GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — The fight to keep the veterans home in Grand Island — or at least to hinder its move to Kearney — is not yet dead.
Indications that Kearney met with state officials before the open bid process has ruffled the feathers of the GI Home for Our Heroes Committee, which put together Grand Island’s proposal for the new Central Nebraska Veterans Home.
The committee is considering actions it could take against the state. Litigation is among the possibilities, said Cindy Johnson, Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce president and GI Home for Our Heroes Committee member.
“It was our understanding from statements made by Kearney’s mayor that they submitted a proposal for review,” said Pam Lancaster, Hall County Board chairwoman and Home for Our Heroes member.
“All along, we had heard that the process had been less than a fair playing ground.”
Gov. Dave Heineman announced on July 12 that Kearney had been recommended for the new veterans home, set to break ground in 2015. The vets home has been located in Grand Island for 126 years.
Johnson said the committee received suggestions from all over the state and beyond after Kearney was recommended as the site for the new home.
The list of potential moves the committee could make runs two pages long, though Johnson would not elaborate on details.
“It’s fair to say we’re still in the information-gathering stage,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re making good, sound decisions based on good information.”
The committee is made up of Johnson; Lancaster; Mayor Jay Vavricek; State Sens. Annette Dubas and Mike Gloor; Grand Island City Councilmen Bob Niemann, John Gericke and Chuck Haase; Hall County Board members Bob McFarland and Gary Quandt; former Mayors Ken Gnadt and Margaret Hornady; City Administrator Mary Lou Brown; Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp. board Chairwoman Ann Martin; and Grand Island Independent Publisher Don Smith.
To be able to meet on short notice, a scaled-down version of the committee has been established, made up of Johnson, Lancaster, Vavricek, Gloor and Martin, Lancaster said.
Time is ticking for the committee, whose members would like to stop the project from receiving federal funding. The state’s plan includes receiving 65 percent of the funding for the $121 million project — minus the costs of site acquisition and other excluded items — sometime in the next year.
Johnson said other groups may act against the state as well, such as the employees of the vets home or a group of veterans themselves.
“They have certainly expressed that they are aggrieved,” she said.
The most likely action still comes from the committee, which at the time of the announcement said in a statement: “Grand Island will fight this decision. We will fight it with the Legislature.”
Lancaster said the committee is fighting on behalf of the veterans, who benefit from having the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and veterans cemetery in the same community as the vets home.
Any litigation could delay funding for the new vets home, which is scheduled to open in 2018. If the decision to move the home to Kearney is somehow reversed, it is unclear whether Grand Island would be awarded the facility, as it finished behind Hastings in the site selection committee’s scoring. North Platte finished in last place.
Lancaster said the committee is focused on the well-being of the veterans more than the financial needs of the city and county.
“Whatever decision is finally made, as long as the best interest of our veterans is at heart, I think people should rally around that decision,” she said.