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State lawmakers gave first-round approval Thursday to a $2 million study of mitigating flooding and enhancing economic development along the Lower Platte River, as well as around Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska and near Lewis and Clark Lake in northeast Nebraska.

But the 42-2 vote came after some senators raised questions about the high cost of such a study, and whether it will result in action or gather dust.

Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha proposed the study, which, under an amendment adopted Thursday, will be called the "STAR WARS" committee. That was portrayed as a more fun name than its original: the "Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee."

McDonnell said the study was needed in light of the $3.4 billion in flood damage along the Platte and Missouri rivers in 2019. That damage, he said, could have been reduced considerably by better levees and other controls along the Lower Platte, from Columbus to Plattsmouth. McDonnell emphasized that the study does not include a look at damming the Platte  — proposals to do that near Ashland have generated controversy in the past.

But a handful of critics seriously questioned the need for such an expensive study.

Columbus Sen. Mike Moser, who voted "no" on the bill along with Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, said that the state's natural resources districts already study flood control and development issues, and that this would be "another study to be put on a shelf" and ignored.

"Maybe we should call it 'Noah's ark,'" Moser said, rather than STAR WARS. "It's down-to-earth. That's where the problem is."

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene also questioned the $2 million cost, which would be used for travel and hiring a consultant. He complained that the study was mostly about preserving a drinking water supply for Lincoln, and questioned why the study wasn't looking at a water issue in his district — diverting Platte River flows to enhance water supplies in southwest Nebraska.

But several senators came to the defense of STAR WARS. Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango said Lake McConaughy has untapped development potential that could be identified by the study. Creighton Sen. Tim Gragert made similar comments about the bluffs along the Missouri River in Knox County.

Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, the speaker of the Legislature, pledged to discuss changes in LB406 before it returns for second-round debate.

Also advanced from first-round debate Thursday was a bill that would allow an increase in non-resident state park entry permits, from the current $45 a year to $60. Hughes said that most of the extra fee revenue will be used for additional law enforcement and improvements at Lake McConaughy, which has struggled with overcrowded conditions on big holiday weekends.

Hughes said that 90% of the state's non-resident park stickers are purchased at Lake McConaughy, which draws huge crowds of Colorado residents to its vast, white beaches.

This article originally ran on omaha.com.

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