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Trade dispute will cost Nebraska farmers $1 billion, shaking local economy, study says

WASHINGTON — Nebraska farmers are staring down the barrel of nearly a billion dollars in additional lost revenue this year as a result of ongoing trade fights, according to the latest report from the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Jay Rempe, the bureau’s senior economist, told reporters Tuesday that the trade hit comes on top of other pressures such as adverse weather conditions and policy moves that are hurting ethanol.

“We’re going to continue to see that financial pressure continue to build on Nebraska’s producers,” Rempe said.

Farm groups are complaining more loudly and pointedly these days about the impact of the retaliatory tariffs slapped on U.S. exports in response to President Donald Trump’s trade moves.

Trump has repeatedly embraced his own tariffs as a primary trade policy tool and said farmers understand he’ll get a good deal for the country in the end.

In an effort to dull the pain, the administration has authorized billions in subsidies for farmers across the country through its Market Facilitation Program.

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The importance of trade to agriculture is clear in the figures coming from the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Its study last year found that 2018 losses for the state could be as high as a billion dollars.

And the 2019 estimates released this week show the trend continuing, with an additional $943 million in lost revenues among the state’s primary commodities. That includes $589 million in losses for soybean farmers and $251 million for corn growers.

The total figure includes only commodities eligible for the special subsidy payments, and adding trade-related losses from other commodities could push the total above a billion dollars.

Rempe cautioned that the numbers could change based on the harvest, movement on trade and other factors. But he also talked about the multiplier effect, in which agriculture losses ripple out to other sectors.

“These trade disputes are real,” Rempe said. “They have real impacts on Nebraska farmers and ranchers, and they have real impacts on Nebraska’s economy.”

And while the subsidies are intended to help tide farmers over, they aren’t making them whole.

It’s hard to say exactly what portion of the losses are offset by the subsidies, but Rempe offered a rough guess that they would cover about 60% to 65%.

Jordan Dux, the farm bureau’s director of national affairs, said those subsidies demonstrate that the Trump administration understands the impact of trade disruptions and shares farmers’ goal of resolving the situation quickly.

But Dux also stressed the need to develop new buyers, because it can take a long time for disrupted markets to come back, if they come back at all.

“There are long-term ramifications on some of these things,” Dux said.

Rempe said there were victories for farm country early in the Trump administration. That included rolling back water regulations farmers and ranchers viewed as overly burdensome. But the trade disputes and adverse decisions on ethanol policies are straining the administration’s relationship with farmers.

“They still have some patience,” Rempe said of the farmers. “But I think that patience is starting to be tested.”

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A 70-acre northeast Omaha dump site, once deemed too expensive to redevelop, is poised for change

A swath of northeast Omaha — roughly 70 acres that city leaders dismissed five years ago as too expensive to redevelop into an industrial park — is now back in play.

This time, though, a private entity, not the city, is seeking to transform what for years has been a dump site for construction debris, reportedly even parts of Jobbers Canyon when it was demolished to make way for the Conagra riverfront campus.

If all goes as planned, Parkway Properties of Omaha would buy the land northwest of 13th and Locust Streets from Virgil and Virginia Anderson of Anderson Excavating, and then lease pieces to outdoor storage and industrial users.

Likely operations would include trailer and gravel storage, an area that crushes and recycles concrete, a dirt-drying farm and a staging and loading area that could benefit from currently abandoned Union Pacific railroad tracks that run through the site.


A 70-acre area that could become a new industrial use complex north of downtown Omaha has abandoned Union Pacific railroad tracks running through it.

Parkway Properties spokesman Tom Egan Jr. believes his plan will attract contractors who’d get rare access to big industrial work spaces near downtown. Area homeowners also can count on their neighbor getting spruced up, he said.

It’s the cleanup part that grabs neighbor Cleo Frazier’s attention.

Frazier has lived in her house near 14th and Locust Streets since the 1970s, and said she misses the days her family sat out back and watched Fourth of July fireworks and other Carter Lake bustle to the east.

“Right now you can’t really see anything on account of those trees,” she said.

Indeed, mounds of construction debris, a few as high as about 40 feet, have accumulated on the western side of the tract. Trees and weeds have grown out of the rubble, and it’s obvious that trespassers have thrown their own trash into the ravine.

“People do come and they dump because it’s downhill,” Frazier said.

