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Nebraska catcher Griffin Everitt (left) and head coach Will Bolt walk to the mound to relieve Koty Frank on May 2 at Haymarket Park.


Nebraska
editor's pick alert
Opponents rejoice as TC Energy gives up Keystone XL pipeline fight
  • Updated

TC Energy, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, said Wednesday it is pulling the plug on the contentious project after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

Calgary-based TC Energy said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit from” the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City near the Nebraska-Kansas border.

Though the pipeline was to run through three states, it was environmentalists in Nebraska who were often leading the challenge.

“After a decade, it is a good day that TransCanada has realized that there is no future in tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline," said Art Tanderup, who farms along the Keystone XL route near Neligh and organized protests against the project.

Tanderup said it is imperative that all permits granted in Nebraska be revoked, specifically the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s permit to TC Energy approved amid legal and legislative battles.

First proposed in 2008, the pipeline has become emblematic of the tensions between economic development and curbing the fossil fuel emissions that are causing climate change. The Obama administration rejected it, but President Donald Trump revived it.

Through all of it, Bold Nebraska founder Jane Kleeb and her band of rural landowners and Natives led the fight against the project.

Wednesday's apparent victory capped quite a reversal of fortunes, Only last year, Nebraska's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the route through the state.

“On behalf of our Ponca Nation we welcome this long overdue news and thank all who worked so tirelessly to educate and fight to prevent this from coming to fruition. It’s a great day for Mother Earth,” said Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, whose ancestral land in north-central Nebraska was along the route.

Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year when the Trump administration revived the long-delayed project.

It would have moved up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Biden canceled it in January over longstanding concerns that burning oil sands crude would make climate change worse.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau objected to the move, but officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed disappointment in recent weeks that he didn’t lobby harder to reinstate the pipeline’s permit.

Alberta invested more than $1 billion in the project last year, kick-starting construction that had stalled amid determined opposition to the line along its route.

Alberta officials said Wednesday they reached an agreement with TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to exit their partnership. The company and province plan to try to recoup the government's investment, although neither offered any immediate details on how that would happen.

“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

Attorneys general from 21 states had sued to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the contentious pipeline, which would have created thousands of construction jobs.

“This is yet another example of the Biden-Harris Administration putting the priorities of radical environmental activists above our national interest," Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement. "Without Keystone XL, the United States will not only be more dependent on overseas sources of oil, but our state will not enjoy the benefit of the jobs and property tax revenue the project would have brought.”

Republicans in Congress have made the cancellation a frequent talking point in their criticism of the administration, and even some moderate Senate Democrats including Montana's Jon Tester and West Virginia's Joe Manchin had urged Biden to reconsider.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on TC Energy's announcement.

Notable events surrounding the Keystone XL oil pipeline

Crime-and-courts
breaking topical top story
Trail sentenced to die for killing Sydney Loofe; becomes 12th inmate on Nebraska's death row
  • Updated

WILBER — A three-judge panel sentenced Aubrey Trail to death for the 2017 disappearance and killing of Sydney Loofe.

The sentence, announced at the Saline County Courthouse on Wednesday, makes Trail the 12th death row inmate in Nebraska.

In a lengthy hearing, Saline County District Court Judge Vicky L. Johnson recounted in detail how Trail, 54, and Bailey Boswell, 27, lured Loofe to their Wilber apartment on the night of Nov. 15, 2017, where she was killed and her body mutilated.

Trail showed a “cold, calculated” level of planning in the lead-up to the 24-year-old’s murder, choosing her based on certain characteristics and relishing the murder, which brought him intellectual and sexual gratification, Johnson said.

The judge also suggested that Trail may have thought no one would immediately miss Loofe since she lived alone in Lincoln, hours away from her family in Neligh, and said her romantic interest in dating Boswell made her their ideal target.

Those factors elevated the crime to the definition of exceptional depravity outlined in state law, Johnson said. "There is no reasonable doubt that this aggravating circumstance against Aubrey Trail justifies an imposition of a sentence of death.”

The panel of judges also said there weren’t any statutory mitigating factors that worked in Trail’s favor, but did take into account his troubled upbringing and dysfunctional family in Tennessee, as well as his time spent in and out of foster care and group homes.

Trail, who was brought into the courtroom right in front of Loofe’s parents, George and Susie, in a wheelchair pushed by a deputy sheriff, addressed the family before the sentence was read, saying he wanted to clear up lies he had told about his victim.

“I realize nothing I can say here will change in the least what I did to Sydney three and a half years ago,” Trail read from a statement he prepared without involvement from his attorneys.

Sydney Loofe

“I won’t say I’m sorry, as that would be an insult to you after what I put you through,” he added, “and I won’t ask for forgiveness as I don’t believe there is such a thing.”

Trail said he murdered Loofe after she “freaked out” and rejected his and Boswell’s attempt to recruit her into their crime and sex ring. He said he was “willing to do anything to protect” the couple’s lifestyle.

Like previous statements he has made to law enforcement, the court and to reporters — although Johnson noted he lacks credibility — Trail said Boswell was not in the room when Loofe was killed, and played only a small role in disposing of her body.

