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TransCanada meeting with landowners along Keystone XL route

Douglas Zimmerman helped his father work with TransCanada when the original Keystone oil pipeline was installed on the family’s Seward County property.

Zimmerman, who worked in St. Louis then but now owns the acreage and farmland south of Seward, researched the pipeline builder and studied the project that carries oil from Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries.

The family got TransCanada to shift the pipeline’s path slightly so it ran closer to the property line instead of through the middle of their ground, according to Zimmerman, who couldn’t be more pleased with how the entire process went.

“Excellent,” he said. “Spelled with a capital E.”

The pipeline, buried 5 feet deep, crosses 120 acres of his ground, but Zimmerman said it’s hard to notice now.

TransCanada replaced all the topsoil and a damaged fence, reconstructed a field entrance and terraces and offered to come back and address settling issues. Zimmerman opted to do that work himself and received a check from the Canadian company to cover the costs.

“They did it with no questions asked and paid the bill,” he said. “What more could you ask for?”

Zimmerman said the condition of field is better than before the pipeline went in about seven years ago. He received a payment for three years of crop damage, but “didn’t even lose one year,” he said.

Property owners are also paid for the easements needed to bury the pipeline across their land.

Zimmerman said he doesn’t lose any sleep knowing oil is flowing under his land. In his mind, it’s safer than moving the product by truck or rail, and TransCanada isn’t the first company to build an underground pipeline in Nebraska.

“I’m not worried in the least,” he said.

The Seward County farmer has no problem with last month’s decision by the Nebraska Public Service Commission that shifts the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline east to follow the existing pipeline’s path. His only beef is that the last-minute move costs TransCanada money and further delays the project.

“As far as I’m concerned, they can come tomorrow if they want to start digging,” said Zimmerman, who expects the Keystone XL to cross his ground if it’s built.

TransCanada officials are meeting this week with landowners whose property lies in the new path for the Keystone XL, which would cut through northeast Platte County before turning south through Colfax, Butler and Seward counties. Meetings will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Ramada-Columbus, as well as in Norfolk and Seward.

“We want to give landowners a chance to come talk to TransCanada’s people in person. We understand landowners have questions in light of last month’s decision by the Nebraska Public Service Commission and we stand ready to answer those questions,” said Robynn Tysver, a spokeswoman for TransCanada.

Last month’s 3-2 decision by the state commission rejected TransCanada’s preferred route for the Keystone XL, which ran west of Columbus through Boone, Nance, Merrick and Polk counties, and shifted the project east through Madison County before the pipeline would turn into Platte County.

The adjusted route is expected to impact about 40 new landowners, mostly in Madison County, who weren’t along the preferred route and don't have the original Keystone pipeline running through their land already.

Tysver said this week’s meetings are part of the process to keep the $8 billion project moving forward, although a final decision hasn’t been made by TransCanada on whether the pipeline will be built.

That’s expected to come from the company’s board of directors later this month or early next year, according to Tysver.

Zimmerman planned to attend one of the meetings in Seward, but he doesn’t expect to hear the same “rigmarole” from landowners that’s coming from politicians.

“I have no problem it,” he said of the project.

Pavel clears path to student success

Sidnee Pavel knows all about the issues teenagers face.

She’s a single mother whose own parents divorced when she was 10.

She was bullied in school and battled depression, then turned to tattoos as a way to mask that pain.

Her arms, back, neck and legs are covered in ink now, giving her an appearance most don’t envision when they think about an authority figure.

That’s part of what makes her so good at her job as a school truancy/diversion officer.

The 23-year-old knows how to connect with students going through tough times.

She’s been where they are — not all that long ago — and understands high school can be rough.

Over the past three-plus years, she’s been the link between students at Schuyler Community Schools, administrators, counselors and other staff members there and outside agencies such as the county attorney’s office, probation and law enforcement.

In the simplest terms, her job is to ensure students make it to school and stay out of trouble.

But there’s a whole lot of complexity to that process.

“It’s not just going and getting children who are sleeping in bed,” said Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl, who applied for the state grant that funds Pavel’s position.

The money, which comes from the Nebraska Crime Commission, is awarded to programs that focus on keeping kids in the classroom and out of the courtroom.

Pavel doesn’t just track absences, scold students who frequently miss class and contact their parents. She works with families to eliminate the barriers that keep students out of school.

“When we first started the program we were so focused on the whats, but now we’ve shifted to the whys and how we can help,” Pavel said.

And there are plenty of whys to consider.

At Schuyler Central High School, where Pavel’s office is located, the students come from many cultural backgrounds, with nearly 20 different languages spoken there.

Families arrive in Schuyler straight from developing nations and refugee camps, where life is far from the norm most Nebraskans are accustomed to.

Pavel, who has certifications in areas such as youth mental health, human trafficking and drug training, works with struggling students and their families to resolve issues that occur both inside and outside the school walls.

The goal, Pavel said, is to get a 360-degree view of a student’s life and develop a complete picture of the obstacles they face, then find services to assist them.

This can be as simple as lining up child care for a teenage mother or buying an alarm clock for a student who’s often tardy.

“We’ve done that,” Kracl said.

There’s also a “community closet” at SCHS that provides students with personal hygiene products and other basic necessities.

The closet started with Pavel buying the items with her own money or asking for donations, then expanded using funding contributed by the county to match the state grant.

Items like deodorant, laundry detergent or a toothbrush may not seem like a big deal to some, but personal hygiene and appearance can easily impact a teenager’s willingness to go to school.

“I gave a hairbrush to a young girl and she started crying,” said Pavel, who recently lined up dress clothes for a high schooler so they could participate in speech.

Other issues are more complicated.

Some students with working parents care for their siblings or hold full-time jobs themselves to help support the family. Others face abuse at home.

“Our students go to school for seven to eight hours a day, and for many of them that’s the safety, most-stable place that they’re going to have,” Kracl said.

Pavel’s connection with the county attorney, probation, law enforcement and school counselors helps address problems that extend beyond absences.

Amy Johnson, one of two counselors at SCHS, said there are advantages to having a truancy/diversion officer in the building, especially one students connect with so easily.

“Having her right there makes her more accessible for the students and their parents,” Johnson said. “I think that maybe is less-threatening to the family.”

It also allows district officials to address issues immediately, she said, and craft policies that better fit the school’s needs.

“I think that’s made a difference,” Johnson said.

The Juvenile Justice Institute, created in 2002 as the research branch of the state juvenile justice system, agrees.

It highlighted Colfax and two other counties for low recidivism rates within their juvenile diversion programs and recognized Pavel’s contributions as an intervention specialist focused on a multitude of areas.

Of the 100 or so students she works with each year, only about 25 are tied to truancy. The rest of the time she’s providing intervention services aimed at addressing issues before they become major problems.

Pavel, who works with both high school and middle school students, also conducted her own analysis of the absence numbers at SCHS and found a decline over the past three years.

“The earlier we can reach students, the better off we are,” said Kracl, who’d like to see the state funding guidelines expanded beyond youths ages 12-18.

The Juvenile Justice Institute also identified the partnership between Colfax County and Schuyler Community Schools as a model program worth duplicating across the state.

But there’s one major obstacle to that plan.

“The problem is we can’t replicate Sidnee, so it makes it harder for us to replicate the program in other places,” Kracl said.

Santa Claus comes to town

The holiday season got into full swing thanks to a visit from Santa Claus.

He stopped in town Saturday, ready to hear from boys and girls who told him what they hope to find under their Christmas trees.

Santa sat in his house in the parking lot of The Center in downtown Schuyler and welcomed children who waited in line with their parents. Along with their chats with Santa, each child received a bag of candy courtesy of the Schuyler Area Chamber of Commerce.

There were other activities held that day to get people in the Christmas spirit.

Inside The Center, the annual Parade of Trees was on display.

Christmas trees decorated by individuals and organizations were lined up for the public to view. There were also cookies and cider and crafts for children.

The admission fee was a freewill donation or nonperishable food given to the local food pantry.

Santa ready to make annual visits

Ho! Ho! Ho! Time for Santa Claus to make his annual visit to the little tots born this year to area parents or who have grandparents living nearby.

This year there are nine new babies — four boys and five girls. Santa has his bag packed with toys and his reindeer led by Rudolph are ready to leave the North Pole. Santa waves goodbye to Mrs. Claus and takes off.

His first stops are in Columbus where he will visit three homes.

First is the home of Steven and April Wachal. Their son, Brecken Thomas, was born Dec. 29, 2016, so he missed last year’s visit. Soon he will be 1 year old so Santa leaves him a three-wheeled Spider-Man cycle. His grandparents are Gary and Shirley Wachal of Richland and Dan and Carol Seiler of Columbus. His great-grandmother is Colleen Wachal of Schuyler.

Next stop is at the home of Bill and Katie Northgate and Santa finds two little boys here. Liam Douglas was born on April 7. Santa leaves him an all-terrain friction truck and race car for his brother James. Their grandparents are Doug and Denise Stevenson of Holdrege and great-grandparents are Theilen and Marilyn Stevenson of Columbus. Doug grew up in the Richland area.

The last Columbus stop is at the Eric and Crystal Bell home. Their daughter Olivia Marie was born March 31. Santa leaves her a Baby Laughs and Giggles doll. For her two brothers Jaxon and Carson he leaves a Disney Cars 3 mega garage and two-piece walkie-talkie set. Dean and Lana Bell of rural Richland are their grandparents.

Santa leaves Columbus and goes to Schuyler to the home of Dan and April Sobota. Macie Ann was born April 28. Santa will leave her a Baby Alive doll and firetruck for her brother Ian. Grandparents are Tim and Brenda Dolezal and David and Tracey Sobota of Schuyler and Marlys Sobota of Omaha. Great-grandfather is Marvin Sidel of Columbus. Marlys is a former Richland resident.

From Schuyler, Santa travels to the home of Brett and Rachel Stuehmer of rural Rogers. Their daughter Anna Marie was born Aug. 14 so Santa leaves her Fisher-Price infant toys and a bouncer chair. Rachel is the third- and fourth-grade teacher at Richland School.

Now Santa travels to Ceresco to the home of Levi and Katie McPhillips. Their new baby was born Nov. 29 so Santa leaves Jamison Jorge a tiny, soft teddy bear. For his sister Maria, who is just over a year old, Santa leaves her a giant plush bear. Their grandparents are Bill and Bonnie McPhillips of Columbus and great-grandparents are Lawrence and Marilyn Kasik of Richland.

Now Santa travels to Lincoln to the home of Ryan and Alicia Klug and their daughter Kennedy Christine, who was born May 27. Santa will leave her a Moana toddler doll and tractor and farm set for her brother Kassen. Greg and Sharon Klug of rural Columbus are their grandparents. Norma Hemmer of Columbus and Louise Klug of Omaha are their great-grandmothers.

Now on to Papillion, to the home of Brian and Bethany Kracl. Elias Brian was born Jan. 19 so soon he will be a year old. Santa leaves him a tricycle and Saddle Stars horse for his sister Myla. Their grandparents are LeRoy and Mary Ann Kracl of Schuyler.

The last stop is in Omaha at the home of Michael and Lora Klug. Their daughter Emilia Kay was born May 19. Santa will leave her a Skyanna doll and train set for her brother Noah. Their grandparents are Greg and Sharon Klug of Columbus and their great-grandmothers are Norma Hemmer of Columbus and Louise Klug of Omaha.

So this ends Santa’s visit for 2017. If I forgot anyone, I am sorry, but I’m sure Santa keeps an accurate list. So off Santa goes, wishing all a merry Christmas and good night.