IMAGINE SARPY: Environmental impacts and cost of urban sprawl

Sarpy County

IMAGINE SARPY: Environmental impacts and cost of urban sprawl

July 28, 2020

“In addition to the financial cost to the county, the cities and the schools, there’s an environmental cost to OPPD’s plan to add a large solar farm and natural gas plant,” Sarpy County Board Chairman Don Kelly said. “If OPPD’s project is built along Platteview Road, then future commercial and housing development in Sarpy County will move farther away from the already-developed core. Spreading out our population means people will take longer trips to and from work, school and the grocery store. More time spent in your vehicle and on the road does not reduce our collective carbon footprint.”  
By enhancing Platteview Road and strategically building out sanitary sewer service along the Platteview corridor, Sarpy is aiming to ensure orderly growth. That goal is threatened by the Omaha Public Power District’s plan to place a utility-scale solar farm and 450 MW natural gas plant on roughly 1,200 acres of the prime Platteview growth corridor.  
If OPPD builds in this area, the Sarpy County and Sarpy Cities Unified Wastewater Agency projects the following potential financial and environmental impacts:  

  • A potential loss of $975 million in property valuation, with 4,700 fewer housing units and 11,178 fewer residents along Platteview Road. This projection was calculated by looking at comparable development along arterial corridors in the Omaha metro area.
  • Future population density in Sarpy County would shift from a planned five units per acre to one unit per five acres. This assumes that the urban or suburban growth along Platteview does not occur, and instead those housing units are built where sewer service isn’t readily available. This acreage-style housing will require individual septic systems.
  • OPPD’s plan will create urban sprawl. People will have to drive farther each day for activities like visiting the grocery store or going to the doctor. Longer trips in the car mean more harmful emissions. The County’s current comprehensive plan calls for a more dense development that requires less time in the car, which leads to fewer emissions, which is better for the environment. 
  • The county will spend more on maintaining and building roads as people drive more and live farther away from the population center. 

Residents have weighed in about the county’s future. At a 2015 public planning workshop, residents reported valuing the blend of urban and rural environments found in the area. In order to maintain this relationship, residents proposed that new development should occur contiguous to existing development, within city jurisdictions. New development should be compact to reduce sprawl, thereby maintaining an urban/rural dichotomy in Sarpy County.  
In addition, a majority of the public who participated in the workshop identified Platteview Road as their top choice of transportation corridors that should be improved. Many people reported seeing this corridor as a new alternative route for northbound traffic on Interstate 29 looking to head west on Interstate 80.  
Sarpy County supports OPPD’s efforts to incorporate more renewable energy sources into its portfolio, but those efforts should not come at the expense of taxpayers and public health.   
While county leaders have suggested alternative sites for the solar farm in Sarpy County, the county has raised specific concerns about the environmental impacts of OPPD’s accompanying natural gas plant. The Nebraska Chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, shared similar concerns in an Omaha World-Herald editorial published in November 2019.  
“OPPD has said that it will invest in building a considerable amount of new solar power, while at the same time planning to commit to new generation from fracked gas,” wrote John Crabtree, the campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
“If your goal is to decarbonize, investing in new carbon-producing power plants is the wrong way to get there. Gas extraction through fracking is fraught with public health and environmental impacts. Methane leakage from gas infrastructure also contributes to the climate crisis.”  
Sarpy County has been clear about its opposition to the natural gas portion of OPPD’s proposal. OPPD plans to build the natural gas component as a backup to its solar-generated power.  
“We worry about the environmental and public health risk a natural gas-burning plant could pose to our residents and community,” Kelly said. “Businesses looking to expand and bring jobs to Sarpy County will weigh those risks, too, when deciding if they really want a natural gas plant as a neighbor.”  
Coming next week: Implications of $975 million in lost revenue to the county, schools and cities