“I have done some terrible things in my life,” Trail said, “but this is the only thing I’ve ever done that I feel real regret about.”

Saying he wasn’t looking for mercy or forgiveness, Trail shifted his statement to Johnson, presiding from the bench, as he concluded: “I could care less what you do to me today.”

A little less than two hours later, Johnson announced the death sentence.

The Loofe family left the courtroom before a smiling Trail could be wheeled out in front of them. Her parents, a brother and sister exited the courthouse in front of a bank of television cameras, declining comment until after Boswell's sentence is determined later this year.

Trail’s attorneys, Joe and Ben Murray, said they “really didn’t have an inkling” what their client was going to say in his statement.

“He assured us he was not going to cause any trouble. He wasn’t going to be disruptive. He was going to be appropriate with his comments,” Joe Murray said.

The attorney acknowledged Trail’s comments ran counter to some of the arguments they had tried to make in his defense.

“I believe he really did intend to help the Loofe family, and hopefully it did,” Joe Murray said.

Death penalty cases are automatically appealed in Nebraska, and Ben Murray said Trail, who has previously told reporters he deserved to die for Loofe’s murder, would “willingly” participate in the first appeal, which will focus on procedural questions during the trial.

“He believes not everything that occurred in that lengthy trial was appropriate,” Ben Murray said. “We think there were some errors made that would warrant a new trial.”

Beyond that, Ben Murray added, it wasn’t clear if Trail intended to participate in further appeals.

It's unknown what impact Trail’s statements to the court on Wednesday would have on Boswell, who will go before a three-judge sentencing panel later this month, and could become the first woman to receive the death penalty in Nebraska.

Boswell was found guilty of first-degree murder, improper disposal of human skeletal remains and conspiracy to commit murder at a second trial moved from Wilber to Lexington in October 2020.

On June 30, a three-judge panel — including Johnson, Lancaster County District Judge Darla Ideus and Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon -- will hear evidence before determining if Boswell will get life in prison or the death penalty.

Evidence entered at trial showed Boswell connected with Loofe via the Tinder dating app on Nov. 11, with the two women meeting for the first time on Nov. 13.

The next day, surveillance video from a Lincoln Home Depot shows Trail and Boswell purchasing tools -- including a hacksaw, tin snips, drop cloths and a utility knife -- hours before Loofe met up with Boswell a second time on Nov. 15.

Trail was later captured on camera entering the north Lincoln Menards store where Loofe worked, nearly crossing her path in the entryway, stopping to look back at her twice.

Boswell picked up Loofe from her apartment at about 7 p.m. that evening, and drove her to Wilber, where she and Trail shared a basement apartment near the western edge of town.

Susie Loofe reported her daughter missing the following day after Sydney failed to show up for work, and a friend found Boswell’s Tinder profile, which helped law enforcement launch a massive manhunt that ended in their capture in Missouri.

Attorney General Doug Peterson, whose office led the prosecution of Trail, recognized the work of the three judges tasked with Wednesday's sentencing.

"The panel did an extensive job of setting forth the gruesome details of the murder of Sydney Loofe and explained why the death penalty is appropriate under the language of the Nebraska statutes and the history of Nebraska case law where the death penalty was upheld," Peterson said in a statement.

Trail's condemnation brings the number of death row inmates in Nebraska back up to 12, after Arthur Gales, 55, who was sentenced to death in 2000 for the first-degree murder of two children, died of natural causes in April.

While the death penalty remains available to prosecutors in the state, carrying out the sentence has become more difficult since Nebraska executed Carey Dean Moore via lethal injection in August 2018.

The longtime death row inmate was executed using a novel four-drug cocktail in 2018 for the 1979 murders of Omaha cab drivers Reuel Van Ness Jr. and Maynard Helgeland.

It was the first execution in Nebraska since 1997, when Robert Williams was put to death by electric chair, and the first since voters reinstated the punishment in 2016.

Since Moore's execution, the state's lethal injection drugs have expired, and officials have said there is little chance of obtaining any more because manufacturers refuse to supply them.

The Attorney General's office, in its statement, said it remains committed to enforcing the death sentences ordered by the state's courts.

Nebraska's 12 death row inmates
Photos: Aubrey Trail in court

Local
editor's pick topical top story
Lincoln native takes on 166-mile, 6-day race to benefit MS cause
  • Updated

When Chris Whitney heard about the MS Run for U.S. relay last fall, he wasn’t sure he was ready for the 166-mile, six-day journey.

Motivated by how multiple sclerosis has affected those close to him, he decided to apply anyway.

“I just woke up one morning and thought, 'Well, I'll apply, and I guess the worst they can say is no,'” he said.

Whitney, who works at the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, hit the ground running on Thursday for his leg of this year’s MS Run, the U.S. ultra-relay that began in April in Santa Monica, California, and will finish in August in New York City.

The ultra-relay is split into 19 segments that are each about 160 miles and six days long. Whitney begins his 166-mile journey in Wray, Colorado, and will end in Holdrege.

Whitney said he plans to run 30 miles a day the first five days of his race and about 16 miles the last day.

