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The county’s weed superintendent, Brent Meyer, thinks drones will come in handy for several Lancaster County agencies in the future.

Meyer, a pilot in a club that owns a Piper Cherokee, will be working toward a drone license this winter. The drone, owned by a weed authority cooperative that helps fight phragmites in the southeast region of the state, will be used to search out stands of the noxious weed.

A drone can wander down a stream bank or through a wetland area, so there is no need for wading boots and canoes.

Meyer hopes a Lancaster County-owned drone will be available someday to county agencies. The engineer's office might want to use a drone to check under bridges for flood damage. Emergency management staff might want to look at tornado damage.  

The sheriff’s office is already looking into acquiring its own drone. But it will be called a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) per FAA regulations.

A deputy is getting trained and licensed to operate a UAS, which Sheriff Terry Wagner believes will be very useful.

It would have helped when law enforcement was looking for an escaped inmate in 2016, hiding in a cornfield in 100-degree heat.

A tethered UAS would be useful overseeing a large concert in the country.

A UAS would be helpful for an agency that may be searching square miles rather than square blocks, looking for a vehicle or for people, he said.

The sheriff's office will make an announcement and show off its UAS before it begins using it, said Wagner, who has been to UAS (aka drone) training himself.

City buying second all-electric car

The city is purchasing its second all-electric vehicle, with help from a Nebraska Environmental Trust grant.

The first, a Nissan Leaf, is being used by Frank Uhlarik, the mayor’s sustainability administrator, but it will soon be a pool vehicle available to other city employees.

The second, yet to be purchased, will be available to the city's right-of-way inspection workers.

The city paid about $6,000 for the Nissan Leaf, after using the $15,000 NET grant money and some federal rebates that were available through the lease-purchase agreement, Uhlarik said.

He expects a similar arrangement for the next plug-in car.

The Lincoln cars join a small group of all-electric vehicles in Nebraska.

As of July, there were 418 electric vehicles in the state and 14,810 bi-fuel vehicles, according to state registration records.

The two electric cars are part of a city fleet of more than 970 vehicles that include 20 fueled by compressed natural gas (13 are StarTran buses) and 39 hybrids.

The city is experimenting with all-electric vehicles as part of the mayor’s sustainability initiative, to see how the cars will work in town, how they hold up, and what the costs are, Uhlarik said. 

City owns 2,500 orange cones

This fall, when city streets were still cluttered with orange cones, a reader wondered just how many cones the city owns.

About 2,500 is the answer.

That does not include city-owned barrels and barricades, says Holley Salmi, with the Public Works and Utilities Department, who researched the question for us.

Cones are owned and used by two separate divisions, traffic engineering and street maintenance, and the ownership is marked on the cones.

Not every cone on a street is city-owned. Most street construction projects are handled by private construction companies, which use their own cones.

The traffic engineering and street maintenance divisions use their devices when the city is handling a project and for some special events, such as football, police training and marathons.

However, marathons and road races often also include private contractor cones because of the long distance covered, said Salmi.

Election time is near

If you'e considering running for a county office next year — the primary is May 15, 2018 — it’s not too soon to begin gathering money and support.

But it looks as if there will be just a few open seats, with no incumbents and their name recognition advantage, for anyone hoping to break into county politics.

These are the open seats:

* County Assessor Norm Agena has said he is retiring; his chief deputy, Rob Ogden, has already announced his candidacy.

* County Attorney Joe Kelly will likely be confirmed as U.S. attorney for Nebraska, and thus will not be running for re-election.

* County Commissioner Bill Avery will likely be retiring. Democrat Sean Flowerday has announced he is running for that seat and has been endorsed by Mayor Chris Beutler.

Here are the incumbents who will likely be running for re-election:

Sheriff Terry Wagner; County Engineer Pam Dingman; County Clerk Dan Nolte; Public Defender Joe Nigro; County Treasurer Andy Stebbing; Clerk of the District Court Troy Hawk; and County Commissioners Deb Schorr and Todd Wiltgen.

Dec. 1 is the opening date to file as a candidate for any of the Lancaster County offices, which are elected on a partisan basis.

The May primary will determine which Democrat and Republican will move on.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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