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Fence Debated as City Council Approves Dunkin' Donuts Application

Following more than an hour of discussion Monday, the Hastings City Council approved the application for a new Dunkin Donuts restaurant to be built at 708 North Burlington Ave.

The council approved an amended resolution last night after councilwoman Sarah Hoops brought in several amendments including a required eight foot high fence on the east side of the property line. That amendment passed 5-4 with Mayor Vern Powers casting the tiebreaking vote. The plans currently call for a vinyl fence to be erected, but nearby resident Craig DeWalt insisted the need for masonry fencing instead.

"Yes there is traffic noise from Burlington. We planted trees and they don't stop noise. Noise is like water, it flows through cracks and open spaces. The only effective noise barrier is masonry fence," he said.

The debate raged on to who would pick up the bill for such a costly fence. Neither the city, nor developer Bryce Bares seemed interested, although tax increment financing was discussed to help mitigate some of the cost. Councilman Chuck Niemeyer said he believes that issue should lie with the residents.

"I know there are covenants within this planned district but it's not the council's job to enforce the covenants. If Planning and Zoning says this fits and it fits within our C-2 guidelines then I'm obligated to allow it. Any other civil covenants that need to be enforced need to be handled by the residents in that area and not by us," he said.

Other amendments by Hoops included requiring the business to be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., lighting and signage only on the west side facing Burlington Ave. and a pedestrian walkway.

Hastings attorney Bob Parker, representing the Bank of Doniphan told the council he believed they were duped by Mr. Bares because he found a loophole to speed up approval of his project.

"The bank spent $130,000 on a masonry fence and spent a lot of money on this building. To see this thing fast tracked through in a place where your citizens took this thing in a fighting way, I still think there's going to be a traffic issue there. You're going to grant carte blanche tonight and I guess he's going to do whatever he wants," Parker said.

Franchise owner Bryce Bares says he looks forward to bringing his business to Hastings. It will be the only Dunkin Donuts location between North Platte and Lincoln.

Draper Sentenced For Role in Grandson's Death

A Naponee man convicted of contributing to the death of his two-year-old grandson in 2012 was sentenced to 60 years to life in prison in Adams County District Court this (Monday) morning.

In October, Peter Draper, 50, was found guilty of child abuse resulting in death and child abuse resulting in serious injury in the death of his grandson, two-year-old Joseph Rinehart Jr.

Draper was sentenced on one count of intentional child abuse resulting in death and was also sentenced to 49 to 50 years in prison for one count of intentional child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. The sentences will be served consecutively.

Today's sentence is the same one that was handed down during Draper's original trial in 2013.

Hastings College Art Center Ahead of Schedule

The new Jackson Dinsdale Art Center on the Hastings College campus is well ahead of its construction schedule. Officials broke ground on the new facility in April. Initially thought to be done by November 2016, it is now anticipated to be completed by July.

Tom Kreager, professor of Art at Hastings College says the new facility, once completed, will be unlike anything other art facility in the region.

"Ours is going to be pretty unique in the sense that it's a one floor building and there's nothing else in it but art. The glass studio I'm guessing will be one of the top five facilities in the country and the sculpture's going to be one of the tops in this region of the country," he said.

The college currently offers glass blowing, sculpture, print making, drawing, painting and ceramics. But Kreager says the new facility will also allow them to expand to other areas as well.

"We're going to go into some computer courses, some media classes where students can do video and film, we're looking to get more into the computer arts and make a push to use more technology," he said.

The facility is about an $8.5 million project. Part of the project is being funded by a $5 million legacy gift from the Dinsdale family.

State Lawmakers Preparing for Possible Budget Shortfall in 2016

Nebraska lawmakers are preparing for a tight budget in next year's session, with a projected $110 million revenue shortfall that could force them to cut services or tap the state's rainy-day fund.

That gap could grow or shrink when the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meets in February, but lawmakers still have to balance the budget in next year's session.

Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley says he's concerned about the shortfall and isn't yet sure whether it's just a "blip" in the economy or a sign of trouble ahead.

Senator Heath Mello of Omaha, whose committee oversees the budget, says he's confident lawmakers will find a way to balance the books but acknowledges it could be more difficult if the shortfall widens.

Wilcox-Hildreth FFA Breaks Ground on New Ag Building

On Saturday, members of the Wilcox/Hildreth FFA Chapter broke ground for a new 60 by 100 foot agriculture building being built across from the Wilcox school in the coming weeks.

Local FFA members and school officials were able to fund the project by selling banner space to area businesses.

In addition to serving the local FFA Chapter, the building will also accommodate students in district shop classes.

The building is expected to be completed and ready for use in the next few months.

Bertrand Man Killed in Weekend Collision

Authorities say a Bertrand man has died in a collision with a semitrailer in south-central Nebraska's Phelps County.

The accident occurred around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Nebraska State Patrol says the collision occurred on Nebraska Highway 183, about three miles north of Holdrege.