On each 30-mile day, he plans to run three 10-mile sections, taking a 45-minute break in between.

Whitney underwent a 16-week training program for the relay that totaled about 1,221 miles. At the peak of his training, Whitney was racking up around 75 miles a week.

This is the longest race Whitney has ever taken on, but he’s completed a handful of half-marathons and completed his first full marathon in May.

Whitney’s mother was diagnosed with MS when he was young, and he said it’s been hard seeing her get worse.

“It's been tough to see her have to be wheelchair-bound and have a lot of those things that she liked to do like go on walks and some of those more active things that we take for granted but that she can’t do anymore,” he said.

One of Whitney’s friends was diagnosed with MS a few years ago and seeing him struggle with the condition has also been difficult, Whitney said.

Outside of the run itself, each relay team member is tasked with raising at least $10,000 for the organization, Whitney said. So far, he’s raised about $13,600 and will continue gathering donations through August on his website. He now hopes to reach $15,000.

“I've had just tremendous support. Family and friends have gone over and beyond for me and for my mom and for this cause,” he said. “It's been a steady stream of donations from people and even people that I don't even know.”

In addition to supporting research, the organization behind the run also provides financial aid to those with MS for things such as new wheelchairs and adjustments to make their homes accessible.

“It's not all about just the research dollars that it goes towards, but it's also just really helping people who need it most,” he said.

Whitney said he is also inspired by the other 18 runners in this year’s relay, several of whom have MS.

“The fact that they are going out, doing this running, fundraising, retelling and telling their stories over and over again, is just incredibly powerful to me,” he said. “It's just something that gives me strength and makes me realize how fortunate I am.”

Whitney said he felt well prepared physically ahead of the race, but getting ready to run brought on a lot of emotions for him.

“I'm running for my mom, and obviously it's been tough to see her battle MS over the years and then just hear other people's stories of somebody that they know, whether it's a family member or a friend that has MS,” he said, “it's certainly emotional.”

Whitney said he feels grateful to be a part of the ultra-relay for a cause important to him.

“It's the honor of a lifetime, really, for me just to run for this cause and to run for this group of people,” he said.

Photos: Runners take on Lincoln Marathon

Nebraska
editor's pick topical
'Conservation success story' -- Game & Parks considers river otter season
  • Updated

OMAHA -- A young North American river otter recently rescued by Nebraska Wildlife Rehab is a sign of one of the state’s greatest rehabilitation efforts.

Unregulated harvest and loss of habitat wiped out the species until the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission released 159 otters on seven waterways from 1986 to 1991. There had been no record of the animal in the state from 1916 to 1977.

Game and Parks now estimates there are about 2,000 in Nebraska, a healthy enough population that a pilot season on river otters will be considered Friday when commissioners meet in Chadron. A harvest of 75 otters would trigger the season to close within three days, with the session starting in November.

That the species has become so abundant that a season is being considered is a huge deal after years of effort by Game and Parks staff.

Meanwhile, Laura Stastny, executive director at Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, is working to keep that one orphaned baby flourishing so that it can be released successfully in the wild this fall.

NEBRASKA WILDLIFE REHAB 

The youngster is still being fed formula but is getting used to more solid food.

The 10-week-old female is the first to be rescued by the organization because there just weren’t many of the species around until recent years.

“They are definitely a conservation success story in Nebraska, thanks to the Game and Parks Commission,” Stastny said.

She couldn’t reveal where the youngster was found but said otters are becoming more common along the Platte and Niobrara rivers.

NEBRASKA WILDLIFE REHAB 

Three staffers are taking care of the youngster, which they hope to successfully release in the fall. 

This one was discovered in a field on private property, which is abnormal. The property owners correctly left the animal overnight to see if its mother would reclaim it. When she did not, they called Nebraska Wildlife Rehab.

“We don’t know if it was orphaned and wandering or if something happened while the mom was moving it from one den to another,” Stastny said.

The female was dehydrated but otherwise healthy. She’s still on formula but is weaning over to solids.

The one enclosure that Nebraska Wildlife Rehab has for water mammals is occupied by two baby beavers, so the group is building a temporary home for the otter at its facility in Washington County.

NEBRASKA WILDLIFE REHAB 

The river otter needs a deep tank to learn how to fish on its own.

“We swim her every day in a smaller pool,” Stastny said. “She needs to go into a big outdoor enclosure with a big outdoor pool so she can swim at will. Otters live mostly on fish. She needs a pool deep enough to practice fishing.”

The plan is to purchase a deep horse tank, bury it in the ground and build a cage around it.

“We’re really excited to be there,” Stastny said.

It’s been a busy spring for the rehab organization. Members took in more than 1,300 animals in May alone and are currently caring for more than 800.

Nebraska Big Game Society to auction elk tag

A bull elk tag, which will give the highest bidder the right to hunt the animal in any state elk management unit during the 2021 hunting season, will be auctioned off by the Nebraska Big Game Society.

Three staff members will care for the otter. Stastny said it's been a lifelong wish for one of them to rehabilitate a river otter.

“We are excited when we have a new species,” she said. “It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to rehabilitate this one and return it to the wild.”


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