Workshop #14
July 14-15, 2009

Set in the northwestern panhandle of Nebraska, the topography of Chadron and the surrounding area is in immediate contrast to that of the rest of the state. The forested hills of the Pine Ridge lying to the south and east intersect the more familiar open plains to the north and west. Statewide, approximately 1.79 percent of land in Nebraska is publicly owned; in Dawes County, however, that percentage is closer to ten percent. This greater opportunity for recreation and hunting leads to greater diversity in the local economy, bolstered also by Chadron State College.

Due to the proximity of South Dakota and Wyoming, and similarities in topography and density, residents of northwestern Nebraska are apt to identify more closely their neighbors than the poeple of eastern Nebraska. While many in the area travel to attend meetings in other parts of the state, policies of some statewide organizations prevent area leaders from participating in board meetings via satellite, often resulting in their either having to drive over twelve hours for a two hour meeting or resulting in their resignation from those committees.

The 14th installment of the Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop drew participants primarily from Chadron, but attendees came from as far as Lakeside and Gordon.

Families are breaking up their property and selling and leasing their houses. Acreages are popping up and SMAC, or small acreage challenges, become a greater issue. Conservation and good stewardship of the land have long been the norm here, but as new landowners move to the area, management issues present themselves alongside the challenge of accommodating rural development. As Scott Cotton, Dawes County Extension Educator, notes, a community experiencing 0-3% population increase is sure to experience a 10-30% increase in operating that city. In contrast, Cotton went on, “A 2005 study of all counties in Wyoming and Colorado found that traditional agriculture creates a dollar net, whereas rural development costs a dollar an acre due to those new infrastructure requirements.”

In discussing the educational challenge at hand, Sandra Scofield, director of the Nebraska Rural Initiative and former state senator, noted that the national understanding of current issues is very low. “Climate change ranked in the low teens [in the study]. This is a huge education challenge: the issues we confront as a society today are similar to the magnitude of the Marshall Plan and the civil rights movement combined.”

Scofield, a Chadron native, discussed infrastructure development in the region, emphasizing the need for adequate communication technologies, transportation, and housing. Scofield’s A Crash Course in Infrastructure: Expensive but Essential Components for Rural (and Urban) Nebraska’s Future may be read online here.

Rural sociologists are finding that there are significant increases in people who are self-employed in Nebraska, Scofield said. She also stated that today "the best and first dollar to invest in infrastructure is energy efficiency."

Nebraska is the only state serviced entirely by publicly owned power systems. Mandated by the state legislature to provide electricity at the lowest cost, this affords Nebraskans the fifth lowest rates in the country. Joined by Steve Walker, Energy Efficiency Expert with the Nebraska Public Power District, participants discussed the potential impacts of current energy legislation.

One participant noted that it took a congressional act to get electricity in rural America.

On the topic of energy, Cecil Steward, President and CEO of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, ventured that if he were a member of the NPPD board of directors, “I would advise the organization to cease talking linearly and singularly about cost.”

Extension Educator Jim Crandall, with the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, joined the group Friday to discuss the importance of local foods. “Chadron spends upwards of $5,493,000 a year on food annually; if local food producers could capture even one percent of the Chadron grocery expenditures, it would amount to $54,930 staying in the community,” Crandall shared.

Dr. Jay Leighter, faculty at Creighton University, concluded the session by engaging participating leaders in the following questions:

    •   What should be the future of our region?
    •   What population was historically sustainable in this region?
    •   Is sustainability possible without growth?
    •   How big is a sustainable community?
    •   What is the best land use?
    •   Where are we now? What are our assets and liabilities?
    •   How should we collaborate?
    •   What is relevant?
    •   What can be done locally?

The group then mapped out some indicators for sustainable growth, using the EcoSTEP™ tool, which is a planning and measuring tool for sustainability indicators. These are their ideas of some ways to move forward:

    •   Re-use of building materials and buildings
    •   Aquifer policy
    •   LEED standards for new construction and retrofitting
    •   Reduction of paper consumption
    •   Soil / concrete county roads
    •   Reduce food waste in schools by closing campuses
    •   Assess fragile environments amongst and between neighboring counties

    •   Marketing & publicizing green initiatives
    •   Community activities for young people and community
    •   Educate students and faculty on energy conservation
    •   Empower citizens
    •   Health and wellness
    •   Empower citizens – Hire a dedicated staff person and coordinator to champion sustainability throughout the community

    •   Retrofitting housing entrepreneurship
    •   Stimulus money for green initiatives
    •   State energy office grant moneys
    •   Conduct an input/output assessment, circulation of dollars in the region before they leave

    •   Telecommuting
    •   Explore NPPD $ for geo-thermal
    •   Telehealth
    •   Broadband/Wi-Fi connectivity

Public Policy
    •   Zoning regulation
    •   Institutional meeting policies
    •   Policy planning for natural resources

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Site design and development by Zigzag

Resources from the
Chadron Workshop

Most of the workshop materials can be downloaded from our Resources and Documents pages. Below are some materials specifically from the consultants and speakers at the Chadron workshop, as well as some who were not there.

Read UNL Rural Initiative Director Sandy Scofield's important paper, A Crash Course in Infrastructure: Expensive but Essential Components for Rural (and Urban) Nebraska’s Future, for important ideas on how infrastructure contributes to growth and development in Nebraska's towns and cities. Download the PDF here >

The 2009 Profile of Nebraska Demographics, Economics and Housing from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) is chock-full of germane information. Download the entire 108-page report in PDF form >, or download the 4-page executive summary PDF >.

For information on weatherization services in Nebraska communities, visit the state's website by clicking here >.