The Fremont City Council approved a preliminary financial agreement between the city and state to share the cost of the Southeast Beltway project during its meeting on Tuesday night.
The agreement, passed unanimously by the council, caps the city’s cost for the estimated $43 million, 3.2 mile, four-lane divided expressway project at a total of $20 million.
The Southeast Beltway will connect U.S. Highway 77 and U.S. Highway 275 and is designed to improve traffic flow and regional connectivity between U.S. 77, U.S. 275, and U.S. Highway 30.
Under the agreement, $20 million from the city for the project will be split into three payments. The first two payments will total $6.67 million apiece — with the first being paid upon the execution of the agreement and the second being paid in July 2019. The third payment — totaling $6.66 million — will be paid in July 2020.
During a discussion about the preliminary financial agreement, Nebraska Department of Transportation District 2 Engineer Tim Weander said the goal is to have the beltway completed by the summer of 2022.
“We are trying to get traffic on the new pavement by fall of 2021 and the project will probably not be fully completed until the summer of 2022,” he said.
Weander added that NDOT is planning to host a second public meeting about the project where the final alignment and configuration of the project will be presented as the department moves into the final design phase.
“What we are going to present to the public is the elimination of the Yager Road intersection and a roundabout at the Downing Road intersection,” he said. “The roundabout will allow for that free flow of traffic, better flow of trucks coming off Downing from the Hormel site in lieu of the Platte Avenue extension.”
The NDOT public meeting regarding the Southeast Beltway is planned for from 5-7 p.m. on Dec. 4 at the Fremont Public Schools Administration Building at 130 E Ninth St.
Weander says the newest plan for the Southeast Beltway creates a more efficient movement and allows for better movement of vehicles, while also saving the city and county from the cost associated with improvements to Hills Farm Road.
“If Platte Avenue was extended underneath the beltway, then Hills Farm road would have to be improved to handle that truck traffic and we consider all those improvements to be the City of Fremont’s or Dodge County’s cost,” he told the council.
Along with the approved preliminary financial agreement, the project will also involve a future relinquishment agreement between the city, county, Inglewood and the state which will remove the remainder of U.S. 77 running through Fremont from the Nebraska State Highway System.
According to Weander, he expects that agreement to be proposed at some point next year.
Editor’s Note: This is a true tale of two brothers, whose family became the first Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity homeowners in 1994. The brothers — Dr. Trino Nuño, a dentist, and Jose Nuño, a physician assistant — have become medical professionals. The Tribune will tell their stories today and Friday.
If you sense anything from Dr. Trino Nuño, it is gratitude.
For his parents.
For local teachers, coaches and dentists, who became mentors.
And for Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity.
In 1994, the Nuño family — which consisted of two parents, Triño Sr. and Maria, and their four children — were living in a small apartment in Fremont.
Then Maria Nuño applied for a Habitat for Humanity house.
“I was 6 years old, but I remember my parents receiving a phone call that excited them more than usual,” Nuño said. “My father was in disbelief. My mother had tears.”
Looking back, Nuño can see the difference the Habitat homemade in his family’s lives.
“A home is a foundation for a good life,” he said. “It is a foundation for kids to grow up in a safe environment and be able to learn, grow and use as a place to come home and do their homework.”
Today, Nuño is a dentist who owns a private practice, Comfort Dental, in Omaha. A husband and father, Nuño speaks at Habitat events, expressing appreciation for the community that embraced his family.
“I’m the oldest son of Mexican immigrants, who became U.S. citizens when I was young,” Nuño said. “I remember how proud my parents were to become citizens of this great country of ours.”
Nuño was a preschooler when his family moved to Fremont.
“I was the first student in the English as a Second Language program,” he said. “I had excellent teachers, who were patient. I remember being loved and nurtured.”
Nuño’s father worked at Hormel Food Corp., and his mom was a stay-at-home mother. Besides Trino Jr. and his brother, Jose, who initially came to Fremont with their parents and sister Esmeralda, the family would grow to include Jessica and Moises.
At Fremont High School, Nuño wrestled for coach Ted Husar and ran cross-country and track for Sean McMahon and Dave Sellon. From these men, Nuño learned valuable lessons in leadership.
Nuño also was an altar boy at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and later became a Gospel reader.
“That was a lot of fun. It got me out of my comfort zone,” he said.
Nuño’s life path would take a different turn than he imagined.
“I was set on joining the Marines upon graduation, but God had different plans for me. I was to become a college student,” he said.
Nuño’s high school counselor, Mark Williams and the late Jim McMahon helped him get into college. Nuño received an athletic and a Sid Dillon scholarship.
Admittedly, Nuño had so much fun as a Midland University freshman that he ended the year with a less-than-stellar grade point average.
