Holdrege, Neb. — Last Friday, the Central Nebraska Public Power & Irrigation District and Dawson
Public Power District postponed a revote on their plan to merge. The decision was welcomed by
Citizens Opposed to the Merger (COTM) President Gary Robison.
Representatives from COTM and CNPPID met last week to discuss the group’s concerns about
the merger, Robison said.
“Nothing was decided, but the meeting was productive and we agreed to meet again,” Robison
said. “We fully intend to work with Central in the hope that we can secure the water and ensure
irrigation delivery for another 80 years. We will continue our efforts until Central follows through
on its commitment to address all of COTM’s concerns.”
In the meantime, Robison reiterated that his group remains opposed to the merger.
“I don’t understand why Central would ever give up control of the water, and I have never
understood what we are getting in return,” Robison said. “No one has been able to convince me
that Central benefits from this merger.”
Central directors are telling irrigators that the district has big maintenance bills coming due and
will need Dawson to help pay those bills, Robison said.
“But, Central has done just fine maintaining the system without anybody’s help,” he said noting
that Central has $100 million in cash reserves set aside to cover maintenance and upgrades.
“Those funds were set aside to cover these type of expenses, and I am worried they will be
used for other purposes if the merger goes through.”
While the benefits are uncertain, Robison said the risks are clear. In addition to the loss of
control, Robison fears that Central’s reserves will be used to satisfy Dawson’s debt.
“Dawson has over $50 million in debt, most of which must be refinanced in order to merge,” he
Robison said that Central has never adequately explained how they intend to refinance or what
refinancing will cost, but noted that the Consolidation Plan would allow funds needed to pay off
Dawson’s debt to come from Central and its cash reserves.
“We need those reserves to offset dry periods and pay for irrigation system improvements, not to refinance Dawson’s debt,” he said. “Having local control of our water is crucial to the future of farming and economic growth in the Tri-County area,” Robison said. “I have nothing against Dawson. I would be against turning over control of the water to anybody. While I disagree with the CNPPID Board of Diretors
position on the merger, I believe the Board has done an admirable job stewarding the water for
decades, and I want to keep it that way.”
Robison is a Bertrand area farmer who formed COTM along with other Phelps, Kearney and
Gosper County farmers, landowners and business owners in November 2022 after the two
power districts voted to merge last fall. One of the group’s main arguments against the merger
was the loss of adequate board representation for water users in the newly formed district
resulting in a loss of local control of water.
Citizens Opposed to the Merger has attracted more than 100 members and more than $400,000
in its grassroots effort to stop the merger. It has also filed a lawsuit in Phelps County District
Court alleging that CNPPID did not comply with Open Meetings laws and failed to fill a vacancy
on the board before the historical merger vote. That lawsuit is still in the discovery phase.