BN trains may have to be rerouted from Lincoln to Kansas
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway spokesman said flooding along the Missouri River may cause trains to be rerouted between Lincoln and Kansas.
BN spokesman Andy Williams said today that about 40 trains — most of them carrying coal from Wyoming — travel daily from Lincoln to Napier, Kan., but that route may change.
“We’re hoping not to have to reroute them,” he said.
If that happens, the trains would likely go from Wyoming south down the Front Range.
Dems’ robocaller not too effective
Got a call last night from what my caller ID said was “Beutler Citizens for…” .
When I answered, an automated call kept saying something like, “This is Laura… ” over and over. I was patient, because I was hoping it was a survey, so I waited her out.
Finally, Robo-Laura got her bearings and went on. She said she was calling to let me know that the Nebraska Democratic Party would be sending me a form Friday to request an absentee ballot for the upcoming city elections.
But then she stumbled and started repeating herself again. Might want to reprogram Robo-Laura, Dems. She’s kind of annoying.
Another chink in Antelope Valley
Our $260 million investment in downtown Lincoln has a chink in it, and Mayor Chris Beutler is fighting mad, saying it’s totally unacceptable and he’ll make the responsible parties pay.
(To his credit) Beutler went public with the news that a big chunk of the Antelope Valley Project — specifically, the underside of the new O Street bridge — literally fell on Tuesday. The city closed the Antelope Valley trails in Union Plaza from N to Q streets, to be safe. But city officials said, don’t worry, the bridges are safe. Great.
These bridges were just built in the past few years and already they’re falling apart? The mayor ought to be mad.
The mayor’s office was also mad — at me — a couple of years ago when I wrote a lengthy, in-depth investigative series of stories about the Antelope Valley Project, concluding that the city of Lincoln had spent $34 million more than projected, even as it continued the work at a cost of $1,352 per hour.
In 2000, Antelope Valley proponents said the project would cost $175 million. That number has since been revised to more than $260 million. Although to be fair, there was a little footnote in 2000, noting that those were 1999 dollars. I also learned there really was no set budget; the city council approved a new budget every year.
The state auditor also found “significant accounting lapses” last year.
Less eye-catching was the fact that a New York consulting company called Parsons Brinckerhoff was hired to manage both design and construction of Antelope Valley under a “cost-plus fixed-fee” contract in which the company is paid for its costs, plus a fixed fee.
Such contracts are often criticized because they don’t encourage cost savings and (this is key) design flaws can be more easily covered up. Parsons Brinckerhoff, by the way, was also one of two companies that oversaw design and construction of Boston’s infamous Big Dig — widely considered the biggest public works debacle in our nation’s history. That interstate tunnel has been plagued by leaks and a woman was killed after 26 tons of concrete fell and crushed her car.
So I imagine city officials are a little nervous to see concrete falling from their bridges, too.
However, the mayor’s office did a full-court press when I was researching Antelope Valley, doing their best to make sure the story turned out as positively as possible. They sent a panel of city officials to refute various aspects of the story and argued that I should use larger inflationary factors to adjust the original cost projections (and blunt the blow) — all the spin you would expect in that situation.
After all, Beutler inherited the Antelope Valley Project. And after my series came out, Beutler decreed that the city would not proceed with phase two of the project. At least, not now.
The upshot is that even though it can make for dense reading, stories about the types of contracts the city enters for massive projects like Antelope Valley do matter. Which is why it’s important that we closely watch the way an even bigger public works project — the arena project — is handled. The way companies win bids matters. The way construction is overseen matters. The companies that are selected to build it matter.
Especially if it’s you who is under that bridge when a chunk of it gives way.
City to try to get more cabs at closing time
City Councilman John Spatz said the city is working on ways to get more taxi cabs downtown around bar closing time (that’s 2 a.m., old folks).
Spatz said city officials often get complaints about the lack of cabs when the bars close, but it’s difficult for a cab company to hire enough people to meet the demand for just a few hours.
So the council’s liquor subcommittee is working on a way to provide more rides.
“There are solutions from other cities,” Spatz said, and the liquor committee will be unveiling those ideas in the coming months, with public hearings likely in February or March.
