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Housing study gets the nod
January 29, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Member communities of Western Nebraska Economic Development approved an agreement to conduct an area housing study at a Kimball-hosted meeting on Jan. 21.

The group awarded Lincoln based Hanna:Keelan Associates a $58,000 contract to conduct a housing census and profile of Scotts Bluff, Morrill and Kimball counties and the communities within those counties. The work will commence once the agreement’s legal language is finalized and documents signed.

The group also learned they were approved for grant funding from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, which would cover about 49 percent of the project cost. The remaining $29,000 would be paid by member communities on a per capita basis.

The need for a regional housing study surfaced last year after a group of local investors proposed building a meatpacking plant east of Minatare. Member communities wanted to know if there was sufficient housing in the area to accommodate the scores of employees a large company would potentially hire.

“The NIFA grant was a big help,” said WNED board chair Michelle Coolidge. “That’s why we were able to keep the cost at about 96 cents per capita versus $1.75 without it.”

WNED board vice chair Larry Gibbs said Scottsbluff will probably front the money because the grant is based on a reimbursement, which would be repaid when the grant funding is released.

Board members also heard a presentation from USDA on the feasibility of establishing an electrical cooperative for smaller communities to purchase electricity.

“This is still in the infancy stage,” Coolidge said. “A lot of it will depend the cost of implementation verses benefits. Not all of our members will be able to take part in it.”

Gibbs said that organizing as a coop would be beneficial, as the electrical needs of many smaller communities would be too small to qualify for a grant on their own.

“A cooperative might even be beneficial to Gering,” Gibbs said. “There are some major upgrades we’d like to make to our electrical system, and this might be a possible way to do it.”

The group’s next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Scottsbluff City Council
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