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Nebraska Unemployment Rate Holds Steady

The Nebraska Department of Labor announced today that Nebraska's preliminary unemployment rate for August is at 3.6 percent, seasonally adjusted. Acting Commissioner of the Labor Department John Albin says it's the first time since 2007 that the state sustained under 4 percent unemployment for an entire year.

The jobless rate was the same as the July rate of 3.6 percent and down 0.4 percentage points from the August 2014 rate of 4.0 percent.

Preliminary unemployment rates fell across the tri-cities. Grand Island's preliminary unemployment rate fell to 3.3 percent, down from 5.8 percent in July. Albin says Much of that can be contributed to seasonal employment factors. Preliminary unemployment rates for August were 3.2 percent in Hastings and 2.7 percent in Kearney.

The seasonally-adjusted national unemployment rate in August was 6.1 percent, down a-tenth of a percent from July and 1.1 pecent from the August 2013 rate of 7.2 percent.

Enterovirus (EV-D68) Now Confirmed in Nebraska

The respiratory illness that has spread throughout the Midwest has made its way to Nebraska. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Enterovirus (EV-D68) has been confirmed in Nebraska. The virus has now spread to 18 states since mid-August, infecting 153 people. The CDC says in the coming weeks more states will have confirmed cases of the infection because of complex and slow testing. The virus causes severe breathing problems in young children. Symptoms appear similar to that of a cold.

Central Nebraska Regional Airport to Expand

Federal authorities have awarded $9.8 million to the Central Nebraska Regional Airport to create a passenger terminal. The Federal Aviation Administration awarded the grant for the $14.2 million terminal. Construction crews will break ground next month and the nearly 34,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 2016. The administration office and covered parking area will be demolished to make room for the terminal. It will replace a 60-year-old terminal.

Mosquitoes in Webster County Test Positive For West Nile

Mosquitoes collected in the Red Cloud area of Webster County have tested positive for West Nile virus. Michele Bever, Executive Director for South Heartland District Health Department says mosquitoes that carry West Nile can pass the virus to humans and other animals when they bite. There is no vaccine to protect against the virus. While less than one percent of those infected may develop more serious illness, Bever suggests limiting outdoor activity between dusk and dawn, cover skin with long pants and sleeves, use insect repellent containing DEET, install or repair screens in doors and windows and drain any standing water around the home. The mosquitoes tested were collected Sept. 3.

Casterline Found Guilty of Murder

A jury has found 24 year-old Andrew Casterline guilty of first degree murder in the death of Virginia Barone. He was also found guilty for use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony and burglary. The verdict was reached last night, according to Adams County District Clerk Chrystine Setlik. Sentencing has been set for sometime in December. Casterline could face life in prison. The jury deliberated for over six hours on Thursday before announcing their verdict. He was accused alongside his mother Shelley of stabbing to death Barone last October in Guide Rock.

Seiler Says Hastings Building Could Help Ease Prison Overcrowding

A Hastings building could be renovated to house and treat up to 240 prison inmates with mental health and addiction issues.

State Senator Les Seiler on Tuesday shared some details about the proposal during a Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce legislative forum. He says the new treatment programs would help inmates transition back into society and avoid reoffending.

Seiler says architects and engineers will visit the Hastings Regional Center on Oct. 7 to examine the property. He will be our guest tomorrow morning on the KHAS Radio Close Up Program.

CHI, Uninet to Unveil New Health Care Plan

CHI Health, Coventry Health Care and UniNet recently announced a new health care plan, Carelink from Coventry, that will be available to individuals and employer groups in Omaha and Lincoln on Jan. 1.

The new plan unfortunately for Central Nebraska will not be available right away. Dr. Ken Shaffer, medical director of Uninet says they hope to get a plan rolled out for Central Nebraska as soon as possible.

"We have to have enough physicians in Uninet in Kearney, Grand Island, Lincoln or Omaha and have a fairly complete network before we can roll that out," Shaffer said.

The plan is designed as an alternative to those patients previously covered as in-network under the CHI-Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan which was terminated on Sept. 1. The plan provides a new "value-based" model which CHI has been advocating.