50 LES employees make six-figure salaries
About five years ago, I did a story about the city’s spiraling personnel costs, largely the result of the state-mandated method of determining what public employees’ salaries should be.
I remember a prominent city employee telling me I should have included the salaries of employees at the Lincoln Electric System, the city-owned electric utility. I disagreed, since those salaries aren’t paid out of the city budget.
After years of rate increases, however, (some of them quite substantial), I thought this might be a good time to take a look at them. So I asked LES for a list of all their employees who earn six figures. Without complaint, they obliged, giving me a list of 50 people. That’s out of a total 458 employees (as of last week), or 11 percent of their payroll.
Is that too many? Are they paid too much? LES says people who work in private utilities earn more. LES Spokesman Russ Reno said when these positions open up, they’re filled after regional or national search. LES’s policy for vacancies for most of these positions would be filled from a regional or national process. He also sent me a copy of LES Policy 17 for setting compensation.
I appreciate LES’s openness and transparency; other government agencies are not nearly as willing to hand over public records. The city of Lincoln, for example, sometimes stymies people by taking weeks to respond, charging them for each page they print of a record, and then sometimes charging for attorneys’ time to look at the documents first. I’ve had citizens — average Joe citizens, mind you — tell me they were told it would cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to get the records they want. The Journal Star once paid like $400 for public records from the city.
Anyway, here are the six-figure salaries:
LINCOLN ELECTRIC SYSTEM EMPLOYEES
$100,000+ Salaries as of 12/17/2010
Name Job Title Salary
Adams Steven Vice President $144,008
Amancherla Krishna Senior Engineer $100,324
Anderson Thomas Utilities Supervisor I $102,337
Andrysik Richard Utilities Manager I (S) $115,283
Bakenhus Byron Senior Engineer $102,407
Bantam Douglas Chief Operating Officer $195,000
Barnhouse Bruce Utilities Supervisor III $113,079
Brozek David Utilities Supervisor III $117,487
Buhrman Douglas Senior Engineer $108,101
Burbach Alan Senior Engineer $102,979
Case Blane Professional Manager III (S) $100,586
Crist Paul Utilities Manager III $123,639
Curry Douglas Vice President $186,508
Davlin Thomas Utilities Manager II (S) $121,105
Dinges Paul Utilities Supervisor II (S) $104,194
Engelman Neil Senior Engineer $120,000
Fischer James Utilities Manager II (S) $132,490
Florom Dennis Utilities Manager II (S) $117,795
Fortik Jason Utilities Manager II (S) $101,821
Friendt Douglas Utilities Manager II (S) $115,738
Gregg Laurie Utilities Manager II (S) $115,371
Hall J. Todd Vice President $147,732
Hanks Stephen Utilities Supervisor III $102,745
Hans Bradley Utilities Supervisor III $114,283
Haun Steven Utilities Supervisor III $114,740
Hoy Debbra Utilities Manager III $145,630
Kapustka Laura Vice President $192,800
Kratzer Ronald Utilities Manager II (S) $131,687
Lang William IT Analyst Senior $101,990
Mannel James Senior Engineer $119,161
McReynolds Brian Utilities Manager II (S) $127,535
Merrill Bruce Vice President $142,000
Miller Douglas Utilities Supervisor III $105,237
Noble William Utilities Manager III $123,231
Pietzyk Bruce Utilities Supervisor II $107,917
Pudenz Danny Vice President $165,955
Rittgarn Kenneth Utilities Supervisor II (S) $107,074
Sahling-Zart Shelley Vice President $154,217
Schmidt Robert Utilities Supervisor III $113,862
Shkolnick Marc Utilities Manager I (S) $103,729
Skipton David Utilities Manager I (S) $105,326
Steinauer Steven Utilities Manager III $102,043
Streit Lawrence Utilities Supervisor III $120,157
Turek Emil Utilities Manager II (S) $132,048
Wailes Kevin Administrator & CEO $270,000
Wallingford Steven Senior Engineer $107,512
Wertz Dennis Internal Auditor Senior $100,968
Wesolowski Dan Senior Engineer $103,494
Young Stephen Utilities Supervisor II (S) $104,075
Feds in town reviewing StarTran purchases
The feds are in Lincoln this week to take a closer look at how the city bus service, StarTran, makes purchases.
