John Neuberger

Position Held: Manager, Papio Watershed Advisory Board, 1960s; Chair, Missouri River Basin Commission, 1973 - 1977; Director, Department of Water Resources, 1978 - 1983; Head of Policy Research and Energy, Gov. Kay Orr, 1987 - 1991

Interviewer: Jim Barr

Associated NRDs:

Papio Missouri River


MR. BARR: This is August 28th, Jim Barr interviewing John Neuberger in Lincoln. And, John, do you want to give a little bit of your background just as kind of a summary, overview?

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah. I was born and raised on a farm in South Dakota between Canistota and Montrose, South Dakota, McCook County, and went all four years of high school at Canistota High School, and followed in my brother's footsteps and went to college at Brookings, South Dakota, South Dakota State College then, now it's State University. And with his encouragement, I hung in there and made it through the first year and then stayed and was in a little athletics, played a little basketball and track, and was in an ROTC program there, and then was able to get my -- when I graduated with my bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering, I was able to get my commission as a second lieutenant. Back then, you had to serve in some active duty time, so I was expecting to go right out of college when I graduated into active duty. Well, about five months before I graduated, I get orders that tell me that it's going to be six months after I graduated before I was supposed to show up at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, so now I've got to find a job for six months. So I got busy and applied for a couple government jobs and found a job out in Casper, Wyoming with U.S. Geological Survey. They needed what they called a hydrographer, basically, a stream gager. And they were probably one of the nicest assignments you could draw, because I had the northwest corner of Wyoming, Yellowstone Park, to gage the streams at Yellowstone. Can you imagine that? And I could stay out overnight and take my fly rod along. I had to be very careful, because I tried to find a friend or somebody to take me out fishing rather than to use a government vehicle, because you can get in a little trouble with some rancher or taxpayer seeing a government employee fishing with a government vehicle, even if it's after work hours. They're going to assume something's up here. So I was conscious of that problem and most of the time was able to get someone to take me around to their favorite fishing spot. But combining that job with the -- your hobby of fishing was a pretty neat career for just six months. And then I had to go into active duty for six months. I went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. And I was in the Army Artillery and had to learn how to fire a 105 Howitzers out ahead of the battle line, you know. And the war observer, of course, would be ahead of the battle line. So you're not in very good shape when the enemy is trying to -- so I learned that and I was here praying that I wouldn't ever have to go into active duty and it worked out that I didn't. I ended up coming out of that right in between Korea and Vietnam era. It'd have been, I guess, after the Korean War, before the Korean War. And from there, I took a job with the Agricultural Research Service, Newell, South Dakota, in the Dryland Irrigation Station out there. They needed an engineer to help run some of the research being done on their range land watersheds. And so I went up there and spent three years helping USDA scientists that were stationed there and the head guy was then stationed in Denver. But it was a good experience, because it's a dry part of the country. And we were trying to figure out just what the runoff relationships were on the various soils. They had some heavy clay soils up there and then they have some sandy soil. And we were able to show over about three or four years of data that, hey, when you design culverts and things, with that sandy soil, you don't need them as big as you do on the clay soil watersheds, because you can get a whole lot more water to deal with. And so that probably saved a little money for the county and state engineers that were designing and redesigning bridges and waterways. From there, applied for a job down here at Lincoln at the University of Nebraska Extension Service, and went to work with Paul Fishback (phonetic) and Dion Axtelm (phonetic) at the Ag Engineering Department there under -- it was an Extension Service job, so it was like, kind of a federal job, you know, with the ASCS to -- not ASCS, ARS, Agricultural Research Service, to Extension Service. It was kind of a lateral transfer. There I pretty much worked on minimum tillage. It was a new development then, and equipment was just being developed by Buffalo. And we were quite interested in getting that so farmers could understand it and learn how to operate in a trashy field, because the -- as row crop agriculture had been handed down from generation to generation, having a nice black field out there in the spring was sort of the goal. And when we found out that, hey, the spring rains are going to tear that stuff up and wash it away for you, and if you could live with