The Lincoln City Council approved two key environmental policies Monday night, a broad environmental action plan and agreements that set out the partnership for developing a 10-mile Haines Branch prairie corridor.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, most in support of one or both projects, and more than 25 people spoke for more than three hours at the public hearings on the two issues.
The City Council split on both issues, with Republicans Jon Camp and Cyndi Lamm voting no. Supporting both projects were Democrats Leirion Gaylor Baird, Carl Eskridge, Bennie Shobe and Jane Raybould, joined by Republican Roy Christensen.
Both Lamm and Camp said they wanted more financial information before approving either project.
“I love the concept of this project. Unfortunately I don’t feel I have the information,” said Lamm.
Both pointed out the council had less than two weeks to digest information about both plans. But others noted the environmental action plan was made public in July and the city has been working on the prairie corridor for at least four years.
The Lincoln Environmental Action Plan (LEAP) -- developed by the mayor’s environmental task force and vetted by citizens who commented online -- is intended to increase recycling, keep water and air clean, preserve natural resources and reduce carbon emissions.
That plan will become a guide for other specific environmental projects that will come to the council. Christensen noted the council will have multiple opportunities to vote on specific spending as those projects move to the council.
The development of the 10-mile prairie corridor is one of those LEAP initiatives. The corridor will be restored to tallgrass prairie and will include a bike trail connecting Pioneers Park, Conestoga Lake, Denton and the Spring Creek Audubon Prairie. It is expected to promote tourism.
Nationally known photographer Michael Forsberg showed a slideshow of the prairie and its wildlife.
Ann Ringlein said his pictures don’t do justice to seeing the real prairie.
“You do a good job,” she said, turning to Forsberg. “But I’m telling you it is awesome,” she told the council.
Camp and Lamm focused on the budget issues related to the corridor and the lack of specifics.
Lamm wanted to know how much privately donated money has been used on the corridor. Some of the money has come from local government agencies, but much of it has come from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, which is state lottery money, she was told.
Camp said he is very supportive of the concept, just leery of the potential financial commitment. The city also has other priorities -- including streets and roads in dire need of repair. And all the priorities need to be coordinated, he said.
Camp’s concerns were echoed in prepared comments from the Lincoln Independent Business Association.
“The city should be seeking more information about costs,” said Abby Stenek, representing LIBA. The documents are “lacking in detail,” including how cost estimates were calculated or the source of funding.
The city will control how much might be spent on this project through its two-year budgets, said Nicole Fleck-Tooze, with the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
Using very rough calculations the prairie corridor could cost around $22 million over the 20 years it is developed, she said.
Both Camp and Lamm suggested a delay in the vote on resolutions related to the prairie corridor. But those motions -- one for three months and one for a three-week delay -- were defeated on 3-4 votes, with the three Republicans supporting delays and the four Democrats opposing.
The council approved long-term agreements with the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and with Spring Creek Prairie. The council also approved moving $400,000 in city funds to the Lincoln Parks Foundation, which will serve as the lead fundraiser for the corridor project.