“It wasn’t until I met Dr. Richard Coke that I became fascinated with dentistry,” Nuño said. “He mentored me and allowed me to shadow his practice.
“Dr. Stephen Wendt was also instrumental in mentoring me. I remember having dinner at Dr. Wendt’s home and he called a patient to see how they were doing after a surgery earlier that day. It made me realize the importance of truly caring for your patients.”
Nuño knew he wanted to become a dentist to serve others.
But he’d have to improve his grades to get into dental school. Sitting with Alison Baxtrom, an organic chemistry teacher at Midland, Nuño learned he’d need to get straight As to have a high enough grade point average to be accepted into dental school.
So he did.
Nuño said he graduated with a 3.6 GPA from Midland University in 2010.
Due to a miscommunication between dental schools — which only have a certain number of spots — he wasn’t able to get in right away.
“One school thought the other let me in,” he said.
But in 2010, Nuño got a job as environmental health coordinator at the Fremont-based Three Rivers Public Health Department, which serves Dodge, Washington and Saunders counties. There, he was in charge of establishing the environmental department.
Nuño’s duties included radon testing, making sure restaurants compiled with laws, enacting the Clean Indoor Air Act of Nebraska, and disseminating swine flu information.
He was able to identify the source of lead contamination in a home where a boy, who lived there, was showing signs of neurological disorders — and get the family out of that situation.
Nuño was accepted into the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in Lincoln and started in 2011.
During dental school, he was vice president of the American Student Dental Association legislative branch. He twice led about eight students to Washington, D.C., where they talked with senators and congressmen and lobbied for reducing student debt.
While living in Omaha and commuting to Lincoln, Nuño worked two jobs during dental school. He was a server at Bravo Italian Restaurant in Omaha and worked for Frito Lay, restocking chips at stores.
How did he manage all that and dental school?
“I loved dental school,” he said. “It was a passion for me to learn so when I was in class, I honed in on what was taught and was able to absorb that information pretty easily. … When you’re passionate about something, your ability to learn is expanded.”
Nuño loves being a problem-solver.
“So I felt I needed to learn as much as humanly possible to be the best problem-solver for people,” he said.
Nuño knows many illnesses display themselves in the mouths and teeth. So bone loss, for instance, could be associated with diabetes.
He’d discover the art of dentistry.
“I am an artist and have been blessed with the ability to use my hands to create beautiful smiles — and it ties in with my passion for science and learning, which was sparked by Dr. Coke and Dr. Wendt,” he said.
Nuño won’t forget the first time he drilled on a patient’s tooth.
“It requires so much trust from that individual to be vulnerable and allow a student to actually drill on their tooth,” he said. “I was extremely nervous, but as soon as I was able to convince myself that I have the skills to help this person, I got rid of my fear and was able to never look back and continue to help many patients.
“I can alleviate pain and restore smiles and restore people’s lives with better health and more self-esteem.”
After graduating from dental school in 2015, Nuño purchased his practice.
Now, Nuño and his wife, Kelly, whom he met at Midland and calls the love of his life, have two children, Eliana, 3, and Leo, 1.
Nuño is becoming a bioregulatory dentist, which he describes as helping patients achieve optimal health, looking at their past histories, diet and how different dental materials may affect them. It involves connecting with different health care providers to achieve the best patient outcomes.
“Dentistry is an ongoing adventure,” he said. “There’s new research that comes out single day and we as dentists and doctors need to continuously be open-minded and willing to change our thought processes to better help our patients.”
Nuño is also writing a book about the field of dentistry and working on a couple of inventions to improve workplace safety in dentistry.
He said God has blessed him with the Fremont community and Habitat.
Nuño’s father, who has worked at Hormel for 28 years, plans to retire in the next few years. His mother has taken caregiver positions, most recently helping a person with multiple sclerosis.
“He’s a strong, proud and loyal man,” Nuño said of his dad, adding that his father finished paying off the mortgage to the Habitat home this year.
Nuño said he supports Habitat any way he can and has been humbled and honored to speak at the organization’s functions.
“I grew up in beautiful Fremont,” he said. “And I am forever grateful to the wonderful souls who helped build my life and character.”
In the City Council race for Ward 2, challenger Glen Ellis will look to bring change to the local governing body by unseating incumbent City Councilmember Steve Landholm on Election Day.
Ellis is a local businessman and entrepreneur campaigning in an effort to “restore community” and bring everyday citizens of Fremont back into the decision-making process of the city council. Along with the platform of increasing community involvement and transparency, Ellis is also focused on fostering economic growth and development, revitalizing Downtown Fremont and changing the perception of Fremont.