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The improved area — which would be called Enterprise Industrial Park — is bounded by Locust Street on the south, Cornish Boulevard on the north, Carter Lake Shore Drive on the east and a western boundary that swoops from 14th to 16th Street.

It has a history.

In 2013, the city moved to seize the Anderson property through eminent domain. Then-Mayor Jim Suttle wanted to develop it into an industrial park to create a potential job magnet for the area.

Referred to as the Ames-Locust Industrial Park, the site at the time was viewed as valuable real estate that could be turned to shovel-ready areas for companies wanting to do business near the city’s core.

But the city in 2014 ended up backing out and canceling a $1.9 million purchase agreement with the property owners after the projected cost of environmental cleanup and infrastructure demands surfaced.

$18M sticker shock: City cancels north Omaha industrial park deal because of projected cleanup costs

The price tag, between $18 million and $25 million, was way more than the $8.6 million the city had projected to spend on total redevelopment.

Mayor Jean Stothert in 2014 said much of the cleanup cost was related to rubble in the ground. She said at the time that the site didn’t pose an environmental risk to neighbors.

Megan Hughes of Terracon, an engineering consultant for Parkway Properties, said Tuesday that the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy has looked at the new industrial park plan and said it would cause minimal disruption to the known contaminants at the site.

Egan, managing partner of Parkway Properties, said his project would not require the remediation suggested in earlier studies done for the city because he is creating flat surface space for outdoor operations — not shovel-ready spots to build new warehouses.

He declined to give a project cost. He expects to close on the purchase this month.

“Our investment, our commitment, is that the site is going to be cleared corner to corner,” he said. “It will be lit. It will have security fencing. Our plan is to take back a usable space.”

He did not dismiss the notion that the area could someday, in the long run, be put to a different type of economic development use.


Piles of concrete are among the debris that would be cleared from a 70-acre area north of downtown Omaha.

For now, Parkway Properties, which is affiliated with longtime Omaha-based Enterprise Properties, is seeking Omaha Planning Board and City Council approval to consolidate and rezone about 60 parcels as one site to be used as the Enterprise Industrial Park.

The City Planning Department has given its green light, subject to compliance with all stormwater and drainage policies. Director Dave Fanslau said he’s encouraged that the project would activate an area that few even know exists.

“It’s an appropriate use to put that site back into production,” Fanslau said.

Fencing, gates and other site preparation would begin immediately, though the total cleanup and leveling of the ground is estimated to take three years.

Operations would launch in phases, starting on the south end’s 15-acre dirt farm that’s likely to be used by excavators and contractors that need a place to spread and dry wet soil before replacing it at a job site.

Egan expects the first business to be operating by mid-2020, though tenants have yet to be secured.

[Photos: The demise of Jobbers Canyon]

Ryan Kuehl, an Investors Realty broker representing Egan, said he believes it could take three to five years for the site to be fully leased and operational. He said the property would be a rare find for heavy industrial users.

“This is roughly 70 contiguous acres — I don’t know of another industrial tract like that so close to downtown Omaha,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl, Fanslau and others said they thought that some parts of Jobbers Canyon, a six-block collection of warehouses mostly built in the early 20th century, are buried at the site.

Virginia Anderson of Anderson Excavating said she was unsure of what ruins had been taken there over the years. She said now is the right time to sell, as her husband is in his 80s and was ready to downsize.

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Armed plainclothes security to protect Catholic students celebrating Mass at St. Columbkille

A Catholic school in Papillion will use armed, plainclothes security this year to protect students during school-day Masses.

Off-duty law enforcement officers will be on hand, but inconspicuous, when students celebrate Mass at St. Columbkille Catholic Church.

Most Omaha metro area public school districts already have armed on-duty law enforcement officers, known as school resource officers, assigned to high schools and middle schools. St. Columbkille Catholic School is a K-8 school with a preschool.

The St. Columbkille security program will make use of volunteers who are affiliated with the parish, including parents of children in the school.

An official with the Archdiocese of Omaha said he knows of no other schools or parishes that are considering such a program.

The program, developed by Bellevue Police Lt. Jay Kirwan, is called BADGE, which stands for Brave Armed Defenders Guarding Education.

Principal Brandi Redburn said that although the St. Columbkille school building itself is secure, officials wanted to step up security for student Masses at the church across the street.

Officials at the archdiocese did not object, she said.

