Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

Bats with white-nose syndrome

Bats with white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that affects hibernating bats, are threatened and therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Courtesy photo

The big, old cottonwood, 6 to 8 feet in diameter, was close to a county bridge project.

If you stood near it, you could hear this weird sound coming from the tree, said Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman.

The sound was one clue that several dozen northern long-eared bats, perhaps as many as 60, had made the tree their nesting place.

The bats were declared threatened in 2015 under the Endangered Species Act because of white nose syndrome, a disease that has been spreading eastward, killing off some 95 percent of the northern long-eared bat population in the eastern U.S.

Dingman had two choices. She could delay the bridge construction until fall when the bats would move on and the tree could be removed.

Or she could redesign the project slightly and keep the tree.

She kept the tree.

The city and county have had these bats on their radar screen for several years, but this is the first local project affected by the protected species.

The bats are handled much like migratory birds, whose nesting places are protected during spring and summer. 

The city and county generally try to remove trees before the birds' spring nesting season. But the bats don't always pick a tree for nesting. 

The bats look for a place that is dark and somewhat protected. It could be cracks between I-beams of bridges, or trees with loose or damaged bark, providing a little space for bats to roost singly or in small groups.

And they are more likely to be found on the edge of town and in the countryside. So the city has not found any northern long-eared bats at city construction projects. 

The bats hibernate and migrate from trees and bridges in the fall and winter months to caves that are warm in the winter.

The threatened species status does not affect bats in your house. Removing bats from structures where humans are, such as houses or businesses, is one of the exceptions.

Police escort required for fireworks

Currently, a truck or a car carrying fireworks through Lincoln is supposed to stop and get a police escort.  

Not that anyone has ever obeyed that law. 

But it won't be around much longer. 

As a part of annual cleanup work, the City Council will be asked to remove that language from the law books, said City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick. 

The police escort rule will still apply to dangerous explosives such as dynamite and gunpowder. 

Ice skating rink set to open

You should be able to skate in the West Haymarket Railyard ice rink starting Friday evening.

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Though the weather is expected to be mild this week, Railyard staffers think they will be able to open the rink after 5 p.m. Friday, according to Brian Krajewski, Railyard general manager.

If it gets warmer than predicted “we will have to re-evaluate,” he said.

The Railyard rink is open for skating from 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays; noon to midnight Saturdays; and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. On Mondays in January and February, the rink is closed for broomball, Krajewski said.

Privatization debate spans generations

This year there has been debate over who should run a proposed conversion system for turning biogas produced at the sewage treatment plant into compressed gas: the city or a private company.

Thirty-one years ago there was similar debate over who should own and run the city landfill. 

At the time when Lincoln was looking for a site for a new landfill, two private companies suggested to city officials they would own and operate a landfill for city waste. One, Waste Management Inc., an Illinois-based firm, even had an agreement with landowners to purchase land for a new city landfill.

The idea of a privately owned landfill met much resistance. Lincoln's private garbage haulers were afraid the private company would take over the hauling business. The two Lincoln newspapers did not support a private company having a monopoly over a required public service. Even the Lincoln Independent Business Association opposed private ownership of the landfill.

LIBA said a privately owned landfill would make the city unnecessarily reliant on one company for an essential service.

"When we're talking about the only game in town, as we are with one landfill, Lincoln can ill afford to become dependent on private ownership of this basic city service," said the LIBA president. 

The current biogas-to-fuel conversion project does not deal with a required public service, so the arguments are not the same.   

City staff believes the city can make more money managing the project. Some council members, including Roy Christensen, believe the city would have less risk allowing a private company to handle the project.  

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

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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