A software engineer by trade, Ellis is the founder of the educational software company Sycamore Education, which he started in Kansas City before moving the business, and his family, to Fremont 14 years ago. He is also the owner of the May Brothers Building on 6th Street, where he started Milady Coffeehouse, 1881 Pint Room and the Pioneer Theatre.
Ellis is also a fervent advocate for Downtown Fremont as the founder of the Fremont Creative Collective, a non-profit that is focused on creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fremont. He is also the chairperson of Fremont’s Business Improvement District and is in the process of creating the Downtown Development Group.
“I truly believe that our downtown is the heart and soul of the city and its perception goes a long way in helping our perception as a city,” Ellis said. “But that certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the rest of the community.”
Ellis is campaigning on a message of “restoring community” which he says is a focus to foster more involvement from residents of Fremont in local government matters.
“To me, it means bringing civility back to our city council meetings, that is what I’m trying to do,” he said. “Everything doesn’t have to be a fight – there should be collaboration and willingness to hear all parties.”
Ellis says he would implement town hall meetings to give local residents another opportunity to voice their opinions, and wants to provide residents who cannot attend council meetings another way to stay involved in the process.
“I would love to get technology injected into our city council meetings so they are streaming online,” he said. “There are a lot of young folks that are busy raising their kids but they still want to be active— and we have the technology to do that.”
To Ellis, one of the most important issues is making downtown Fremont friendlier for growth. That could include revisiting city ordinances and rules around second-story apartment living and permits.
“I really believe that Fremont is poised for a wave of artisan and free-thinkers and entrepreneurs that are being priced out of the market in Omaha and Lincoln and Des Moines,” Ellis said. “I really want to get our downtown ready for that wave. That means we have to make our downtown attractable, both with arts and entertainment, eatery and boutiques and second-floor housing.”
Ellis sees the overall lack of affordable housing as a problem for the community.
“When you can’t buy a house in Fremont for under $100,000 we have a problem,” he said. “This problem didn’t show up yesterday, it’s been growing. We need to open up more development and do it the right way.”
While trying to avoid the old cliché that this is a particularly important election for the future of Fremont, Ellis says that he does believe it is a chance for local residents to change the direction of the local government.
“If the citizens of Fremont really want to change, it’s a great opportunity to put that in place,” he said. “I’ve put this in God’s hands – if he wants me in city council I will be there – if he doesn’t want me in there I’m still going to be working hard for this city no matter what.”
In the Fremont City Council race for Ward 2, incumbent Steve Landholm is looking to retain his seat against challenger Glen Ellis after the polls close on Nov. 6.
Landholm was first elected to represent Ward 2 in 2014 and says he hopes to continue to serve residents by building upon recent community growth, increasing government efficiency, and engaging with constituents and city employees on a consistent basis.
Landholm is a retired electrician who began his career when he was only a freshman at Oakland-Craig High School back in 1968.
“I started doing some after school electrical work at a shop there in town, it was basically hands-on training,” Landholm said.
His career as an electrician began in earnest after graduation as he stayed in his hometown for several years before moving to Lyons and eventually working his way to a position at Fremont Electric in 1979.
After working as an electrician for more than 40 years, Landholm made his foray into city government by unseating incumbent City Councilmember Mark Stange in 2014.
“I always wanted to run for a position as a council member and once I retired I felt that I could put in full service to this position,” he said.
Landholm says that along with supporting economic and infrastructural growth like the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry Plant and the completion of the Elkhorn River Valley Transmission line during his time as a councilmember – he put his efforts toward staying connected with his constituents and the city’s various departments.
“I always try to do my homework and research the issues thoroughly,” he said. “One of the things I like to do is to meet as many city employees who are working in the field as I can. When you learn what’s going on in the field you can see what they do so you can understand what you are voting on.”
Landholm also serves on the Local Option Review Team (a seven-member group that reviews applications and gives a recommendation to the city council based on project feasibility and potential future economic benefit) as well as serves as an alternate representative for the city on the Northeast Nebraska Solid Waste Coalition.
If re-elected Landholm says he hopes to do his part to continue to create more efficiency within several departments of the city government.
“I would like to see our street department moving into a different location where we have everything all in one yard – right now they are split up over four different buildings so that would be one way to create efficiency,” he said.
He also said he supports creating a Joint Law Enforcement Center that would house both the Fremont Police Department and Dodge County Sheriff’s Office to create more efficiency and collaboration between both agencies.
Landholm also stands by his votes on several housing developments coming to Fremont, citing the need for affordable homes to provide the city’s growing workforce a place to live within the city limits.
“I love the fact that these guys are up at Ritz Lake building these nice big homes, but not every development can be that way — we need affordable housing too,” he said. “If you don’t have a workforce in the community you have a problem and I don’t think we only need to be a bedroom community for Omaha.”
