More than a year after Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert proposed a Climate Action Plan, the City Council approved a consulting contract to create the plan. 

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Minnesota-based company paleBLUEdot will partner with local engineering firm HDR to draft the plan and engage with the community. The $376,000 agreement was approved 4-3, due to some reservations from council members about the timeline of the process.

Councilmember Brinker Harding made a motion to delay voting on the agreement for one month, which ultimately failed. Harding said the company’s letter of interest seemed “mailed-in.” 

“The cover letter was very repetitive of the other cover letters [paleBLUEdot] responded to,” Harding said. “I know some people might think this is a little nitpicky, but this is someone we’re going to engage with for $376,000 of our taxpayer’s money.”

Councilmembers Don Rowe and Aimee Melton joined Harding in voting against the agreement. The City Council received a briefing on the agreement Tuesday morning, which Melton said wasn’t enough time for an important issue like this. 

“I’ve always proposed we shouldn’t have the briefing, the public hearing and the vote all in the same day,” Melton said. “If I’m telling people that I’m trying to listen to them and I’m having the public hearing and not giving any consideration…I just don’t think that that’s necessarily fair.”

Councilmember Juanita Johnson pushed back, saying that issues like the streetcar and the Mutual of Omaha development were rushed far more quickly. She said the city has been discussing the plan since late 2021.

“We are way behind on making this commitment to our city,” Johnson said. “We’re just saying ‘let’s move this along.’ There’s really not a real reason to delay this any further.”

Council President Pete Festersen said he took responsibility for the timeline. He said he thought it would pass without controversy since the City Council had previously voiced support for creating a Climate Action Plan. 

Festersen said passing a plan was important for the city’s future. He said that not only is taking care of the environment the “right thing” to do, it also sends a message to young Omahans who are concerned with the city’s sustainability.  

“Really there’s been no other item in my years on the Council that has had more positive engagement than when we talk about environmental issues,” Festersen said. “We’ve had scores of young people here talking about these items in our budget process.”

Ted Redmond, co-founder of paleBLUEdot, said the plan should be seen as a “living document” that will change as Omaha’s needs evolve. Although paleBLUEdot has worked with other cities like Dubuque, Iowa and Bloomington, Indiana, Redmond said they will work with city officials and the community to create an individual plan.

“All the communities that we work with, similar considerations come up,” Redmond said. “We find that trying to find the most collaborative approach possible and getting as much input directly into the goals, strategies and actions in the plan ultimately help achieve the most successful plan.”

Redmond said their approach will include “robust” community engagement, which will be led by HDR. Kristin Veldhouse from HDR said they will use census and GIS data to understand different communities’ behaviors, like certain zip codes’ internet connectivity or partisan lean.

Marco Floreani, one of the Mayor’s deputy chiefs of staff, said paleBLUEdot’s bid came in at the higher end of the city’s range of $250,000 to $400,000 for the plan. But Floreani said that with approval, the city will be eligible for more than $450,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to reimburse the contract’s costs. 

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners discussed an Omaha-area landfill taking waste from the Keystone pipeline oil spill in Kansas last year.

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The Pheasant Point Landfill near Bennington agreed to take oil-soaked soil and other waste. Environmental Services Director Kent Holms said an analysis found that the waste wouldn’t be hazardous to the community and the facility would be able to keep it contained.

Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said the Keystone XL pipeline had been denied because of concerns about spills like this, and questioned why a Nebraska landfill was taking in waste from Kansas.

Holms said the Pheasant Point Landfill was closer than the nearest Kansas landfill. He added that the county would receive $3 per ton of waste and the state would receive $1.25. He didn’t have figures on how much total waste the landfill would receive, but he said he’ll get that information to the County Board.

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