November 24, 2015

Congressman Smith says he is studying Trans Pacific Partnership

Congressman Adrian Smith

Congressman Adrian Smith

Congressman Adrian Smith says he is busy reviewing the paperwork released by the Obama Administration on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Smith says he needs time to review the trade pact.

“Initially, it sounds like the trade agreement would be good for the beef industry as well as the pork industry,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network. “But I want to look even farther than just those two industries which happen to be good in Nebraska, big in Nebraska. I want to see what other details are in there.”

The Obama Administration has released documentation about the trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries. It is a wide-ranging agreement which seeks to lower trade barriers among the countries and ease restrictions for imports and exports.

It appears the agreement would benefit Nebraska agriculture. Its impact on other sectors of the economy is less certain.

Smith says he must be convinced TPP benefits America overall before he votes for it.

“Let’s look for trade agreements that level the playing field, because when we get to play on a level-playing field American production does very well, whether it’s agriculture, whether it’s manufacturing, we’ve got good opportunities when we have a level-playing field,” according to Smith.

Smith says he will study the material released by the administration and speak with agricultural and business leaders throughout Nebraska before deciding how to vote.

“So, I want to talk to stakeholders, in addition to just the beef and pork industries,” Smith says. “This is a big deal and we need to make sure that we get it right. I would imagine it won’t be perfect, but let’s make sure that the details are what we think they are.”

Congress likely will consider TPP next year. Under a trade law approved earlier, Congress cannot amend the agreement. It either accepts it or rejects it.

Effort to save historic downtown Omaha buildings


The City of Omaha and three private property owners have finalized letters of intent for the purchase of three buildings at 11th and Douglas. The deal is contingent on Omaha Performing Arts selling their parking lot at 11th and Dodge to HDR, Inc. so they can build a new high-rise headquarters building. The purchase includes the historic Christian Specht Building that is designated a local historical landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The city will spend $10-million on the three properties.


The Omaha Planning Board added H-D-R, an architectural, engineering and consulting firm’s proposal to a blueprint to the downtown area. They want to build a new 16 story, 30,000 square-feet headquarter building on land currently owned by Omaha Performing Arts. Omaha Performing Arts is willing to sell the land if they can obtain the property at 11th and Douglas Streets so they can expand parking and possibly another facility.

Kristine Gerber is the executive director for Restoration Exchange and says the problem is older, historic buildings would have to come down and one has historic designation. She says, “There has been huge public opposition to this. We are excited to hear that the mayor is on our side and not wanting eminent domain. We are rallying the troops and working now on some design solutions.”

Gerber says one of the buildings, The Christian – Specht is on the National Register of Historic Places. She says that offers it some protection. To raise that building it would have to be de-listed and that has to be done through the courts. She says to de-list it, owners would have to prove economic hardship and there is none.

The Christian – Specht building stands at 11th and Douglas Streets and was built in 1900. It is the only building in the state with a cast iron facade.

Gerber is hoping the community rallies around the building owners because they have done an excellent job restoring them and providing a taxable income for that area.

Commercial drone pilots can now train in Siouxland

UAV HexCopterMartin’s Airfield in South Sioux City, Nebraska, and Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, are partnering on a new program to train commercial drone operators.

The Federal Aviation Administration is requiring anyone who wants to be paid to fly a drone to obtain a commercial rating. Tom Fredricksen is an FAA certified ground instructor for the program.

“Our program is designed to not only get flying drones, but to understand air spaces, understand communications between towers and airplanes,” Fredricksen says, “and to get them at least three hours of flying in an airplane, along with the drone courses Morningside has mapped out.”

The course is for commercial drone operators, not for the hobby-type of drones you can buy at the store.

“The hobby drone operator is limited to visual site and 400 feet above ground level,” Fredericksen says. “However, there are more sophisticated drones out there that’ll fly to 16,000 feet and fly at 120 miles-an-hour. And they can carry about 55 pounds of cargo and can stay up in the air for 55 minutes.”

The federal government has announced plans to require recreational drone users to register their vehicles as there are more reports of drones flying too close to airports. Fredricksen says the rule should help.

He says the regulation will be good as their job is to make sure there aren’t any collisions and everyone understands what is going on in the air.

Fredericksen says he’s seen ads offering an annual salary of $135,000 for FAA-certified commercial drone operators.

By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City


Missouri drilling contractor faces penalties in fatal construction accident in Nebraska

Federal regulators propose a Missouri drilling contractor pay nearly $15,000 in fines for safety violations which led to the death of a construction worker in Lincoln.

42-year-old Michael Snider of Sedalia, Missouri was killed when struck on the head by an 80-foot piece of rebar that fell 130 feet from a crane.

Snider was working for CBS Piling Solutions of Riverside, Missouri, drilling foundation holes for a student housing project under construction near the University of Nebraska-Lincoln downtown campus when the accident occurred on June 24th.

OSHA cited CBS for three serious safety violations in the incident:  the improper rigging of the load, failing to adequately train workers, and failing to remove non-essential employees from an area using cranes.

“Deaths like this, which are entirely preventable, happen all too often in the construction industry – and they have tragic consequences not just for the workers but for their families and communities,” Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha, said in a written statement released by OSHA. “Employers must train workers about these hazards and ensure only qualified riggers are attaching crane loads for over-head operations.”

Co-workers came to Snider’s aid, attempting CPR to revive him. Snider died before paramedics could arrive.

Nebraska Railcar faces nearly $1M in fines stemming from fatal accident

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services faces nearly one million dollars in fines in wake of a railcar explosion in mid-April that killed two employees in southeast Omaha.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that moments before the blast, an air quality check indicated a serious risk of an explosion. OSHA says that despite the warning, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent two employees into the railcar to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, nor providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.

The explosion blew 40-year-old Dallas Foulk off the top of the tanker. He died after being taken to Creighton University Medical Center in critical condition.

Omaha firefighters extricated 44-year-old Adrian LaPour six hours later.

OSHA investigated the April 14th explosion and has cited Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services for seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations. OSHA recommends a fine totaling $963,000.

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services has also been placed on the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

“Our hearts go out to the families of these workers, whose deaths were so senseless and preventable,” David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA said in a written statement released by OSHA. “This isn’t the first time this employer put its workers’ lives at risk – but OSHA will do everything in our power to ensure it is the last.”

According to OSHA, the company has failed to monitor air quality properly and hasn’t provided the property safety equipment for employees.

“This company has regularly failed to use appropriate equipment and procedures to keep their employees safe?, and in this case it had tragic consequences,” Jeff Funke, OSHA Area Director in Omaha, said in a written statement. “The company needs to immediately reevaluate its procedures for entering and cleaning railcars.”

The EPA is also investigating whether the company properly disposed of hazardous waste.

In addition, OSHA says it is investigating two whistleblower complaints filed since 2013.

Nebraska Railcar has 15 business days to reply to the citations and recommended fine.