The patrol identified the vehicle driver who died as 60-year-old Randall Kuck. The semitrailer driver suffered only minor injuries.

The accident is being investigated.

Grand Island Couple Displaced After Weekend Fire

A Grand Island couple is without a home after an accidental fire broke out Saturday afternoon.

The home, located on East 7th Street is being deemed a total loss after the fire spread from the living room throughout the house causing significant fire and smoke damage. The two residents were home at the time, but were not injured in the fire.

The American Red Cross is assisting the couple who will not be able to return to the home.

Donuts and Utility Budget Headline Hastings City Council Agenda

Donut lovers in Hastings will soon learn the fate of a proposed Dunkin' Donuts location to be built north of the 7th and Burlington intersection. The Hastings City Council is expected to vote on approval of the application at tonight's meeting.

The land originally was purposed for non-commercial use, but has sat vacant since that decision was made in 2005. It has since been repurposed for commercial use.

Franchise owner Bryce Bares with Galaxy Ventures of Omaha has said that the site is a prime location for such a business because of the traffic that goes by each day in and out of downtown Hastings. He says based on the company's business model they've found their restaurants typically flourish in areas like that because they are a convenience purchase.

Nearby neighbors have voiced concerns that the restaurant could bring additional congestion and noise since it would sit just west of a residential area. There have also been concerns of lighting in the parking lot. Bares has agreed to some changes that have been drafted by city officials.

The Hastings city council will also hold a public hearing tonight discussing the proposed Hastings Utilities budget for 2016. The budget includes a 5 percent increase on electricity rates in order to generate an additional $1.2 million in revenue. HU is forecasting about $4.7 million less this year than was budgeted for.

The budget also calls for a 12 percent rate hike on water rates and an 8 percent increase on sewer rates. The increases will help pay for the city's upcoming water treatment project.

Tonight's city council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

St. Cecilia Prepares for Annual Chicken Noodle Dinner/Holiday Bazaar

A sign that the holidays are right around the corner is St. Cecilia's annual Chicken Noodle Dinner and Holiday Bazaar, going on this Sunday.

Organizers say they've lost track of how many years it's been going on, but large crowds are expected once again.

"I've been told that the chicken noodle dinner has been going on since about 1960. Each year it seems to be more popular. We serve anywhere between 5,000 to 6,000 people at times. We also offer a carryout for people who want to take it home with them," said Todd Klein, chair of the Chicken Noodle Dinner.

The annual fundraiser also brings shoppers looking for unique Christmas gifts, several of which have been donated. Chelsey Mangers, chairwoman of the Holiday Bazaar says a stage raffle will go on throughout the day.

"At 6 o'clock we draw for the raffles that the kids have been selling. We draw for the quilt raffle, the beef and pork, the Super 7 raffle and then this year we have a new raffle for a boys, girls and a gender neutral bike," she said.

The holiday bazaar is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday with the chicken noodle dinner serving from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Games for the kids will also take place throughout the day.

Minden Prepares for Century of Lights Celebration

Hastings residents officially kicked off the holiday season last night with the Celebration of Lights and next week it will be Minden's turn.

For many years, the community of Minden has been referred to as Nebraska's "Christmas City." This year, that distinction takes on special meaning as the community formally celebrates a "Century of Lights" marking 100 years of Christmas gleam.

"We're pretty proud of the fact that it's a tradition that doesn't happen in all communities. We've had the title of Christmas City at least since the Christmas pageant began in 1947," said Ted Griess, mayor of Minden.

The "Century of Lights" celebration begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs through New Year's Eve.

Hastings College Students Help the Hungry and Homeless

Hastings College students spent a better part of this past week packing meals on campus for the hungry both here locally and around the world.

It began last Friday, Nov. 13 with students setting out to pack 75,000 meals to be shipped abroad.

"We had lines going all day long of Kids Against Hunger Meals which are made up of rice, soy protein, dried vegetables and some vitamin and mineral powder. We ended up meeting our goal by 75,600 and those meals will be going to the Philippines," said Nicole Delphia, Chair of the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week at Hastings College.

Students also exceeded their goals Tuesday and Wednesday packing more than 2,500 sandwiches and lunches for the Open Table Sack Lunch program. Delphia says Open Table is a great free service open to the public, no questions asked.

"If you need a sack lunch, you can go in there and get one. That's an event we have every year. We surpassed our goal by about 250 and we packed about 2,500 sack lunches," she said.

If you or someone you know needs a sack lunch, Open Table is available Monday thru Friday 8-5 at Catholic Social Services located on 2nd Street in downtown Hastings.

Elm Creek Man Sentenced for Fatal Drunk Driving Crash

An Elm Creek man convicted of vehicular homicide and drunken driving for a crash that killed his friend was sentenced Thursday in Hall County District Court.

