The writer, of Spencer, Neb., is a rancher who has recently joined the effort to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. He was a leading opponent of a nuclear waste dump proposed two decades ago in Boyd County.
On a spring evening in May, I was walking near the Ponca Creek, which flows through our family’s land in Boyd County just northwest of Spencer, Neb. The main channel was along the north bank and about 14 to 18 inches deep.
I could see something swimming just under the surface. It was too large to be a carp or a catfish. I stood as still as I could and watched.
My reason for being on that grassed-over sandbar was to prepare for the fifth annual and best-to-date Ponca Creek Boat Races and Wiener Roast. The races are held the first Sunday evening after school gets out. People start arriving before 6:30, and many stay until after dark.
The boat races are open to children and adults. Each participant has a square piece of two-by-eight. Many are elaborately painted, and some have only the boat owner’s name written with magic marker.
We walk approximately a quarter-mile upstream, pitch the boats into the water and the race is on. The finish line is near the bonfires where the hot dogs will be roasted. Children get soaked, women furnish food, and men mostly hang out and visit. Everyone wins.
Over the years, along with the local families, we have had guests from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Germany. For this event, for this lifestyle, a clean environment and clean water are essential.
As I watched, the creature in the water swam to the edge just below me — a beaver popped up and his head and back were completely exposed. For the first time in my life, I was watching this incredible animal in his natural habitat, seemingly unaware of me or unafraid. I could see the hairs on his back, his little ears, his dark bright eyes and his nose. In less than a minute, he was gone.
An experience few will ever have and one that I will always cherish. A clean environment. Clean water.
Boyd County lies north of the Niobrara River and is a land dominated by beautiful river valleys and some fertile flat land between these valleys. Nebraska politicians and bureaucrats seem unaware that anything north of the Niobrara River exists until a place for pollution and exploitation is perceived to be needed.
The Keystone XL pipeline being proposed for Boyd County and Nebraska would carry Canadian tar-sands oil across Nebraska on its path from Canada to refineries in our Gulf states. The toxicity of this material is something I do not know. Of this I am sure: No one would want a few gallons dumped on his lawn.
During the exceptionally wet years of the early 1990s, hills that this pipeline would have to descend to cross the Niobrara, the Keya Paha and the Ponca slid, moving hundreds of tons of dirt. The worst construction fatality accident in the history of Nebraska occurred in the Ponca Valley when four men died trying to stabilize a hill that repeatedly moved Highway 12.
An individual in the state of Nebraska cannot legally drain six quarts of oil from his vehicle onto the ground. Compare this to a moving hill breaking this pipeline like a toothpick and uncountable gallons of toxic sands emptying into one of our streams.
When the big break comes, and I believe eventually it will come, no political advocate will soil his hands fixing the problem.
If you care, please think. Pristine is a difficult state to restore.