Alliance Retraining Program Challenges Rebuffs for Grants

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) – For the past 10 years, the Alliance Recycling Center has received grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, which distributes about $20 million a year in state lottery proceeds for environmental projects.

On Thursday, the director of the Alliance recycling program made the seven-hour drive to Lincoln to find out why the center, which employs 15 people and serves a large area of ​​Nebraska’s panhandle, was rejected for $95,000 in funding. This year.

Kathryn Worley, the executive director of Keep Alliance Beautiful, got no response to her appeals to Trust board members to reverse their decision, or at least provide partial funding.

“Death” of a dump

“Losing this money is huge for us. We can’t have a fundraiser of any kind that brings in $95,000,” Worley told board members. “It could mean the death of our recycling center.”

The rejection of the recycling center grant, after a decade of securing funds, was another indication of how the board has changed in recent months and how it has changed its approach in awarding grants. .

This year, out of 118 trust grant applicants, only 82 were deemed eligible, a major change from the past, when only a handful were not qualified to be at least rated for grants.

Among those opposing the changes on Thursday was Hod Kosman, a Scottsbluff banker who leads a group that has restored thousands of acres of habitat and helped rebuild a trout stream with private funds and years of grants of the Environmental Trust.

“Total Dismay”

Kosman wrote to express his “utter dismay” that the Platte River Basin Environments were not only rejected for funding this year, but were declared ineligible for funding.

Gail Yanney of Omaha, a member of the Trust Board when it was created, asked the members of the Trust Board: “What has changed?

Yanney, who was accompanied by her husband, Omaha philanthropist Mike Yanney, said the organization has gone from a “huge success” that has funded projects in all 93 counties to a lawsuit that has been the subject of of a trial, issues of fairness and grant recipients who “hold their tongues”. for fear of speaking.

“Nebraska risks seeing the Trust drift away from conservation values, preserving water quality and wildlife and working with farmers and ranchers to protect their land from developers,” Gail Yanney said. .

She blamed Gov. Pete Ricketts, who appoints the nine citizen board members and hires four of the five state agency directors who serve on the 14-member panel.

“Our current governor seems determined to destroy it,” Yanney said.

Governor defends trust

Ricketts in the past has defended the Trust’s grantmaking decisions, including the controversial swap two years ago of a handful of conservation projects for one to install ethanol blending pumps, to help fuel corn-based. The blender pump grant was later withdrawn, after the Trust Board was sued for failing to follow proper procedures.

But critics say the ethanol pump swap illustrated how the Trust has shifted from a focus on the environment to seeking to satisfy agricultural interests.

Eyebrows were raised again recently after the Trust’s Grants Committee rejected a proposal for a grant from the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, in conjunction with the City of Bellevue, to purchase land at the confluence of the rivers. Platte and Missouri.

The site is considered one of the best industrial sites in the Omaha area. Buying it would have opened it up to great industry while also creating a wildlife refuge and a bike path in the adjacent floodplains. But it was deemed ineligible this year, having been funded in 2013 (it had to return the grant when the landlord did not sell the land) and being ranked as a top grant a year ago, only to be rejected by the council administration at the last minute.

The grants committee recommends

Six members of the Trust’s board of directors sit on the grants committee (see box) and decide which projects are eligible or not. Their votes are not identified by name.

A member of a recently formed watchdog group, the Friends of the Environmental Trust, wondered how eligibility determinations among these six could vary so widely. One grant reviewer deemed 17% of applications “ineligible,” but another disqualified 75%, Lincoln’s John Bender said.

But the Trust’s recently installed executive director, Karl Elmhaeuser, said the 11 criteria on which projects are deemed eligible have not changed.

What has changed, Elmshaeuser said, is how grants are deemed eligible and ranked. The Trust’s recent performance reviews, he said, found that these ratings were not done in two stages and “were not being properly applied”.

He also said that the judgment of grants is subjective. “There are no right or wrong answers,” Elmshaeuser said.

To illustrate, he posted a few drawings that could be seen as an old woman or a young woman, or as a duck or a rabbit, and one that showed an image of the baseball strike zone.

Referees can change

“Who stands behind home plate makes a difference,” Elmshaeuser said, referring to the umpire calling balls and strikes.

The slideshow was no consolation to Worley, who said she was upset at not knowing why her grant was rejected and was not allowed to speak for more than three minutes after driving across the state to plead her case. causes.

“We’ve been good stewards of your money and been responsible,” she said. “I don’t think we have changed. We have only improved.

Jeff Kanger, who chaired the grants committee, said the committee decided to recommend grants that only scored 130 points or more in their rankings. Alliance projects scored 124.7 points, just below. Forty-six other projects also scored too low, including projects from Ducks Unlimited, the University of Nebraska and a North Platte recycling program.

$3 million not granted

The full Board of the Trust approved funding for 35 new grants and 36 carried over grants at a cost of $17.1 million. About $3 million in funds were not granted this year and will be carried over to 2023.

When the Nebraska Examiner asked Kanger, a Lincoln banker, and fellow Grants Committee member Quinten Bowen, a Richardson County farmer, why exactly the Alliance recycling program was not funded this year, unlike the previous 10 years, they responded that was how well the score came out this year.

Elmshaeuser, after the meeting, said that getting a grant for 10 years does not guarantee getting funding for the 11th year.

Worley, visibly upset, left the board meeting early to return to the Alliance path and because she knew the board was not going to reconsider.

She said she had no idea how her organization would make up the $95,000.

“We’re going to do our best to keep things open,” she said.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Cate Folsom with questions: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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