The Lower Platte Natural Resource District (NRD) serves a broad swath of land that drains into the segment of the Platte River from Columbus to Ashland. It includes parts of seven counties and 28 communities with more than 1 million acres of land, according to its website.
The NRD aids in conservation efforts, such as water management, flood control and educational programming. It’s divided into nine subdistricts, each run by two elected board members.
Subdistrict 1, which encompasses part of Fremont, is currently run by board members Lon Olson and Kelly Thompson. But in this election cycle, Olson faces a challenge from political newcomer Leon Bracker. Both candidates spoke to the Fremont Tribune about their conservation work and their hopes for the future of the NRD.
Olson is a Midland University graduate who’s lived in Fremont since 1972. He’s been in the insurance brokerage business since 1978. He did work for the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District while in college.
He filled in the current board spot after the previous board member moved out of the district in 2011 and was later re-elected.
But he says that his roots in rural south-central Nebraska gave him an early insight into the importance of conservation work. Moving closer to the Platte River here on the eastern part of the state gave him a new perspective.
“Everybody I knew was farming,” he said. “I know how important it is to make sure that the land is taken good care of through conservation and that we have good management practices … It’s a little different here on the east side of Nebraska. I think our flood control is even more important than it was when I grew up.”
For Olson, two of the biggest priorities for the NRD are flood control and maintenance of the NRD’s recreational areas, like Lake Wanahoo by Wahoo and Czechland Lake by Prague.
In terms of flood control, the NRD is currently involved in plans to improve flood control measures in the Wahoo Creek watershed, just southeast of Wahoo. Currently, 10 dam structures are being planned for the area. It’s expected to be a multi-million dollar project, and Olson says the board needs to work on keeping costs down.
The NRDs are limited to a tax levy that accounts for only about 1.5 percent of the total property tax levy, Olson argues. The Wahoo Creek project will need to be paid out over a number of years and aided by federal and state grants.
“I think we get a lot of good out of our tax dollars and it’s a good benefit to cost ratio that we have, and I’d just like to see that continue, that we keep that well under budget and are responsible to the taxpayers,” he said.
Keeping fiscally responsible is important, Olson argues, especially with regard to flood control.
“You want to protect lives and property, but you have to make certain that you use the dollars that are available wisely,” he said. “That’s the balance that we have to make sure we keep.”
On the recreation side, Olson said that the NRD is moving toward a final vote to take over the management of the Lake Wanahoo Recreation Area from Nebraska Game and Parks, who currently manages it. He hopes that change should be made by the summer of 2019, and ensuring that the area is managed effectively is a high priority, he said.
In terms of water quality, Olson stressed the importance of education to help farmers and other residents continue to maintain the best conservation practices.
Bracker is a substitute teacher with Fremont Public Schools and a former full-time elementary school teacher who taught at Linden.
He says that he’s been involved in conservation efforts since at least 1985. A lifetime farmer, he enrolled early on in the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program, where, in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers can agree to remove some land from agricultural production and instead plant species that can improve the environment.
Just this past spring, Bracker said, he planted 55 acres of flowers and other plants that create a friendly environment for pollinators like bees and butterflies—important species whose populations are declining.
“This year, the flowers are just glorious,” he said. “I mean the butterflies and bees and insects all over … with the loss of the bees and the butterflies, this is something that we really needed to do.”
Like Olson, Bracker believes that the NRD’s most important function in the immediate future will be improving flood control measures, particularly with the Wahoo Creek project. The Wahoo Creek area has had issues with flooding for “a long time,” he said.
He said that flood control also ties in deeply to water quality.
“Flood control is a big part of water quality because [then] you don’t have a lot of silt and chemicals, nitrogen flowing into the stream,” he said.
Bracker also praised recent water quality efforts conducted near Shell Creek near Newman Grove, where local community members recently received praise for helping to drastically improve the water quality.
Bracker praised current NRD Board Member Mark Seier for his involvement in an education program that trained students to test water quality. Bracker said he hopes to pursue similar educational efforts, and also believes that the NRD can learn from farmers as well, who he described as “our best resource.”
“I certainly would be wanting to do that and to work with farmers,” he said. “And kind of let them know what’s available.”
Maintaining the improved water quality at Shell Creek will be another priority for Bracker, as will encouraging farming practices that are more conducive for those pollinating species that he’s tried to preserve on his own property.
“We’ve lost a tremendous number of bees, and without bees, nothing happens,” he said.
Bracker said that, as a board member of the NRD, he hopes to expand his reach beyond the confines of Subdistrict one.
“This is a diverse group [of board members],” he said. “Being willing to get to know all the members, communicate with the members to do the jobs that are most needed in the district. Not just for my little part of it. Wherever the greatest need is, that’s what we should do. So I think communication with everybody is important.”