Forty-four-year-old Larry Gydesen was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. Gydesen was convicted of both charges earlier this year stemming from the Oct. 12, 2014 incident when his SUV crashed into a Grand Island detention pond.

A passenger, 44-year-old John Zebert of Grand Island drowned after the crash. Police say Gydesen's blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.

Nebraska's Unemployment Unchanged in October

Nebraska's unemployment remained unchanged in October at 2.9 percent. The jobless rate was the same as September and still well below the national average which is at 5 percent.

Job growth continued in the non-farm sector. According to Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin, nonfarm employment in October was up more than 12,000 compared to last October.

Kearney continued to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state in October at 2.1 percent, unchanged from September. Hastings also remained steady matching its September rate of 2.5 percent. Grand Island's jobless rate for October was 2.9 percent.

Gas Prices Plunge in Tri-Cities

Hastings residents filling up at the gas pump are currently paying dramatically lower prices than anyone else in Nebraska.

The average price for regular unleaded is $1.88 at most Hastings retailers, with the lowest reported price at $1.84. Meanwhile in Kearney, prices are dropping, but are still about 20 to 30 cents higher than Hastings at around $2.15. Prices in Grand Island have also dipped under $2 with one retailer as low as $1.66.

Rose White with AAA Nebraska says the disparity is likely being caused by local competition.

"Typically, interstate stations are a little bit higher price because they do cater to the needs of long distance travelers and those costs are passed along by higher prices. The stations that often benefit lower prices are those that offer car wash services or other services to draw them in," she said.

The national average gas price is currently $2.10. Nebraska's average price is currently $2.18, down 11 cents from a week ago and down 28 cents from one month ago.

OSHA Investigating Worker's Fall at Hastings Construction Site

The Omaha office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating a worker's fall at a Hastings construction site.

The incident happened Wednesday morning at a soy crush plant owned by Ag Processing Inc. According to a news release from OSHA, the 31-year-old employee of A-Lert Construction Services out of Fredonia, Kansas was injured after falling about 10 feet from a ladder.

The worker was installing steel horizontal beams at the time of the fall. The injured worker was taken to a local hospital with severe injuries.

Hastings Police Searching For Debit Card Thief

Hastings Police are seeking the public's help identifying a man who has been illegally using a debit card at several tri-cities businesses.

On Tuesday, police posted a surveillance photo of the man appearing to show him attempting to use the device at the Hastings Walmart. According to Detective Jerry Esch, the suspect in question has used the card multiple times over last several days.

"He used it not only at Walmart, but also at Casey's and in Grand Island as well. Each time he used it he got $100 in addition to his purchase," Esch said.

Police have yet to identify the suspect. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Esch at 402-461-2380 or

Winter Weather Blamed in Fatal Buffalo County Crash

Winter weather is being blamed for causing a deadly crash Tuesday along Interstate 80 near Elm Creek.

It happened just after 8:30 p.m. when an eastbound semi truck lost control, slid into the median and jackknifed. The driver of a westbound Saturn Ion slid into the jackknifed semi. The Nebraska State Patrol says the roads were snow covered at the time of the crash.

55-year-old Irene Stierwalt of Ogallala, a backseat passenger was killed in the crash. The driver and two other passengers were transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney, with non-life threatening injuries. The semi driver, who was wearing a seat belt, was not injured. Authorities say none of the passengers in the other car were wearing their seat belt.

The State Patrol continues to investigate.

Revised Development Plan Approved for Proposed Dunkin Donuts

The Hastings Planning Commission has approved a revised development plan for a proposed new Dunkin Donuts north of 7th and Burlington.

The developer, Bryce Bares of Omaha said Monday he had received a signed easement with Great Western Bank. While plans are all still preliminary, City Planner Lance Lang said the revised plans include several conditions that have been agreed upon, including an 8-foot high PVC fence for the east side of the property, a monument sign and downcast lighting.

During Monday's public hearing resident Craig DeWalt who lives to the east of the property said the land wasn't intended for commercial use.

"We're very concerned that it doesn't keep with the character of the historic district in Hastings. I think it's very important that we continue to maintain that integrity," he said.

His wife Jeanette DeWalt, says she was selected by her neighbors to be the voice against the project and slammed the developer for not reaching out to concerned residents.

"I haven't heard a thing the last month. I think it's a bit disconcerning that Mr. Bares didn't bother talking to any of the neighbors that live there and have lived there over 10 years," she said.

The DeWalts say they favor economic development in the city, just not at that location.

The Planning Commission approved the revised development plan by an 8-0 vote. They also voted to approve a conditional use permit for the new First Street Brewery, located downtown.

Ravenna Man Sentenced in Child Sex Abuse Case

A 33-year old Ravenna man who was convicted of incest and sexually assaulting a child has been given 15 to 25 years in prison. The incident happened in Kearney between Aug. 31 and Sept 2, 2013. The man's name is not being released in order to protect the identity of the young girl who was a minor under the age of 12 at the time of the incident.

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