Omaha Council Honors Humane Society CEO, Moves Forward on Trash

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April 27th, 2016

Judy Varner (front, center) stands with staff from Omaha Humane Society. Varner is retiring as the CEO of the Humane Society after 18 years. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

Judy Varner (front, center) stands with staff from Omaha Humane Society. Varner is retiring as the CEO of the Humane Society after 18 years. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

During Tuesday’s Omaha City Council meeting, Council members re-affirmed their commitment to fix the City’s garbage pickup problems.


 Tuesday’s City Council meeting began with Council President Ben Gray reading a proclamation to honor Judy Varner. She’s the CEO of the Nebraska Humane Society and is retiring after 18 years of service.

In her address to the Council, Varner said, “This is the nicest time I’ve spent at this podium, having gotten brawled and ripped apart several times. I am incredibly proud of our relationship with Omaha, incredibly proud of the partnership. You all are very welcoming. You can’t stand it when we come to you with ordinance changes, because you know what it’s going to unleash on you. But you’re always good sports and I just can’t thank you enough for what you all do for the City of Omaha for allowing us to do what we do for the City of Omaha. So thank you very much.”

After pausing briefly so the two dozen or so Humane Society staff in attendance could get their picture taken with the outgoing CEO, Council members returned to the issues at hand.

Tuesday’s agenda included HyVee’s application recommending the Council approve a new manager of the liquor licenses held by the grocery store chains 22 Omaha locations.

The application was laid over the previous week after Councilwoman Aimee Melton used the opportunity to bring attention to the fact the HyVee at 132nd and Dodge Streets has been in violation of the city’s noise ordinance for three years. The problem stems from a large ventilation unit.

With the prospect of losing the liquor licenses looming, HyVee sent John Brown from its corporate office in Des Moines, Iowa. Brown told Council members there is a plan to fix the noise issue, but it’s taken a while to implement because of engineering problems.

“To this point, we have come up with a solution. We’re going to be moving the physical unit that’s making the noise itself over one bay, and we’re going to be building a screen wall as well,” Brown said.

He continued, “It requires us adding joists to the underside of the structure to our roof, the steel for that structure has been ordered and is on schedule. The screen wall has been ordered and is scheduled to be manufactured.”

 Brown was reluctant to give a hard deadline as to when customers living near the Linden Market HyVee can expect to gain relief from the constant noise, but did indicate the project should be wrapped up in the next few months.

Something else that should be completed in a few months is an environmental study examining the City’s system to collect solid waste, yard waste, and recyclable materials.

The City’s contract with Deffenbaugh/Waste Management runs out in 2020. So two weeks ago, the Public Works Department asked Mayor Jean Stothert to add a non-binding resolution to the Council’s agenda, seeking the Council’s support to conduct an environmental study and get a head- start on the bidding process. That resolution was soundly defeated after several Council members said it was too vague, and they didn’t want to commit to something without having all the facts.

The Council voted at the time to lay the resolution over for eight weeks. But Councilwoman Aimee Melton drafted a new, more clearly defined non-binding resolution and presented it to her colleagues who then in turn unanimously passed it on Tuesday.

“I received a couple of emails, and I think the public thought we were waiting til June to even start the process,” Melton said after the meeting had concluded. “So what I did is I listened to what I thought the Mayor’s intentions were, what the Council said—and I thought we were all in agreement—so I just wanted to draft what I heard everybody saying and everybody in agreement with, put it on paper and just get it passed today.”

 Among the items to be studied is whether co-mingling of trash and yard waste might actually be a more environmentally friendly way for Omaha to dispose of waste. Green items like grass clippings and tree limbs produce methane gas while decomposing in landfills. Omaha traps that methane and converts it into electricity.

However, as Councilman Pete Festersen was quick to point out, the amount of energy generated through the collection of methane gas at Omaha’s landfill is only enough to meet a small percentage of the City’s power needs.

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