horticultural, and silvicultural practices to the applicable soil-loss limit, any such owner or operator shall not be required to install such practices pursuant to the Erosion and Sediment Control Act until such cost-sharing assistance is made available.” The NRDs, if they have their way, would ostensibly introduce an added hardship on property owners by eliminating all cost-sharing assistance as it pertains to permanent soil and water conservation practices.

I strongly support soil and water conservation but, when our state mandates land requirements with respect to ephemeral and gully erosion, it should also do its part by providing funding for such projects – especially in this case where public benefits are myriad. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is simply that the NRDs do not want to pay for their share of the required water and soil erosion conservation practices presently delineated in both their mission statements and in current state statutes.

I find it somewhat odd that landowners located within a Papio-Missouri River NRD damsite received letters from the NRCS concerning their property. Just what is the endgame here? Is the proposed resolution meant to be a new form of harassing landowners and farmers by which a governmental agency devalues, and ultimately seizes, private land for the purpose of selling it to some of our friendly neighborhood developers at bargain-basement prices? Or, is the proposed resolution more intricately related to the 500,000 acres that the state NRDs want to take out of production in the Platte River Basin starting in 2019? In either case, property owners need to be cognizant of the NRDs’ machinations – their future may depend on it.

Scott JappPapio-Missouri River NRD Director                                                  papiomrnrd46.doc.  10-13.


Previous post:

Next post: