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The flight of the Bald Eagle

They once soared over the entire North American continent – king of the skies, their piercing gaze searching for prey in the prairies or waters far below.

The Bald Eagle once offered a thriving population and it wasn’t unusual to find one perched on a fence post, or high atop a half dead tree. However in the mid 20th century, the Bald Eagle population diminished – due to the widespread use of insecticides, according to an article by Benedictine College in Atchison that featured information from Michael Watkins, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and Benedictine Professor Dr. Virginia Winder. The pair co-authored a paper together – about the rebounding of the Bald Eagle population — that was printed in The Journal of Raptor Research.

According to their research, a resurgence of the state’s Bald Eagle population from a first nesting site spotted at Clinton Lake near Lawrence in 1989 grew to 137 documented nesting pairs in 2018.

Throughout several years, Winder reported that capture-mark-resighting efforts with 272 banded bald eagles took place to track nest success. Winder noted that habitat in and around large artificial reservoirs was important for nesting pairs. As the population grew, the nesting territories also grew.

This is why local residents have been spotting Bald Eagles and Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City has seen record populations of migrating Bald Eagles this past winter.

Local residents have reported several Bald Eagle sightings in the county in recent weeks. Many of these sightings were recorded on cameras as several Bald Eagles were spotted in trees, and one on a fence post close to the road.

“I’ve taken a few photos this past year,” said Susan Bryant of rural Robinson. “Such beautiful birds – I’m happy that we have some here year ‘round!”

Bryant said she has spotted Bald Eagles when driving between Robinson and Hiawatha, east of Robinson, and south toward Everest.

“Once I started looking, they are all over!” she said. “We have seen a pair together several times.”

She said the first time she saw a pair locally was taken on a snowy Thanksgiving in 2019 from the Robinson Wolf River bridge. She has also taken photos off U.S. 36 Highway between Hiawatha and Robinson, north of Everest and near the Upper Wolf Church on Sumac Road.

Another local resident – Andy Runer of Hiawatha – snapped a photo of a Bald Eagle up close and personal near the road in an area south of Hiawatha last Saturday. He and his wife, Kendelle, also shared video of the regal bird – taken from within their vehicle.

With the close proximity of Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, Mo., it’s only natural that the flight of the Bald Eagles might detour south a bit as they find food, shelter and water for a respite in Brown County.

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Missouri River, is a national wildlife refuge in northwestern Missouri, established in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.

Ron Boggs, a member of the Friends of the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge board, has photographed several Bald Eagles at the refuge. In fact, two of his photographs were chosen by the national park as artwork for this newly printed brochure this past year.

Boggs said he became interested in photography during a two-week trip to Ireland 6 years ago and since then has gone through four different Nikon cameras as his hobby and love for photography grew. As a member of the Friends board at Loess Bluffs, he is on site a few times a week and takes advantage of times to photograph the extensive wildlife at the refuge.

The driving tour features hundreds of acres of marshland, prairie, forests and more that are perfect for the migration of various bird species, along with establishment of other wildlife. Just this past week, this reporter took part in the driving tour and spotted three Bald Eagles in the distance, numerous swans and other water fowl and dozens of beavers working on damns in the marshland. In addition, there were literally thousands of snow geese at the refuge.

Much of the marshland was still frozen over, but as the weather continues on a warming trend into spring that will melt and more birds will come, Boggs said. Although the typical migration period for Bald Eagles is in later fall and through December, Boggs said the staff at Loess Bluffs is expecting more to travel through on their way back to northern forests and waters this spring or stay and nest there at the refuge.

“It depends on the snow geese too and how long they stay around,” he said, noting there were close to 365,000 snow geese at the refuge earlier in the week, along with seven adult eagles and 14 immature eagles.

Boggs said there are three established nests at the refuge and he has photographed many Bald Eagles there. Almost identical with the exception of size as the female is usually larger – the Bald Eagles take turns guarding the nest. Boggs said much of the time it appears the female is with the eggs and the eaglets, but the male will guard the nest when the female leaves to hunt.

The first recorded successful Bald Eagle nest fledged three young eaglets in the summer of 1997 at the refuge. The past 24 years, that number has continued to grow and as many as 300 immature and adult Bald Eagles and occasional gold eagle may be seen during the migration peak season, usually by the first part of December.

Boggs said this year was a banner year for migration as nearly 600 Bald Eagles migrated through Loess Bluffs area. Many of those have strayed through other areas in Northwest Missouri and Northeast Kansas, leading to many Bald Eagle sightings.

While the visitor’s center and other facilities at Loess Bluff have been closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the driving tours are still open as gates open 30 minutes prior to sunrise and close 30 minutes following sunset daily. For more information about the national refuge go to https://www.fws.gov/refuge/loess_bluffs/ or find information at www.facebook.com/LoessBluffsNWR.

(Some information for this article was obtained from an article published by Benedictine College with Dr. Virginia Winder.)

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Commission hears proposal of new baseball and softball facility

The Hiawatha City Commission met on Monday evening, and the group heard from Noel Boye, Curt Weldon and Ryan Meininger of the Hiawatha Baseball and Softball Club on a proposed new baseball complex at Noble Park.

The plan for the Hiawatha Championship Sports Complex would include phased construction of a new indoor baseball facility, a new softball field at the park, as well as improvements to the existing Paul Rockey Field over the next few years.

The group, along with representatives of Meriden, Kansas’s Mammoth Sports Construction presented their proposal to the commission, with the idea that the community, the city and the school district would be strong partners in pushing the project to completion. The planning group put forward a request for a 50-year lease of the land, as well as a waiver of sewer and water fees the proposed building, as well as permission to tie into the city’s electrical services. Given the successful completion of the project, a donation of $10,000 per year starting in 2025 will also be requested.

The expected cost to get the indoor facility, which can be used for a plethora of events by the city and school, as well as by the community, is around $300,000 for the roughly 9,000 square foot building, and the foundation hopes that achieving that early goal in time for next year’s baseball season will rally support around the rest of the project. The initial goal is the granting of the lease so the group can move forward with seeking donations, while they are also slated to speak to the USD 415 School Board in April to gauge their interest in the project.

The speakers lauded the potential multi-use capabilities of the facility, and the revenue such a building could bring to town, citing nearby communities with similar complexes, and also noted the visual appeal of a full fledged baseball complex in such a visible location. The commission gave positive remarks on the idea and asked the group to bring back concrete numbers to the next meeting before they would consider a vote.

In other business:

The commission also heard from Hiawatha Hospital CEO John Broberg, who presented a financial review, while also addressing the mask mandate and COVID-19 vaccinations. Broberg stated that 900 first doses of vaccines have been administered and 200 second doses.

Morrill Public Library Director Erin Verbick was also present to discuss updates at the libarary.

Approved at the meeting was a new Charter Ordinance that will move meetings from the 1st, 3rd and 5th Mondays of the month to the 2nd and 4th, in order to avoid more major holidays. The new ordinance will take effect in mid-May.

The group also approved a bid from Rainbow Fireworks in the amount of $14,500 to provide this year’s 4th of July fireworks for the city.

Also approved were requests presented by City Administrator Mike Nichols, including permission to burn a field, as well as to burn corn husks out the fences at Bruning Park, as well as a request to add rock to the alley behind the library at a cost of $775.

The commission approved the Consent Agenda, which included utility refunds of $95.24, payment to BT&CO in the amount of $9,650, payment to Olsson in the amount of $5,483.15, a payment to the Frances Plamman Charitable Trust in the amount of $10,053, and payments to the Kansas State Treasurer of $3,468.75 and $72,145.

Commission tables decision on hiring negotiator for potential wind farms

The Brown County Commission met Monday morning and among items discussed was potentially hiring a negotiator to work with any wind farms that may approach Brown County.

Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill presented a resume and letter of interest from attorney James Neeld, who worked as a negotiator for Nemaha County as they created agreements with wind farms. Hill advised the commissioners consider Neeld’s proposal and have a negotiator on hand at such a time wind farms might potentially approach the county.

Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl emphasized that no wind farm has approached the county in recent months — last discussions were with former commissioner Dwight Kruse when there was a public hearing.

Hill said if the county procured the services of Neeld, it would be as a proactive measure to have him in place if and when discussions would arise again. Lehmkuhl agreed that the transmission lines for the Nemaha County wind farms will go through Brown County when the time comes so negotiations will need to be made.

Commissioner Bill Pollock said he didn’t feel the county needed to retain an attorney for these services, as most residents he talked to weren’t interested in window farms being established in the county. He also expressed concern that a negotiator would work for the wind farms — not in the county’s best interest.

Hill said there was not a retainer fee for Neeld, he would just be readily available to the county at such time they would need his services and bill only for time spent working for the county. Hill also said that if approved by the commission, Neeld would work for the county — not the wind farms — during any potential negotiations. He said Nemaha County officials spoke highly of his services — which do specialize in negotiation with the wind farms. He said the commission could decide to handle negotiations on their own, going “in blind” to discussions with the wind farms, but hit was his advice that utilizing the services of a specialized attorney would be beneficial.

He said from the legal standpoint, they can’t prevent wind farms from establishing in the county, so the best interest of the county would be to have someone with experience represent them in discussions.

“He is only as active as the commission wants him to be,” he said.

Hill provided the commission with a copy of the agreement. The commission decided to table any decision for two weeks, until the March 15 meeting, in order to gather more input from the public and speak further with Nemaha County officials concerning services received from Neeld.

In other business:

Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg provided a monthly hospital update. He said 70-80 percent of the staff has received the COVID-19 vaccine. He also said health officials continue to encourage the use of masks to keep COVID cases low.

He said very few cases of influenza have been seen — this number is low nationwide as well — and he credits the use of masks to keep the spread of influenza low.

Broberg also discussed the hospital’s recruitment efforts to replace three retiring physicians within the next year and a half. He said the hospital has already signed a resident for 2022 and are working on two more to replace retiring physicians Dr. Julie Rosa’, Dr. Pete Rosa and Dr. Bryon Bigham.

Broberg also told the commission the hospital had spent $762,000 of the $2 million bond that was received when they refinanced. Roofing and eave work added up to $111,000, a new CT was $340,000, surgery equipment added $169,000 and funds were also spent for sterilizing and washer, along with equipment for cleaning washers.

The commission voted to approve Resolution 2021-7, extending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Resolution for 60 days.

The commission voted to extend the bid opening for tubes and bands for one week due to the fact that an e-mail was not received on the bid specifications.

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, presented the annual township and cemetery reports for the commission’s review with the exception of Powhattan Township. The commission voted to approve the reports as presented.

District 2 Foreman, Jerry Hisle, reported on the culvert replacement due to the storms of 2019 and the FEMA funding requirements.

Dean Tollefson, Brown County resident, discussed that there is a gentleman researching the history of Willis.

Hay bids for the Transfer Station’s approximately 60 acres of brome hay ground were as follows: Troy Kolb with a bid of $1,875 total and Compton Brothers with a bid of $2,250. The commission voted to accept the bid of $2,250 by the Compton Brothers.

Larry Alsup, Allied Business Solutions CEO, visited with the commission about the telecommunication audit services Allied Business Solutions has to offer. Alsup will send more information for the commission to review.

Friday, Feb. 26 End-of-month Bill Paying session The February, 26, 2021, month-end claims were approved as follows: General 138,579.26; Road & Bridge 45,806.17; Historical Society 4,643.00; Employee Benefit 2,676.17; Election 5,945.50; Extension 9,272.30; Mental Health 6,379.00; Developmental Services 2,356.29; Appraiser 844.65; Ambulance 22,076.12; Noxious Weed 1,669.64; Diversion 694.59; 911 SB50 49,281.65; ACC 2,365.97; JJCR 4,596.75; Reinvestment Grant 91.04; Services for Elderly 2,047.40; Solid Waste 51,172.85; Payroll 172.90; TOTAL $370,635.73

The February 24, 2021, payroll was approved as follows: General $78,764.73; Road & Bridge 15,577.89; Election 2,787.40; Technology 221.94; Appraiser 4,971.48; Noxious Weed 2,549.84; ACC 10,586.33; JJA Core 13,096.75; Reinvestment Grant 3,109.19; Services for Elderly 2,457.00; Solid Waste 6,126.74; Special MVT 2,787.40; Employee Ben FICA 8,553.10; Employee Ben KPERS 10,804.74; State Unemploy/Work Comp -140.21; Insurance -9450.00; TOTAL $152,804.32.

Tami Lehmkuhl, Road and Bridge secretary, requested clarification on oiling for the cities and school parking lot this year.

The commission voted to approve the February 22, 2021 minutes with the following correction: “Sandy Carter, Director, presented the quote from Civic Plus for $5,500 for the first year and $5,250 for year two annual recurring service to allow streaming to the county website for the commission meetings. Motion by Lamar Shoemaker to approve the

purchase of the service from Civic Plus for $5,500 for the first year and $5,250 for a two annual recurring service to allow streaming to the county website for the commission meetings. Seconded by William Pollock. Motion carried.”

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, presented the commission with letters to the county occupational license holders for signatures.

The commission voted to appoint Richard L. Lehmkuhl to the NEK Multi County Board of Health.

The commission voted to approve Emergency Vehicle Permits for Gordon Hooper (2), Matt Tietjens, Dennis Tietjens, Josh Long, Jesse Clark and Jason Hooper.

Commissioner Pollock requested an executive session. Motion by Lamar Shoemaker for a 10 minute Executive Session on non-elected personnel with the three commissioners present. Seconded by William Pollock. Closed 8:35 a.m. Opened 8:45 a.m. No binding action was taken.

The commission voted to move John Selland to District 1 Assistant Road Foreman at $18.00 per hour effective February 21, 2021.

The commission voted to move Doug Bletscher to District 3 Assistant Road Foreman at $18.00 per hour effective February 21, 2021.

Brown County Clerk, Dawn Boyles, updated the commission on the use of a step stool for entry into the senior citizen van. KCAMP sees no issues with individuals using a step stool to enter and exit the van.

The commission voted to approve the purchase of new desk stations for the county clerk’s office for $17,948.40 to be paid for from the county clerk capital improvement fund.

Commissioner Lehmkuhl stated the nurse is employed through the end of March. The commission will revisit closer to the end of March whether to keep using the nurse for screening at the main entrance to the courthouse.

Commissioner Lehmkuhl stated the guards will no longer be responsible for enforcing the mask mandate. The guards will request the individual to put the mask on and if the individual does not comply it will be up to the individual offices to call the Hiawatha PD to enforce the mandate.

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Hiawatha Commission stays firm on mask mandate

Similar stances led to a similar outcome on Monday night, as the Hiawatha City Commission heard from some of the same voices in protest to the city’s mask mandate at the meeting, as well as from a local business owner in support of the mandate.

Chris Kroll, Nancy Dvorak, Richard Schilling and Jay Brock all spoke to the commission at Monday night’s regular meeting.

Kroll spoke from outside City Hall, stating the opinion that the science behind masks can be easily debunked and that the city keeps changing its stances and requirements. Kroll said that commissioners would be replaced at election if they did not change the mask mandate.

Dvorak spoke two weeks after her husband and daughter addressed the commission. She talked about traveling to Europe during the early stages of COVID, as well as traveling to Mexico over Christmas. Dvorak said that in her experience, she believes the situation is less dire than what was presented by the media. She believes the country has been taken over by fear, but that the information available cannot be trusted.

Schilling returned to address the commission a second time. He stated his belief that masks should be recommended but does not believe a mandate is necessary.

Speaking before the commission for the first time, Brock said that he did not believe in the severity of the virus until it hit close to home. He now supports the mask mandate and requested that the commission keep it in place until they feel it is safe. Brock, who is a co-owner of Chapel Oaks Funeral Home, said he does not like wearing a mask, but knows that a mask mandate is not unreasonable given the pandemic.

Commissioners Becky Shamburg, David Middendorf and Evans Woehlecke all shared the opinion that it is not time to rescind the mandate yet. All three said they have heard from citizens thanking them for keeping the mask mandate in place despite some resistance. Commissioner Brian Shefferd, who has also spoken in favor of re-opening City Hall, did not make a motion to rescind the mask mandate, but said that he feels that Hiawatha is late to the game in joining other local communities in moving past the mandates.

Hiawatha Hospital CEO John Broberg and Brown County Health Officer Robin Downard both shared that they do not believe the city has reached the level of vaccinations to rescind the mask order. Mayor Bill Collins said he would like to see all senior citizens who want to be vaccinated covered before the mandate is lifted.

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Wanted Hays man apprehended in Hiawatha after police pursuit

A Hays man led police on a chase through Brown County that resulted in a non-injury accident involving a Hiawatha resident Tuesday night.

According to Brown County Sheriff John Merchant, at approximately 7:45 p.m. the Hays Police Department contacted the Sheriff’s Department, informing them that a Trevonn Hall, 21, of Hays and out on felony parole, was driving a stolen 2005 grey Buick Lacrosse, which they believed was in Hiawatha.

“He was reported as possibly armed and also had a runaway female juvenile with him,” Sheriff Merchant said.

Hall was involved in a vehicle pursuit in Hays earlier in the day and eluded authorities, Sheriff Merchant said.

“Undersheriff Guilliams located the suspect vehicle, parked on Pottawatomie in the 500 block,” Sheriff Merchant continued. “When the vehicle drove away, Hiawatha PD initiated a traffic stop and the suspect vehicle immediately fled, heading east on Iowa Street colliding with a Ford Edge that was turning in to Casey’s.”

Sheriff Merchant said no injuries were reported in this accident. He said the suspect vehicle then turned north on First Street where Undersheriff Guilliams took over the pursuit which ended in a field west of Wal-mart.

The driver, Trevonn Hall and the 16-year-old female passenger immediately exited the vehicle and ran towards Wal-mart.

“A good samaritan assisted Hiawatha PD and a Brown County Deputy in the apprehension of Hall in the parking lot,” Sheriff Merchant said. “The 16 year old female passenger was immediately apprehended by Hiawatha PD.”

Hall was arrested on charges of both Felony and Misdemeanor Probation Violations, Felony Flee to Elude, Felony Possession of Stolen Property, Felony Obstruction, Possession of Meth and Child Endangerment.

The juvenile was arrested on charges of Possession of Meth, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Felony Obstruction and was transported to Douglas County Detention Center by the Brown County Sheriffs office.