Gage County will begin celebrating the holiday season next weekend by lighting up more than 30,000 holiday lights on the courthouse.
The lights are turned on nightly through the season, with a special lighting ceremony to kick things off.
This year, the annual lighting ceremony at the courthouse will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19.
Project organizer, J.T. Thornburg, said this year holds a special place in his heart, as it marks 30 years since he started the tradition in 1987.
“It has been fun and I’m glad that I’m doing it,” he said. “Along with me and the community who is fundraising along with me, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been rewarding and the community enjoys it and that’s what it’s all about. We’ll get in the Christmas spirit again."
Festivities will kick off at 5:25 p.m. with caroling by the Homestead Harmonizers, the all-male singing group that performs at the event.
At around 5:55 p.m., a special guest from the North Pole will make an appearance when Santa Claus himself visits the courthouse.
A short time later, at around 6 p.m. more than 30,000 holiday lights will be turned on to illuminate the courthouse grounds.
After the ceremony, Santa will stick around to visit the children and hand out candy.
Before the event, however, the Christ Episcopal Church, located at 524 N. Fifth St., will host a soup supper. The supper will run from 4:30-7 p.m. and will cost $6 for adults, $3 for children and children under 3-years-old eat free.
Thornburg said a lot has changed in the last 30 years of the event. One change is the need for a crane, provided annually by Shawn VanLaningham, to maintain the lights on the building, which stay up year-round.
“Now, we have to use cranes and stuff to get to the roof,” Thornburg said. “Before, we could crawl around on there. When we did it back in 1987 we used rope chairs and stuff like that because there were no cranes then. Since they put a new roof on the courthouse, we have to use cranes so we don’t get on the new shingles. That gets kind of expensive, just getting the cranes up there.”
Thornburg said that it takes around $4,000 to maintain the light project, which depends on donations from the community.
Maintenance has become more manageable after the transition to all LED bulbs a few years ago, which don’t burn out as frequently. Thornburg said the new, brighter bulbs were one of the biggest changes in the last 30 years.
He hopes the event will continue in the years to come, with support from the community.
“I had the idea in 1987 so I came home and talked to my wife,” Thornburg recalled. “I was retiring back then and donated all the equipment and materials. Then, in the second year, I created a fundraiser. The community has been very supportive.
“It’s a good feeling to have it going on for 30 years and I hope it goes on forever.”
Those wishing to help fund the event can make contributions to the Gage County Foundation, c/o Holiday Lights, P.O. Box 205, Beatrice, NE 68310. Donations are tax deductible.
Some concerned citizens are hoping to change the intersection of 19th and Dorsey streets after complaints that the intersection in northeast Beatrice is dangerous.
David Hellige, who lives northeast of Beatrice, presented his concerns to the County Board of Supervisors during the public comments portion of Wednesday’s meeting.
He also presented a petition with 36 signatures from people who would like to see the intersection studied. Seven of those people, Hellige said, told him they’d had close calls at the intersection within the last two weeks.
“It’s a dangerous intersection, especially when you’re coming up Dorsey from the west,” he said. “You can’t see down the roadway because of cars parked along there.
“Cars are sometimes picking up speed as they’re going out of town and you have to edge out to see around the corner and then somebody comes and wants to turn that corner sharp.”
Hellige asked the county to look into ways of making the intersection safer. Some ideas discussed included making the intersection a four-way stop, reducing the speed limit and reducing parking on 19th Street, though it was acknowledged there aren’t many parking options for residents on the street as it is.
Part of the discussion Wednesday concerned who has the authority to make changes at the intersection, since it involves city streets and county roads on the border of town.
“We really need to get a hold of the city and start visiting with them because it is a city street coming from the west and from the south,” said County Board Chairman Myron Dorn. “It’s a county gravel road coming from the east and a county paved road coming from the north… I know we need to visit with the city and get a better understanding of who has control or the say of what happens at that corner. That’s what we need to visit with them about.”
According to the police department’s 2016 annual report, there were no reported crashes at the intersection last year.
As discussions progress, Hellige said there are several people who travel the intersection and would like to see changes made.
“I think you’ve got quite a few people interested in something happening there beside an accident,” he said.
Viaero Wireless will be able to make use of a cell tower north of Beatrice after the Gage County Board of Supervisors approved a special use permit for the project this week.
The special use permit is for a cell tower northwest of Beatrice near 103rd and Hickory roads.
Mark Harms of Viaero said the project would consist of outfitting the existing tower with new equipment as part of an ongoing effort to expand coverage in southeast Nebraska.
“Two years ago, we had the opportunity to buy the spectrum and get the licensing to come into southeast Nebraska and start providing service to this area of the state,” he said. “With that, we’ve been working on putting together a tower system.”
The company has an agreement to add cellphone equipment at more than 20 sites, most in Nebraska, but some in Colorado and Wyoming.
Because the land the tower is on will be separated into different parcels, it would no longer be grandfathered into the area and would no longer meet setback requirements. This prompted the Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission to recommend that the permit be denied when the commission discussed it last month.
The tower, which stands at just over 200 feet tall, would have setbacks of more than 400 feet, or double its height. It was built in 1982, before the zoning regulations were in place.
The County Board approved the permit 5-1, with board member John Hill voting in opposition and Matt Bauman absent.
The board discussed the permitting process, and said cases like this should go before the County Variance Board for consideration.
County Board member Erich Tiemann stressed that project had been held up long enough and said current practices can hold up business.
“Nothing changes, all we’re dealing with is a slight technicality here,” Tiemann said. “If this was a new tower going in on a piece of bare ground, I think there would be more conversation here. Maybe we’d make something fit into our current regulations or even negotiate those in some.”
The permit application was submitted in August, but Tiemann said talks of the project began in January and the process has been a slow one, considering nothing but the equipment on the tower and a maintenance building would change.
Board Chairman Myron Dorn agreed, and said the permit should be approved.
“If they would not be splitting the ground, this would not even be here for a special use permit,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why… it shouldn’t be passed. I think we could save a step, which sometimes government doesn’t do.”