keeping the trash on the surface and operate and handle the weed problem, you're going to hold the soil in place, save a lot of moisture, and now, with the price of fuel, save on a lot of operating costs, because you don't have near as many -- they used to disk it, drag it, you know, maybe disk it again, and then drag it again, and then they plant. And at about three or four operations, then they had a planting. And so that was a good experience to be kind of out front of an innovative practice that was not too well accepted at first. I can remember a good friend, Lloyd Sierk (phonetic), over in Omaha, west edge of Omaha, where the city grew out over his farm, minimum tillaged popcorn there for ten years before I met him. And he was a lone guy in that whole county, you know, and he'd look out over his popcorn when it was -- after it was planted, you know, and see the trash, and it had a lot of farmer pressure put on that, and I can kind of remember holding meetings over there, then, to try to educate the farmers with the County Extension Office setting up the meetings and trying to show them a few slides and a few overheads and get them acquainted how this could be done. And when I'd ask who's tried this, you know, there'd be about two guys in a room of 50 farmers that would admit that they'd tried minimum tillage back then in the '60s. And then you'd get a lot of opposition, people who just outright telling you it isn't going to work, you know, and that they weren't going to try it, and to go on back to the University. So the first meetings we had on some of that stuff were hard to handle and some of the farmers were very resistant. So, from the University, then, in 1964, there was this terrific flood in Omaha in June, and just kind of started at the north end of the watershed and went down towards Sarpy County and just rained all the way down and I think they had measurements over seven, eight inches there, a couple hours. And there were seven, I think, lives lost, and over five million dollars worth of damage from that one flood, which prompted the state -- the governor and the state natural resource agencies to get involved. And they formed a steering committee made up of members of both -- all three counties and all three soil conservation districts. You had Sarpy in the lower end, and Douglas in the middle, and Washington on the upper end. And that steering committee was -- Warren Fairchild was appointed the coordinator of it, initially, and they'd met a number of times trying to get federal government agencies there and to find out what they could offer. And then they did get commitments out of the Corps and SCS to do studies and problems. The flood was also big, but the erosion control and just the channel erosion was also a huge problem. And we found out later that another problem that stuck up pretty big was the trash that a flood would bring in to the waterways and plug the bridges. And it added tremendous to the depth of flooding on the land and as well as the damage to the roads and bridges. And so that was another problem, just waste disposal between the three counties as being handled. The City of Omaha was sort of handling theirs, but the county waste disposal was nonexistent to actually people bootlegging it down along and dumping it in the creek. And once we flew over and got pictures of the trash built up on these bridges that crossed the Papio, both the Little and the Big Papio and showed -- had the evidence, hey, look what's happening here, the counties got with it and began to get serious about planning for waste disposal. And Sarpy County ended up getting a grant from EPA. I don't suppose it was called EPA then. It was predecessor of EPA. And they got some help, then, to do the first gully landfill in which they actually built a structure with a drop structure for the water, and then get land filled in behind it, and healed up some huge gullies that had developed in the land in the Lower Papio, the county, and those land owners, of course, were all a part of that. And gave easements and end up with improved land. Most of it was then pretty much suitable once a waterway, grass waterway was built back through it, most of that, then, was suitable -- they gained several acres of farmland to their farm. So those were pretty easy to get done. But, if the county had to take some leadership and then the watershed office provided some of the staff support to get that done. So those years, matter of fact, I do have what's called a Case History of Citizen Action that I can leave with you. It looks like it was something I prepared for a League of Women Voters Educational Fund Seminar on the Lower Missouri Basin, Water and Land for Tomorrow, November 15, 1967. And it describes not only the watershed, but what I found interesting to review is I've listed all of the history of the Watershed Advisory Board by date. And it goes back to '63 before I was ever involved as a manager, which was a year later. Why that shows some of the key actions, and then it goes on up through 1967, and it tells what the state and local actions were to get a plan approved for flood control and (indiscernible). Apparently, it was in a file I found. You're welcome to have that summary.

MR. BARR: Okay, well, that'd be great.

MR. NEUBERGER: And here's a map of the watershed, and pretty much the one we had to use, because a lot of our efforts at first were just educating the population and the civic groups in the area, tried to build good will between the three counties, because there was obviously a feeling of this that we shouldn't sacrifice. So, their problem, you know, the attitude based, is they go, well, if they wouldn't have built in the way, yeah, we wouldn't be --

MR. BARR: Some of that still exists today.

MR. NEUBERGER: Oh, yeah. I mean, that didn't -- we didn't solve 100 percent, but I think we got the county boards and the leaders to understand they've got to do this together. And there's individual (indiscernible) who's obviously -- and there's a good little story right here on this Irvington site. One of the board members of the Douglas Soil and Conservation District, the name is Bob Botker (phonetic). Bob was on the Soil Conservation Board and appointed to the steering committee originally, I believe, and I got to meet him right away. And Bob and I hit it off pretty good, and particularly Bob's wife and my wife really hit it off well, and so they had three girls and I had three boys, so we did a lot of things together on weekends. And their farm was right on this highway here, is that Highway 32 or Highway 6 or something. Yeah, 36, Highway 36 goes through here. Well, their farm was just off of the West Little Papio here, and of course, is going to be gobbled up with that site. So, here one of my good friends is going to have to -- this plan got approved and moved forward, he's going to have to sell a good deal of that farm, all the farmable -- good farmable land. Maybe a corner of the hills or something he wouldn't, but to the Corps to build that site. And, of course, that's ended up what happened and then they bought a farm with that money up in Washington County and moved. And we're still friends today. But there was a lot of things like that where farmers were displaced, but in some cases, having the money to go do something else was a blessing. In other cases, it did upset along -- like, his dad owned that farm, you know, for his lifetime, and so it was an inheritance and stuff, so you got to feel, and just talking with him and knowing him, you got to feel for these people. And probably had more empathy for him and could go out and -- because I was the one that'd be out talking to these groups and meetings and stuff, and I had to look them in the eye and try to convince them that, you know, we're trying to do something here that's going to provide. And then you can see several of these were built. The one at Irvington was built and is quite a recreation site, not only providing flood control down this Little Papio, but now developed by water recreation site, fishery, so on. So that plan eventually didn't all get approved. There was opposition to it, and some of that opposition got to some of the leaders in the Douglas County Board and others, and so some of it didn't get built. Now, piece by piece, the Papio NRD now, which I would consider the Watershed Advisory Board here as kind of the forerunner of the NRD. And with everything that it was doing then got rolled into the NRD when it was formed and established. And I always felt that what we were doing here to get these three counties working together was really just a model of what the NRD laws turned out to be. And it was all tied together by this hydrologic unit that really -- somewhere in this paper, it talked about the miles of straightening that had gone on in that over the years. I think the numbers are in here accurately in this paper that talks about the flood. But somewhere in there I saw some of these numbers of how many miles they shortened -- they formed drainage districts. At one time, there were four drainage districts. Most of them were in Sarpy County. One was in Douglas County. And between 1908 and 1928, at least four drainage districts were organized along the meandering Papio channels, the Little, Big, and the West Branch. These earlier flood control plans were primarily limited to channel straightening, relocation, or diking. In the aggregate, succeeded in shortening the 96 miles of natural channel to 59. So, you can see a drop of water, at one time had to go 96 miles to get into the Missouri River. After all that kind of work, 59 miles. And that time of concentration was really sort of the problem is that all that had just built up and all the concrete and the roads and the rooftops and everything up above it, it just pushed water down to the lower western end of Douglas County and then all through Sarpy County, and the channel would just -- I think there were several times a three-inch rain put it out of its banks. And so we were able to document that and as people saw what had gone on and that, hey, you just can't continue that way. And eventually, I think the majority bought in to the reservoirs and the bank stabilization. But you're welcome to have this case history.

MR. BARR: Thank you.

MR. NEUBERGER: I don't know that it got publicized very much. I just happened to have it in the files that I was cleaning out and I said, well, I'll bring that along to Jim.

MR. BARR: Thank you. The organization, how was it administered and funded and that sort of thing?

MR. NEUBERGER: Now, when the advisory board, the Papio Watershed Board, was set up, the three counties shared in the operations of it. So it was county board funded. And we looked for free help wherever we could find it, and did get quite a bit of free help from the State and from soil conservation districts. Soil conservation districts at that time didn't have much of an operating budget. The Sarpy County was one that did have some income, and they did -- some of it was repairing the channels. They had a bulldozer and different things, so they had a way of raising some money. Douglas County, I don't think had any way of raising much of anything, and neither did Washington County. And, of course, that's one of the limitations of soil conservation districts at that time is that they basically didn't have authority for raising any funds. They didn't have taxing authority. And some of them were doing some renting of tax grass seeding equipment, renting of tree planting equipment, and, you know, had a token amount of money, but it would barely, you know, replenish the coffee pot for a year. So a part of the Watershed Advisory Board was to having the counties to use the county taxing authority to fund the Watershed Advisory Board. Now, that in itself was working because of the crisis that they were dealing with. They were -- it was given high priority by them, but at the same time, there was always politics played with that when we'd submit our budget. There seemed to be a lot of nit-picking going on over a small amount of money that we were asking for, and so generally, I was having to use my board members with the county commissioners. Mark Gratier (phonetic) was one of the strong guys for Douglas County that helped us. You'll see here, the guys are listed by -- Mark Gratier, Bob Botker, and Dan Lynch would be Douglas County's members to it. Sarpy County's would have been Milt Fricke, Harold Jennings (phonetic), and Dale Carter (phonetic). And Washington County had Fred Hansen (phonetic), Leslie French (phonetic), and Loren Biffer (phonetic). That would have been in about 1967, and, of course, did change over time. But when the NRDs were formed, of course, they held elections and some of these same people ran for those jobs and were reelected. Milt Fricke, I know did and one of the -- but I remember Mark, they did a little story about his involvement. Now, this is the news director at Channel 3, KMTV. I don't know if you ever got to know Mark --

MR. BARR: No, I did not.

MR. NEUBERGER: -- but a talented news director. I sat up there watching him do his job a few times as I was trying to get a few things -- brief him on a few things or something, and I just, man, news directors are -- back then it was teletypes running and phones ringing, and it was like a zoo to me. You know, I was running an office with two employees, I think, one a secretary, a pretty quiet deal. We didn't make any noise. It was quiet. But Mark's environment was something else. Yet, he was willing to be Douglas County's member on this and served very well, and helped me a tremendous amount with Douglas County political shenanigans, I'd call them. You got to learn to live with politics, but I came into the job without much experience at it. And so, boy, I'm indebted to Mark and, well, Milt Fricke, too, in Sarpy County, and some of these guys that helped me in the counties, because trying to broker something like this in three political settings was asking a lot, plus, without help, it wouldn't have been possible. I just know an individual could not have done it without these men wanting to -- believing in what we were trying to do and wanting to help. And when I laid out my problem of what we needed to do, we got to get this budget through, and here's what's happened from what I know, they -- Mark had some phone conversations with the chairman of the Douglas County Board and, boy, next thing, moved. Because I was right up against it, like a -- “Mark, I've done everything I can do. These guys are intentionally trying to disrupt things so that I'll leave and they can put their guy in here.” I said, “I understand what is going to happen here. And if that happens, I'll move on and find something else.” I mean, I wasn't going to do anything desperate or crooked or anything to save my job there, yet, that's how it was, and I laid it out. And Mark had it turned around.

MR. BARR: What were some of the things you accomplished in the terms of projects or programs?

MR. NEUBERGER: Well, the Corps of Engineers plan for flood control was approved by Congress and funded.

MR. BARR: Do you have the date there roughly?

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, I think that's all in here.

MR. BARR: Okay.

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah. See, there was a bill signed here in 1965 that amended the Flood Control Act to give a quarter of a mill -- half a mill levy authorized for the County Reserve Fund. So that's how we then got the counties to use that to raise the funds for the operation of the Watershed Advisory Board. There was 52 gully control dams in SCS's plan. That was approved and I'd say the majority of those got built. I'm sure not all of them, because some of them got taken up by urban development. We'd have a plan for one there, and many times the developer for the housing development would put it right into his plan. That's how it got built. It may not look the way it was intended -- SCS intended it, but it's worked into their plans, so a number of those gully control structures were built closer to the city of Omaha by -- then, I think, you know, not only the facilities, but the communications. As you look through here, an awful lot of things talk about newsletters, newsletters, newsletters. Just the communication effort we had to put out, meeting with the media. Second newsletter. None of this was communicated as a watershed before. It was just news of the problem. News of the amount of flooding, somebody getting their basements filled with water and stuff. And that's what the public was hearing. And so finally, through the Watershed Advisory Board, we were able to get kind of on top of the communications and media relations, and we accomplished -- worked pretty hard there for about three or four years. I hadn't thought about it until I kind of reviewed this and then said, man, you know, we didn't have much help to do all this. Nowadays, I see -- we didn't have many programs, either. You know, you look at all the programs NRDs have now, they need -- I'm not trying to compare then with now other than, I think, man, we were really slim.

MR. BARR: Then that advisory board was merged into the NRD in 1972 or whenever it was. I think it was --

MR. NEUBERGER: Yes, I'd say it was -- I don't have that date on this --

MR. BARR: I think it was July '72 was the official --

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, I think we went right on time with the --

MR. BARR: And you would have had some of your board members would have --

MR. NEUBERGER: Ran and became -- there was a continuity there, because both in Washington, Sarpy, and Douglas, we had somebody that was willing to be on that board.

MR. BARR: I remember Milt Fricke, particularly was --

MR. NEUBERGER: I think Dale Harter (phonetic) was one from Washington -- from down there also. Bob Botker, then, from Douglas. And I can't remember who in Washington County might have. I don't think it was any of these three, so I don't know that any of those three ran for the Board, but --

MR. BARR: Do you have any observations on how the merger went about and how it worked out? Any problems and --

MR. NEUBERGER: I think an advisory board approach to that was a good way to do it, where each county named three people, like that. And then you evolved to the elected board. I think that worked very well.

MR. BARR: Was there anything else besides the -- what was involved in the Watershed Board added to it to make the Papio NRD? I was trying to remember. That wasn't quite the same boundary, was it, exactly?

MR. NEUBERGER: Well, no. It was the whole county. The NRD went to the -- see, this would have been -- you know, each county was involved, but this was focused on the land. But I guess, when the county levied, it was taking money from the whole county. So it wasn't -- we never defined the boundary of the watershed. When the county levied, it just levied -- but they weren't, you know, the budgets were pretty small, because we weren't using a lot of money to do -- at that time, physical structures or anything, you know, or flood control or erosion control. We were just running an office and just trying to -- were pretty much like an extension office, educating, information, and then managing and providing the materials that the Board needed to function. And the Board, you know, Milt was very involved with Warren in the, what you'd call education and lobbying for the bill. And then using the experience here, and testimony. I remember I went down and testified before a committee once as a manager of this. And basically, the points of showing that these things are related across county boundaries, and to deal with them on a county by multiple-county basis is needed.

MR. BARR: Do you remember some of the state senators that were involved in that? Particularly, in the area you were involved with?

MR. NEUBERGER: Maurice Kremer, of course, was one of our leaders. And then, of course, I suppose the records would show who was on the Public Works Committee at that time.

MR. BARR: Do you remember whether the urban legislators were particularly interested in it or opposed or in favor or anything stick out in your memory on that? I don't remember much about --

MR. NEUBERGER: No, I don't know, other than after a few years, after the plan was approved, Dan Lynch was in the State Legislature and he sort of led an effort on behalf of landowners up here to try to get some of the sites de-authorized for them. And I was out of the picture then, had moved on from the Papio Watershed Board to a job with Department of Interior in Washington.

MR. BARR: Yeah, that's part of your background. Do you want to go ahead and talk a little about how you went on after the --

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, because of my work on the watershed, I became friends and acquainted with Jim Smith, who at that time, was working for Missouri River Basin Association, as their executive director or executive secretary or some position like that. And got to know Jim and he was selected to be an Assistant Secretary of Interior over water and power. And when I ran into him one time, he wanted to know if I'd be interested in coming back and helping him. This, I guess, is about five or six years after I was on this job and I talked to my wife and kind of hemmed and hawed around, because that's a big -- three kids in schools in Omaha and the thought of moving to Washington, D.C. was kind of flattering, but at the same time, just not all that appealing. And then they offered to bring us back there and show us around. So we thought, “Well, that makes sense. Hey, let's see what we could get into.” And you may have heard of an individual by the name of Jim Watt.

MR. BARR: Oh, sure.

MR. NEUBERGER: Jim was the Assistant Secretary then for Jim Smith in Interior, and Jim was the one then was kind of given the job to get me back there. And so, I was working with Jim, and Jim and his staff there showed us around, and we looked around, and, you know, “This is doable. We could do this.” So we made the decision to go back. And my first assignment there was coordinator of project reviews. Now, we've just taken over from the previous administration, and those are political appointed jobs, and so I was to be the coordinator for Department of Interior's, like, CORE, and the SCS, and Federal Power Administration Projects, come to the Interior and somebody's got to ram them through the agencies and pull together a letter for the secretary to write. So that was my job. And I thought that sounded fun.
But the keys were broke off in the locks by the outgoing person. So I show up and I can't get into any of the files. Okay, now how do you get a hold of somebody that knows how to get these things -- take these things apart? Well, it took about two or three days and we got somebody up there and finally get into the files and find out what's pending and what's hanging loose. By then, the phone's ringing off the hook from congressmen, their pet project. “Well, where's your secretary's review?” I don't know how they found out so soon I was in charge of that, but, man, you get a congressman calling you directly, a senator, you know. Jennings Randolph from West Virginia on the phone, and he's got this project in Wheeling, Virginia, and we're sitting on it. “Oh, I'll check that right out for you.” I'll find out if he's trying to build an SCS dam over an abandoned coal mine. And here you got the senior senator wanting this thing done. And now you got to sit down and explain that, hey, (indiscernible) getting it moved, at least something got done there, but we didn't build it over an abandoned coal mine. So, you know, of course, Geological Survey had to sign off on this thing, and the coordinator for Interior, like that, has got about 15 agencies. USGS, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Reclamation, you go on, Parks, National Park Service. I guess there isn't 15, maybe about a dozen now. And so these comments would come in, and, of course, many of them didn't agree, and now you've got to have a meeting to just find who you're going to -- and so that letter that got prepared then, drafted, went to Jim Watt to sign off and then it'd got to the Secretary of Interior. That's how it went, from me, Jim, Secretary. So you're preparing letters that were going out over Secretary of Interior's signature and that job. And so I felt the pressure of that, and I worked some long hours trying to get some of those things done and resolved, because he felt the pressure and it's an important role. Most people would never realize that all goes on, but that's the bureaucracy that's got to be managed. And Jim had a great -- Jim Watt taught me a lot, because he knew how to do that. And I tell you, right now, it looks like we don't have a lot of skilled appointees in federal government that know how to manage the bureaucracy. And it just scares the dickens out of me to think how the bureaucracy that loves this administration that's doling out the money and after being there and knowing how Jim Watt, Jim Smith, and the other guy that I know, I observed Vice-President Cheney knew how to run the bureaucracy, to manage it. And, you know, and he was firm and right on, and yet, (indiscernible) run away or just ignore them and not get their way. So that was a good experience in Interior. Then after about a year of that job, I was given a chance to be an assistant secretary in Water and Power for Jim, so then there were two of us. And that responsibility gave me more responsibility over the power marketing agencies in our country, federal power marketing agencies. At the time there were three. I'm not sure what they are today. Southwest and Bonneville and Alaska. And from there, Missouri River, I went to -- of course, the administration changed. Well, from there we formed the Missouri River Basin Commission. That's quite a story, because here, Jim Smith had been a part of the Missouri River Basin Association. And when they were working on the federal legislation to form river basin commissions, you know, he was very instrumental in that and interested in that, because he knew something about it and he knew a lot of the players and their states, and so I was carrying for him to the secretary, from the secretary to the White House, the material that formed the six river basin commissions. And that night I talked to Arlyce. She said -- I said, “You know, that one in Missouri is going to end up being in Omaha. I think I could do that. What do you think?” Boy, she jumped right on that, because she wanted to get back.

MR. BARR: Sure.

MR. NEUBERGER: And I said, “You know, I wonder how I'd go about this.” So, actually, I talked to Jim Watt and said, “Hey, Jim, you know, I think I'd like to put my name in. What would you think?” “Well, talk to the boss.” So I went and talked to Jim, he said, “Yeah, you'd be good at that. Go ahead. I'll help you. Let me know.” Well, what I had to do then, is go out and get my support. And so, Hruska and Curtis were easy. They knew me. They'd like to have a Nebraska guy head that. And then Milt -- in North Dakota, Milt -- Hansen, Larson, Milt somebody. Anyway, he did whatever the Nebraska guys wanted, pretty much, and so got him. Anyway, lo and behold, there apparently wasn't much other competition. You know, I don't know, because for a presidential appointment, coming from a guy that had held jobs that I've held, isn't too likely that's going to happen. Usually it's some higher up contributor type of person, you know. I was registered with the right party, but I was not what you'd call a huge contributor. I just wanted to see if I could do that job and I knew the area and it helped me get back to the Midwest. And that worked out. And much surprise. And so then I spent about five years, '73 to '77, setting that up, and our whole effort was to come up with a comprehensive plan for water use on the Missouri River. And that was a similar challenge to the three-county problem in that you got states with different interests and different people and just a bigger river basin and busier people, governors and their water resource people. We'd meet quarterly, and I was in charge of getting those set. And the governors appointed their members. There was some rotation every once in a while, and I had to have a good relationship with, generally, governors' staffs. You know how governors are. Once you get -- if you can get the attention of their staff, get acquainted with them, and that -- so kind of the way I operated is try to be on a first name basis with each of their staff and keep up with the changes. So the Missouri River Basin Commission was only about a five-year assignment, but from there, since that was a political appointment, when the administration in Washington changed there in '78, I was replaced and given a chance by Governor Exon then to go to the Department of Water Resources as the director. And came down to Lincoln to do that. And then, from there, after I was there for about four or five years, another opportunity opened up to me in Northern Plains Natural Gas Company to go over and help them with the public affairs to build a natural gas pipeline down from Canada through North Dakota, South Dakota, and into a little bit of Minnesota, into Iowa, called the Northern Border Pipeline. So I spent, then, six years there with a team of really aggressive, motivated, focused people to build a pipeline. And I handled the government relations with the states we went through and the federal government. Matter of fact, the federal government on that project, and I don't know if it's the same way on this XL thing that they're talking about, but there's a federal agency that got created to oversee the Northern Border Pipeline. And I had about 15-20 people back in Washington with a director and everything. And that was basically to make sure the federal rules -- it was an international pipeline and interstate. So, there's a federal role.

MR. BARR: Same -- similar anyhow.

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, and we did a lot of things on behalf of the federal inspector, we called him, federal inspector and his staff. And I had lobbyists in Washington. I had lobbyists in three of the five states, hired lobbyists. They weren't on our staff, but they were contracted people. What happens to a pipeline is you get going and then get some landowners opposing it hire lawyers and then you got all your lawsuits. You've got them going to the legislatures and trying to get laws passed that would, in effect, cause you to go bankrupt. Generally, along the line, you got to build it eight feet deep or you got to bury it eight feet deep instead of three and a half or four or whatever the plan was. Well, if you buried it twice as deep as what you're planning, you can't make it go. So most of those efforts, you got to resist. And you got to explain to the legislature how something gets done backhandedly, and they stop your pipeline project. So, we had that going on in Iowa and I think North Dakota. And so we had to -- we were busy with the legislatures in both states there about -- let's see, I was there five years, six years, so I suppose, you know, five or six year sessions, why, there was legislation introduced by some group. So, from there, when that project was about completed, Northern Plains was a company that was formed to do that job. And I could see that -- we attempted to get another pipeline going and I would have probably stayed on with that. That would have been a (indiscernible) pipeline. Of course, that (indiscernible) would stop that. So seeing that that wasn't going to go anywhere, I decided to help Kay Orr. And that led to her asking me to be her Policy Research person, Policy Research and Energy they called it at that time. And then from there, I went back to the USDA. You probably remember this, when we met one time talking about what that job's really about.


Because I'd gotten a call from Joe Western (phonetic) saying, hey, his boss thought I ought to be considered. “Oh, really?” Well, so I went up to Kay Orr and I said, “Kay, what do you think if I let my name go in there?” “Sure, go ahead.” Well, I started -- I said, “Well, I better find out a little more what's going on underneath the headline,” because some of the stuff that I was reading and hearing was a little disturbing. And so, you were a big help in knowing that some of that could be overcome and some of it was brought on by the former director and so on. So, getting a little comfortable with that, I did agree to let that -- my name go forward. And then I think Doug and Virginia and somebody else, we had a little meeting out -- somewhere out state and interviewed me. Well, Virginia, Doug -- I'm trying to think who the other one was. But anyway --

MR. BARR: Would Karnes (phonetic) have been there then?

MR. NEUBERGER: Karnes was there, but I think -- but anyway, I met with the three of our elected officials to let them know that I was willing to try to take that on, and so Virginia was sticking her neck out a long way there. But anyway, that led to five years at ASCS, state director. And then from there I went to ENRON in Omaha. And after that, I -- let's see, I think that pretty well covers it all. Noteworthy accomplishments, 39 years, I held 14 different jobs, so that doesn't sound like I was very stable, Jim.


I hate to put this on the record, but in most of those cases, as you heard, I really didn't look for those jobs. I kind of run into them. I was in the right spot at the right time or knew the right people. And I guess, that is not a bad way in life, in a career, is just do your job to make your boss look good and then he's going to talk about you to other people and then when they got something, they're going to want to talk to you. And that's kind of the way that whole thing worked out. In all those cases, only one that I really went out and had to seek the job. And other than that, everything there is just about the way it worked is that if you do your job, and your boss likes you, and you're making your boss look good, he'll put in a good word for you around his network, and pretty soon, someone in his network's got a better job for you. And you can take a look at it. It's a kind of crazy patchwork career, but it was a challenge. I have to admit there were a few times in there, I wasn't sure I was -- and Arlyce, I've got a thought down here, she's moved to 12 different cities. So packing and unpacking 14 times in 34 years.

MR. BARR: Did you manage to lose some of the excess stuff in that process?


MR. BARR: Being in the opposite thing there, being in the same place a long time, it's really accumulated.

MR. NEUBERGER: Well, that's kind of a long-winded summary of my experience and my career and it's been --

MR. BARR: One thing I might ask you about, as I recall on interviewing other people that there were at least a couple people that ended up being NRD managers and employees that had worked with you at one point back in the Papio --

MR. NEUBERGER: Yes, they did. We were training, yeah, without knowing it, some future NRD managers, Steve Oltman, hired him -- I believe Steve had a job with one of the soil conservation districts, though, that must have had some -- enough funds to have an employee. There weren't too many of them. But I believe he did. And I hired him to come down and go to work for the Papio Advisory Board before it was an NRD. Dick Berans then was hired, and that was kind of a part of the money we got through the Health and Human Services, I think was the agency then that gave Sarpy County a grant. And then we had some funds in which we needed another employee to help Sarpy County. So, Dick Berans was hired to help Sarpy County with that land fill, gully land fill demonstration and a few other things related to the pollution problem, the trash and the trees and the stuff that we were trying to deal with to get out of those channels because of every -- I'm trying to think. Jerry Wehrspann came out of Iowa, so I don't think Jerry, he ended up becoming a manager there, but Jerry, of course, is deceased now. And there was one of the lakes that's named Wehrspann Lake after Jerry.

MR. BARR: Oh, sure. That's right.

MR. NEUBERGER: So he became, I think, maybe was the first NRD manager, if I have that right. And then, of course, Steve, I think, went to another NRD and then came back to Papio.

MR. BARR: Right.

MR. NEUBERGER: Berans went out somewhere out west there, around --

MR. BARR: Lower Loup.

MR. NEUBERGER: Lower Loup?

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, those guys got some good training right in the thick of things.

MR. BARR: They were kind of NRD prior to the NRDs to some extent.

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, they were in training and didn't realize what it was all going to lead to, but they were needed and that was a good way to get some good talent prepared to handle a board.

MR. BARR: Looking back at the time -- about the time you were involved in the formation of the Papio to how the NRDs took over and then how they've operated since, do you have any thoughts about how this has evolved and any comparison to how people might have thought it might, or if it was the same or different or --

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, I keep up kind of with the Papio NRD and then here the Lower Platte South. I get their -- I'm on their mailing list. I get their newsletters and stuff. So, those are the only two that I really feel I know kind of what's going on. And, of course, I know this territory real well and so I probably spend more time realizing what they're doing. But I think they -- the early criticism was that they're really farmland oriented and erosion control and stuff. And I think they're dealing with that and that they're doing more for urban people, the trail programs, and the cooperation projects with the city, and the publicity that they're getting. And I think they have, what, nine members now on the Papio? I think nine elected members. And I guess that -- the membership issue is really about the same as what we had on the Advisory Board as far as numbers, I think. There isn't too much difference there. But there is -- so I see them as evolving to meet the need of where the tax base is coming from, which basically, was one of the early resistances to doing this type of thing is that, well, we want the money to, you know, get more --

MR. BARR: You think that one man, one vote, did that start or did that happen later, and did that have an effect on how they operated? I can't remember. I know a lot of them went -- weren't one man, one vote to begin with. I don't remember about the Papio, whether that was -- that was always an issue there early in the years and --

MR. NEUBERGER: Nothing sticks in my mind other than I think the memberships -- the one man, one vote, I remember something about that, but I just can't remember how it was handled (indiscernible).

MR. BARR: One of the questions that's come up in this project has been, a lot of people have thought it's worked pretty well in Nebraska and they've wondered if it might be adopted elsewhere and it hasn't been to date. Do you have any thoughts on why it might have happened here in Nebraska and what were some of the key things that allowed it to happen here in Nebraska?

MR. NEUBERGER: Well, I think Warren Fairchild's leadership and the Natural Resource Commissions, him getting them behind it. And then kind of without planning it, a flood demonstrated the need for a hydrologic approach, which, when you say that, you're talking about crossing county lines, because hydrology doesn't -- county lines weren't built very much on hydrology. There might be a few cases where they were, but by and large, county lines cut across. And so I think this experience gave the heavy populated part of the state impetus to see that we're already basically trying to do it, kind of cobbled together a lot of things to do it, and yet we needed some taxing base and might as well include the whole counties.

MR. BARR: That flooding seems to have affected one of your other jobs, too, because some of the Missouri River projects probably evolved out of the earlier floods in that basin.

MR. NEUBERGER: Wasn't two years ago something there, 2011? I got a picture of Gavins. I went up to see my brother up in South Dakota and I went across Gavins in July, I guess, 30th or something like that. 60,000, what was it, coming out of there?

MR. BARR: Yeah, a record amount, whatever it was.

MR. NEUBERGER: I got a picture of that from the -- wow. Who would ever have thought -- it just set a whole new point. I mean, nothing has ever been near that in the history of recording. Yeah, that was a terrible amount of water, and a good thing they had some way to regulate some of that, or there'd have been a huge mess. It was a bad mess, and -- Eppley Airport, and the whole airport would have been under water if it wouldn't have been for the regulation. I guess it was fairly close anyway, because water was boiling -- I guess they were having trouble --

MR. BARR: And I guess the groundwater was coming up and raising the -- from below. Well, I don't have anything else in specific, but if there's any other observations you'd like to offer, just give you a chance to do it.

MR. NEUBERGER: Well, I'm sure a proponent of natural resource districts by county boundaries. In some cases, you know, I haven't examined everything across the whole state and I've not been in a position to have the information even, that I think -- you know, you hear some criticism of, since they have the levying power or all that, that their budgets are too high and they have too many staff and all that, but I think that's just kind of the normal criticism of government and I don't think too much of it. And I really like to see these things put in the hands of an elected group, body of nine, ten, twelve people, and by distributed around the NRD area by district like that, and I guess generally, they have one or two at large.

MR. BARR: And they've also added the other district, too, since --

MR. NEUBERGER: Yes, Papio's gone up in --

MR. BARR: Sioux City and --

MR. NEUBERGER: Uh-huh, so they go all the way up and they have a suboffice somewhere up there somewhere, I think. So, yeah, it's been a fine way to deal with water and soil resources and still provide recreation and trails and biking. My son lives over in Omaha on 140th and Fort Street out here which is not far from the Big Papillion Creek. And this March, I guess it was, nice weather sometime in March, I went over and we did some biking. And we were biking down along the Big Papio in there on some trails, flood plain land that the city has kept from development, and I was telling him how, you know, right where we were riding, on two occasions that are in this paper, in '64 and then two years later, the water would have been six, seven feet deep where we were riding. I said, “Yeah.” And I said, I remember a time I remember, one of the perks of working with Dale Williamson is that he had connections with the National Guard. And so talking to Dale, and I said, “Dale, I'd really like to fly right after that second flood and take pictures,” I said, of the trash and stuff, because it looks like that I could see a few of them. So he gets me a National Guard helicopter out there. And they did training missions. Just happened that they put me on board and then they flew the way I wanted to fly. So, I got some of the greatest 35 millimeter slides in here. And with those, then I was able to communicate with the county boards, and NRD board and that. And so I was telling Paul, our son who lives there, about that, that hanging out of that helicopter with a strap, I said, taking pictures up and down that thing, and I said, they proved very valuable and didn't have to pay a dime for them other than the taxpayers that had to pay for the National Guard's budget.

MR. BARR: Well, they got some training out of the deal.

MR. NEUBERGER: That's the way he wrapped it up. He said, “The only way we can do it is if we need to train them anyway.” And so, you know, I suppose that training might not have taken place two days after the flood.


But because he knew who to talk to, and, you know, if you had to go through channels, why, you'd have never gotten it done. And I remember, met down here at the airport right from Milt Fricke's place. He has that helicopter there, and I get in it and we go down here and we fly up and back once and land, and I had about four rolls of 35 millimeter pictures that really were valuable then for explaining what that three-inch flood caused. You know, there was probably several times the damage just because of the junk, trash and trees, everything, car bodies, you know, that were being pushed into the channels.

MR. BARR: Bank stabilization projects, right?

MR. NEUBERGER: Yeah, oh, yeah, they -- and some of it, you know, the abutments to bridges that can only take so much and then they're going to fail. But, you know, if the banks go around them, they weren't designed not to have soil around them, you know? I remember Paul -- we ran into three or four other guys that he knew, and they were older guys. And Paul had to tell them about that story, me being up in the helicopter.

MR. BARR: I went with the FEMA team in '93 down in -- near Falls City, and we were out checking bridges and stuff, and I found one of the most interesting things I ever saw, we were on the south side, but on the north side of the approach to the bridge, there was a great big washout about as big as this room under the road. And had somebody driven on that, it would have dropped right in. So, a lot of interesting things happen in those floods. Well, I don't --

MR. NEUBERGER: I don't have anything else, Jim.

MR. BARR: Well, thank you very much for doing this. I appreciate it very much.