The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District will ask state regulators to investigate whether a board member violated conflict-of-interest laws when he presented a lease deal to landowners at the site of a new reservoir planned for northwest Omaha.
The NRD’s 11-member board voted Thursday to file a complaint with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission against Scott Japp, who represents Washington County and parts of Burt, Thurston and Dakota Counties.
Japp and board member Ron Woodle abstained from voting. Curt Frost voted no. Tim Fowler was absent.
The complaint stems from a letter Japp sent to landowners in the path of Dam Site 15A, which will flood 225 acres for a new reservoir at 168th and Fort Streets.
Japp opposed the project when the board approved a $43 million bond issue last year to pay for it, and he remains an ardent critic of what he believes to be cronyism among officials who approved it.
The NRD is negotiating buyouts with property owners. Japp, who has reviewed nonpublic documents related to the project, has said he doesn’t think the district is offering landowners a fair price.
In a Nov. 25 letter to landowners, Japp said he represents a company, Canudigit LLC, seeking lease agreements to quarry topsoil on their property. He did not identify himself as a board member.
“I have been asked to offer a royalty for the aggregates and topsoil,” the letter said. “This royalty would be (additional) revenue to the price you would receive from the sale of the land to the PMNRD.”
Board colleagues complained that the deal would further encumber the property, slowing down a project that already is expected to reach $20 million in right of way costs alone.
In addition, the NRD says the deal could be a potential conflict of interest because Japp is “representing an entity which proposes to enter into financial dealings with landowners affected by (Dam Site 15A),” according to the complaint.
The board is asking the commission to investigate whether Japp violated a state law that prohibits using a public office for personal gain, and whether he misled landowners when he said he was representing a company that is not registered to do business in Nebraska.
A recent check by The World-Herald of similarly named companies in other states yielded none with business pending in Nebraska. The Waterloo address listed as the point of contact in the lease agreement belongs to Japp’s attorney, K.C. Engdahl.
Engdahl declined to comment Thursday.
Japp said he has no connection to Canudigit LLC and knows nothing about its ownership or registration status. He said he was simply asked to pass along a business opportunity, and he did.
“It’s nothing but harassment,” Japp said of the complaint. “I’m used to their shenanigans.”
Japp said he is considering challenging State Sen. Lydia Brasch in the May primary. The filing deadline is Tuesday.
He said the board’s complaint and an earlier vote referring the matter to Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine are part of a smear campaign directed at sinking his chances for the Legislature.