October 25, 2014

New span opens this afternoon joining Nebraska & Iowa

Photo courtesy Nebraska Department of Roads

Photo courtesy Nebraska Department of Roads

A new bridge is opening today connecting southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

Officials say completion of the project not only eases travel for motorists but will encourage economic development between the states for years to come.

Scott Nixon, a construction engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation, says it’s been a lengthy, expensive venture.

“The total project with Nebraska costs and Iowa costs combined is about $115-million,” Nixon says. “The bridge itself was 61-million.”

Construction began in January of 2012 so it’s been just two months shy of three years to complete.

The new route includes about seven miles of newly-constructed four-lane divided highway extending west of the U.S. Highway 34 interchange with Interstate 29 near Glenwood, Iowa, to U.S. Highway 75 between Plattsmouth and Bellevue, Nebraska.

The Nebraska Department of Roads completed the work on its side last year.

The new bridge over the Missouri River includes a 500-foot steel section that spans the waterway.

“Nebraska is paying for a portion of the bridge and Iowa is paying for a portion,” Nixon says. “It’s not a 50-50 split because there’s more bridge on the Iowa side than the Nebraska side.”

The bridge sits on 17 concrete and steel piers.

“It was a challenge working in the river,” Nixon says. “The contractor started working on the river in early ’12 and they were still working in late 2013. It was over a year to get the river piers up.”

Estimates show the bridge will initially carry around 2,000 vehicles a day, ramping up to 11,000 vehicles a day in the years to come. The bridge is expected to open around 3 PM.


Have your furnace inspected now, before winter winds howl

Many Nebraskans are already turning up the heat on their thermostats but autumn is a good time to have an expert look over your furnace before winter arrives.

Merl Scott, a mechanical inspector, says it’s crucial to have your system checked out every year.

Scott says, “Most of us have gas furnaces so we’d want to make sure that the gas supply system to your furnace and the delivery of the gas into the burners is all happening correctly and has the proper safety mechanisms hooked to it.”

Neglecting your furnace and air conditioning system can lead to both health and safety issues, including fire.

Scott says homeowners should always be observant of their air-handling systems.

“Most people are used to what their furnace system sounds like when it comes on and goes off and if you start hearing something different, that would be something you’d want to have checked out,” Scott says, “or if you start smelling gas or any kind of fumes.”

Scott recommends changing the air filters monthly and keeping items in storage at least three feet away from your furnace and water heater.

“Father” of GMOs says opponents are a minority, extremists

WheatThe debate over genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — in food has been heating up in Nebraska and nationwide in recent months.

Robert Fraley, a top researcher at crop-seed maker Monsanto, is often referred to as “the father of agricultural biotechnology.”

Fraley says he’s convinced opponents of GMOs represent a small percentage of consumers.

“Those are extreme voices,” Fraley says. “As I travel and talk to audiences, the vast majority of people are in the middle.”

Fraley estimates 70 to 80% of Americans believe genetically modified foods are safe.

The latest issue of National Geographic features a cover story about the role of genetics in food production.

Dennis Dimick, executive environment editor at the magazine, says biotechnology is critical to solving the problem of feeding nine-billion people — the world’s estimated population by 2050.

Dimick says, “In a world where we need to improve productivity, things like drought, salt, and heat tolerant crops are so important and should be allowed to happen, even if they do involve the use of genetic engineering.”

In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide if manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers should be required to label foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering.

In recent years, similar measures in California and in Washington state were narrowly rejected after millions of dollars were spent by Monsanto and other labeling opponents to defeat the campaigns.


USDA to survey Nebraska farmers on chemical use

SoybeansA sample of Nebraska corn growers will soon be asked to report on their use of pesticides and fertilizer.

The Agricultural Resource Management Survey is conducted on different crops each year and 2014 is a corn year.

Greg Thessen, the regional director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, says once the data is collated and released to the public, it’s a tool policymakers can use to evaluate proposed changes.

Thessen says, “This provides a good source of information for them to take a look at see, okay, if they change a policy what impact is that going to have on farmers and how they grow crops or corn in particular.”

Thessen says several hundred Nebraska farmers will be polled for this year’s corn survey. The information gathered will be released in public reports beginning next May.

Thessen says the survey gives farmers a chance to tell the government how they grow their crops.

He says, “What kind of inputs it takes as far as fertilizer and pesticides go, as well as any pest management practices, and really show other people that may not be involved with agriculture how they are good stewards of the land.”

Thessen says selected farmers will receive a notice in the mail and then a USDA employee will visit the farmer to record detailed information about the use of chemical inputs.

He says one use is for the Environmental Protection Agency to see whether products are being used according to their labels.


Water levels will remain high on the Missouri River to prep for ’15

Gavins Point Dam

Gavins Point Dam

The Missouri River will see continued high levels over the coming weeks as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares for next year by maintaining above-normal releases from Gavins Point Dam.

Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division in Omaha, says maintaining the increased releases now will help lower the risk of flooding next season.

“We’ve had a fairly high runoff into the reservoirs for most of the summer, really peaking in August when we had our second wettest August on record,” Farhat says. “As a result, we’ve increased the releases out of Gavins Point with the goal of evacuating all the water that’s stored in the flood control pools by the start of next year’s runoff season.”

Along with flood control, Farhat says excess water will extend the navigation season.

“The higher releases that we have now will provide an additional three or four feet in the river, which will help navigation here in this latter part of this season,” Farhat says. “We are also providing an extension of the navigation service, an additional ten days, so it’ll end on December 10th at the mouth near St. Louis.”

She says it will also mean an increase in hydropower generation.

Farhat says the Corps is holding public meetings on October 28th in Pierre, South Dakota, and on October 29th in Council Bluffs for people who are interested in the water management operations.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton