By Paul Hammel
LINCOLN — The Central Nebraska Public Power & Irrigation District has postponed a special meeting scheduled Monday and will continue talks with a group opposed to its controversial merger with the Dawson Public Power District.
Dawson, in a press release Friday, said it will also postpone its special board meeting to take a vote on whether to continue to pursue the merger.
Central spokesman Alex Linden said Friday that the utility had been in “ongoing discussions” with a group of irrigators opposed to the proposed merger and wanted to continue those talks before the Central board took its vote.
The talks, he said, “address all their concerns,” and focus on “making sure it’s the best way to go forward.”
An application to approve the merger was turned down, on a technicality, by the Nebraska Power Review Board in April. That has forced the two utilities to review their charters and then take new votes to reapply for state approval to merge.
Concerned about representation
The proposed merger to form the “Platte River Public Power and Irrigation District” has been controversial from the start.
Irrigators in the Central district rebelled, maintaining that they’ll lose representation and clout in a merger. They say it’s a lopsided deal that provides little benefit for Central or for water users.
It has spawned the formation of a grassroots opposition group, Citizens Opposed to the Merger, as well as lawsuits and other objections.
Central and Dawson, meanwhile, said a merger would save $12 million in electrical costs over seven years and would marry a district that generates hydropower (Central) with one (Dawson) that sells to retail customers, benefiting both.
The two districts held several meetings to discuss the merger prior to moving ahead last year with their initial application.
On Thursday, the water users met with two area state senators, Steve Halloran of Hastings and Dave Murman of Glenvil, to discuss their objections to the merger.
Gary Robison, a spokesman for the citizens group, said it was a good meeting. He declined to comment on the postponement of the two districts’ meetings.
Holdrege, Kearney, Phelps County oppose
In recent weeks, the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and the Kearney and Phelps County Boards have passed resolutions opposing the merger.
The Holdrege chamber said the merger could harm economic development there, while Central and Dawson maintain that a merged district would help central Nebraska job and business development.
The special meetings might be rescheduled for later this month, Linden said.
Central, based in Holdrege, serves 900 irrigators on the south side of the Platte River via its canal system, which recharges groundwater used by center-pivot irrigation systems. It also produces hydropower at Lake McConaughy and other sites.
Dawson, based in Lexington, is one of the state’s largest rural retailers of electricity.