Spring Flooding Nebraska

In this March 18, 2019, file photo released by the U.S. Air Force, environmental restoration employees deploy a containment boom from a boat on Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, as a precautionary measure for possible fuel leaks in the flooded area. 


Flooding prompts criticism of Missouri River dams’ management

OMAHA — After this spring's massive flooding along the Missouri River, many want to blame the agency that manages the river's dams for making the disaster worse, but it may not be that simple.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says much of the water that created the flooding came from rain and melting snow that flowed into the river downstream of all the dams, and at the same time, massive amounts of water filled the reservoirs and some had to be released.

For instance, the National Weather Service estimates that enough water poured into the reservoir behind Gavin's Point Dam on the South Dakota-Nebraska border during nine days in mid-March to totally fill the reservoir from empty more than twice.

But many people who live near the Missouri River believe the Corps isn't doing enough to prevent floods or is placing too much emphasis on other priorities, such as protecting endangered species and preserving barge traffic.

Corps officials say they work to balance all the priorities Congress approved when operating the dams, but no single priority outweighs all the others.

Officials estimate that the flooding caused more than $1 billion of damage to farms in Nebraska and Iowa, destroying stored crops and killing livestock.

The National Weather Service said significantly more water poured into the Missouri River from rivers in Nebraska and Iowa with no dams, so officials couldn't regulate the flow from those.

Most other rivers that feed into the lower Missouri crested around the same time after heavy rains helped melt lingering snowpack that flowed right into rivers because the ground was still mostly frozen.


State bans abortions after 18 weeks, teeing up showdown

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a law banning most abortions after 18 weeks of gestation, setting the stage for a legal showdown.

Though the Republican governor said the measure strikes a balance, opponents said it is unconstitutional and promised to sue. The law is expected to take effect in May.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's longtime holding that states cannot ban abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at about 23 weeks.

The ban adds to a long list of abortion restrictions in Utah, including a 72-hour waiting period and an in-person informed consent session, Planned Parenthood of Utah said.

The law comes as abortion opponents across the country are emboldened by President Donald Trump's appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices, including Colorado's Neil Gorsuch, and seek cases to challenge Roe v. Wade, the court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Herbert's spokesman Paul Edwards said the governor is against abortion, and believes lawmakers set an appropriate threshold for respecting a woman's right to choose while "protecting the unborn."

The measure allows some exceptions, including cases of rape, fatal fetal deformity or serious detriment to the mother's health.


Scientists to dig ‘Jurassic Mile’ site this summer

CHEYENNE — They're calling it the "Jurassic Mile," where dinosaurs once chased prey through muck and some of the biggest creatures of 150 million years ago lumbered over a tropical flood plain.

This summer, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis will coordinate a project that will bring over 100 scientists from the U.S. and Europe on a three-month dig at a newly discovered site in the Bighorn Basin of northern Wyoming.

Organizers aren't saying exactly where the site is to discourage any looters and curiosity-seekers — suffice it to say it's on a square mile of private ranchland outside Cody, about 100 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.

Discovered just a few years ago, the Jurassic Mile already has yielded fossils from some of the biggest dinosaurs of the late Jurassic Period. Among them are long-necked plant-eaters that may be diplodocus- and brachiosaurus-type dinosaurs.

Scientists in 2018 dug up an over 6-foot brachiosaur scapula, or shoulder bone. There are also preserved tracks from both predatory and prey dinosaurs.

The $27 million project, funded in part with a $9 million Lilly Endowment grant, will help bolster the museum's collections, but scientists representing a variety of institutions and disciplines will also take part.

So far, paleontologists are focusing on two key areas, including what appears to have once been a pond with dinosaur tracks on its shore.

Another area from roughly the same time period appears to have been a bend in a large, lazy river, where the floating corpses of dinosaurs came to rest before being buried in sediment.


State bans contests to kill the most coyotes

SANTA FE — New Mexico has banned contests to see who can shoot and kill the most coyotes.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill outlawing the contests on April 2.

Many New Mexico ranchers and outfitters say the contests are a tool for managing packs of coyotes that threaten livestock, and dozens of killing contests are rumored to take place each year. Opponents say the practice is barbaric and ineffective.

The legislation from Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque and Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces provides misdemeanor sanctions for people found organizing a contest. Participation in a killing contest is a petty misdemeanor.

The killing contests were banned across thousands of square miles of state trust land this year by New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.


DNA test solves 45-year-old double-murder mystery

BILLINGS — A genealogy database used to match a family's DNA with evidence found at a 1973 crime scene has led investigators to identify the long-dead suspect in the strangulation killing of a young married couple.

Linda and Clifford Bernhardt, both 24, were killed at their Billings-area home in a case that would stymie investigators for decades.

Investigators now believe they were killed by Cecil Stan Caldwell, a longtime city of Billings employee who was once a co-worker of Linda Bernhardt, Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder said. He did not identify a motive in the killing.

Caldwell had no criminal record, and died in 2003 at the age of 59, according to his obituary in the Billings Gazette.

Police at one point brought in a psychic in their desperate search for clues to the crime and even enlisted the help of "The Amazing Kreskin" when the mentalist visited town in the 1980s.

All other leads had dried up by 2004, when DNA was discovered on evidence gathered at the crime scene, but comparing that DNA against an FBI database of known criminals yielded no results.

In 2015, the sheriff's cold case unit enlisted a Reston, Virginia, technology company, Parabon NanoLabs, to analyze the DNA by comparing it to genetic samples available through a public genealogy database. That process ultimately narrowed the list of suspects to Caldwell and his brother, who is still alive and living outside the area.

After DNA was obtained voluntarily from the brother, it was analyzed by the Montana State Crime Lab to eliminate him as a suspect. That left only Caldwell.

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