“I think they understand the need,” Redburn said. “In the climate and the culture that we’re in right now, unfortunately, it’s an unlikely threat, but it’s a real threat.”

Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese, said Archbishop George Lucas “let the school make its own decision based on its own needs and analysis.”

Catholic social teaching allows for “proportional self-defense,” McNeil said.

The social teaching of the Catholic Church does not rule out using force to protect life, as long as the force is not more than is necessary.

“Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Vatican website. “To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.”

In the St. Columbkille program, the officers sign a contract with the school that spells out the narrow circumstances under which they may act.

“They only really get involved if a deadly threat is apparent,” said Greg Monico, a Sarpy County sheriff’s lieutenant who is coordinating the program.

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Their responsibility, therefore, is not as broad as a sheriff’s deputy working a football game or movie theater. A uniformed deputy has a responsibility to catch the guy streaking the football field or stealing candy at the theater, he said.

The contract, meantime, holds officers harmless for failing to act, he said.

That’s included in the contract to avoid a situation like in Parkland, Florida, where the deputy is “getting raked over the coals for his failure to act” during a deadly school shooting, Monico said.

Asked about the potential for a gun accidentally discharging, Monico said guns “don’t go off accidentally. It’s usually human error that causes that.”

The officers who volunteer are expected to take the same precautions with their firearm that they take on the job and off duty, he said.

Monico said that as a Catholic law enforcement officer, he’s had to reconcile his faith with his job.

“I think God is OK with you protecting the gift of life He’s given you,” he said.

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Walmart to stop selling certain types of gun ammunition

Walmart will stop selling some types of ammunition and ask customers to not openly carry firearms in its aisles in the wake of two deadly shootings in its stores that pressured the nation's largest retailer to alter its gun-sales policies.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer will discontinue sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition such as .223 caliber and other sizes that can be used on assault-style weapons once it has sold through its current inventory commitments, it said Tuesday. It also will stop offering handgun ammunition.

In addition, Walmart will end handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sells them, and is "respectfully requesting" that shoppers not openly carry guns in its stores even in states where it's permitted.

"It's clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable," Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in the statement. "We know these decisions will inconvenience some of our customers, and we hope they will understand."

The retailer has long found itself in an awkward spot with its customers and gun enthusiasts. Many of its stores are in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart to get their equipment. Walmart is trying to walk a fine line by trying to embrace its hunting heritage while being a more responsible retailer.

The moves — which Walmart said will reduce its market share of ammunition to between 6% and 9%, down from about 20% currently — represent the retailer's first big steps since attacks in its stores in Texas and Mississippi left 24 people dead.

Walmart will focus on hunting rifles and related ammunition only.

"We have a long heritage as a company of serving responsible hunters and sportsmen and women, and we're going to continue doing so," McMillon said.

McMillon, who called himself a gun owner in the statement, also reiterated his call for Congress to debate an assault weapons ban and said background checks should be strengthened. He said he's sending letters to the White House and Congress "that call for action on these common sense measures."

Shoppers who attempt to open carry, excluding authorized law enforcement officers, will be informed by staff members about the new policy with a "non-confrontational approach," Walmart said, noting that it will soon share more details on how to do that safely.

McMillon noted in his memo that individuals have tried to make a statement by carrying weapons into its stores just to frighten workers and customers. But there are well-intentioned customers acting lawfully who have also inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond.

He says Walmart will continue to treat "law-abiding customers with respect."

Last month, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people with an AK-style firearm that Walmart does not sell. It was the deadliest shooting in the company's history.

In the aftermath, Walmart ordered workers to remove video game signs and displays that depict violence from stores nationwide. But that fell well short of critics' demands for the retailer to stop selling firearms entirely.

The new restrictions represent the latest chapter in Walmart's long history of gun sales. Last year, Walmart raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 from 18, and in 2015 it ended the sale of modern-sporting rifles, like the AR-15 that's been used in many mass shootings. It stopped selling handguns everywhere but in Alaska in 1993.

The company said Tuesday that it would explore sharing its proprietary gunsales technology platform with other retailers.

Last month Walmart disclosed that it accounts for about 2% of the U.S. firearms market, which would place it outside the top three sellers.

One gun control activist group applauded Walmart's moves.

"Walmart deserves enormous credit for joining the strong and growing majority of Americans who know that we have too many guns in our country and they are too easy to get," said Igor Volsky, executive director and founder of Guns Down America.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.