StarTran head Larry Worth confirmed that the Federal Transit Administration is conducting a procurement review of StarTran this week. Three federal officials met with Worth Monday morning and then began going through paperwork pertaining to “how we buy things” following a regular triennial review by the Federal Transit Administration earlier this year. According to an FTA official, the report had a number of findings — specifically, repeat findings — related to StarTran’s procurement process.
Triennial reviews are done every three years to ensure recipients of federal dollars are adhering to federal requirements and policies.
“They found some things they want addressed,” Worth said.
So the Department of Transportation sent in a team to follow up on those issues and show StarTran officials “how to do the job better.”
“It’s like a tax audit,” Worth said. “If you get audited, they’re going to find something.”
He called the assessment/review typical, but also said he’d never had one done before in his previous 15 years heading up StarTran. Asked whether federal funds were in jeopardy, he said they would be if StarTran didn’t follow the feds’ recommendations. Most of StarTran’s funding is federal.
How does your city grow? Chamber comes out against “compact growth” option
It’s official: The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce has come out against one of the three growth scenarios being considered by the city as it updates its comprehensive plan.
Assuming the county will grow by 126,000 people by 2040, with 90 percent of those people settling in Lincoln, the comprehensive plan (which the city has dubbed LPlan2040) will direct and guide that growth.
The city has proposed three alternatives to deal with the 47,500 new housing units that would be necessary to house those people, including one that envisions “compact growth” — where the city would offer incentives to see that more growth occurs within the current city limits. Under this alternative, one-third of new housing would be built within the city limits, and two-thirds outside. Half of the new housing would be single family homes and half apartments and condos. This would be the cheapest option for the city, with the infrastructure cost estimated at $851 million.
It’s also the option being opposed by the chamber. (scenario_C)
The other two alternatives are:
• Stevens Creek growth — 96 percent of housing would be built at the edge of the city, mostly in the Stevens Creek watershed and south of Lincoln. Infrastructure cost: $1.1 billion.
• Multi-directional growth — 96 percent of housing would be built at the city edges, in all directions. Cost to city: $1.34 billion.
The Chamber of Commerce recently issued a statement expressing “fear that attempts to constrain the growth of the city will only make it more difficult to accomplish projects like (Verizon and Perot) in the future.” The chamber said the city should follow “the most optimistic models for growth” and “opposes the adoption of any of the extremely constrained assumptions made in growth scenario C (the compact growth scenario).”
The chamber said it could support a revised scenario that generally encompasses the Stevens Creek scenario, but that also allows the areas along Highway 77 in southwest Lincoln to remain in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 land use map.
This should be an interesting debate — and litmus test for Mayor Chris Beutler, who has governed more like a Republican, with a pro-growth attitude determined to end the city's anti-business reputation. This is the guy, after all, who built a $2 million Development Services Center on the second floor of city hall, with the goal of making planning and permitting more user-friendly.
To learn more about the proposals and process, go to the city Web site on
27th Street closures to continue, possibly into December
If you’ve driven on 27th Street through the Country Club lately, you’ve probably been detoured.
Lincoln Electric System has been working in the area since mid-July to bury power lines on 27th from South Street to Calvert Street, detouring 27th Street traffic from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. Construction Supervisor Dave Brozek said they’d hoped to finish work by Thanksgiving, but they’re now expecting work won’t wrap up until mid-December at the latest.
Brozek said it’s taking longer than anticipated due to the difficulty of finding accurate infrastructure records for water and sewer lines, for example, in the historic area.
It’s all part of the City Council’s edict a few years ago directing LES to spend about a million dollars per year burying power lines – to avoid downed power lines and cut down on visual clutter on streets. Other cable, gas and phone lines are also being buried in the process, Brozek said.
LES has moved power lines underground in areas such as South Street from 45th to 66th streets, and Brozek said it makes a big difference, aesthetically.
“I think it looks much nicer,” he said.
He said 27th Street is just too narrow to leave open during work.
“The one thing we can’t do is slow the cars down,” he said.
After the power lines are buried, LES will be upgrading the street lighting system from wood poles to steel poles fed by underground wires on 27th Street from South Street to Calvert Street. In addition, the Country Club Neighborhood Association plans to install decorative street lighting in the area.