"We're looking for a value based contract that really rewards physicians' performance and an ability to control cost and increase quality," Shaffer said.

Dr. Shaffer says there's no telling how soon the new plan will be available to Central Nebraska. He also says the dispute between CHI and Blue Cross/Blue Shield does not appear to be ending anytime soon.

New Mall Owners Plan to be Aggressive in Drawing New Business to West Hastings

A dying shopping center appears to be getting new life. Rock Step Capital, a real estate investment group from Houston, Texas, recently acquired the Imperial Mall which located on the west side of Hastings.

The once thriving mall has been reduced to a virtually unoccupied shopping center as most of the retail growth has shifted to the northern part of Hastings. Andy Weiner, President of Rock Step Capital says his company will be aggressive to acquire new retailers to locate in the mall.

"Because we have excess space out there, we can provide dramatically lower occupancy cost for any type of retailer or other user than alternatives in the market or even in Grand Island," Weiner said.

The existing mall was built in 1970 and last renovated in 1998. Weiner says the company has all options on the table for the future of the building. He says often times buildings like this become multi-use.

"We have recently put in community colleges and other educational uses into our properties. We have worked with medical office groups and with hospital groups to put medical offices into these properties," Weiner said. "We've also worked with local commercial users to combine with retailers and that's how a lot of these properties get rehabilitated and get redeveloped."

Rock Step Capital was in negotiations for 22 months to secure the Imperial Mall. The company has purchased and revitalized more than 4.5 million square feet of retail space in the Midwest including the Monuments Mall in Scottsbluff, which they acquired last December.

Hospital to Take Back Unwanted Prescription Drugs

CHI Health St. Francis and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will take back unwanted prescription drugs later this month. This gives the public its ninth opportunity in four years to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs. The unwanted drugs will be taken from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Unwanted pills can be disposed at the St. Francis patient tower lobby at 2620 W. Faidley Ave. in Grand Island. The DEA cannot accept liquids or needles or sharps - only pills or patches. The service is free and anonymous with no questions asked.

Last April, Americans turned in 390 tons of prescription drugs at nearly 6,100 sites operated by the DEA and more than 4,400 of its state and local law enforcement partners.

Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are remain high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

Gibbon Head Start to Move

The Gibbon Head Start location was given official notice on Monday that they must soon vacate their location.

The building the group currently is in, the Assembly of God Church, is pending sale. The move would affect 18 preschool students and their families Lois Butler, Head Start Director with Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska says they are in the process of finding a new facility.

Due to limited funding, the program cannot afford to purchase or build a new center. Finding a new location is the primary concern. Butler says when that happens they will need help from the public.

A move might be required as early as October or November.

Adams Co. Fairground Manager to Retire

The manager of the Adams County Fairgrounds has announced that she will be retiring Sandy Himmelberg who's career at fairgrounds spans just shy of 28 years announced yesterday that she will be retiring at years end.

Himmelberg, who started working for the AG society in 1986 has been manager of the Adams County fairgrounds for the past 19 years. In those 19 years she oversaw growth both on the fairgrounds and with the county fair.

Himmelberg is set to retire in January.

Grow Grand Island Getting Off the Ground

The committee behind efforts to "grow" Grand Island, met earlier this month. They are expected to begin the implementation phase of their combined efforts.

Brad Mellema is the director of the Grand Island County Convention and Vistors Bureau. He says the overall objective is to further enhance business development, making the area more attractive for business growth, thus improving the tourism industry in the city.

Mellema says education efforts are under way for the public, hoping to learn about Grand Island and what it offers.

The Strategic plan is expected to be completed in November or December.

Visitation Restricted for Young Patients at Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney is currently restricting visitation to its young patients to prevent the spread of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) - a virus that can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. While Nebraska has not yet reported EV-D68 cases, surrounding states have seen EV-D68 infections and an increased number of children have been hospitalized.

In a statement on the Good Samaritan hospital website, the hospital says it's taking the following proactive precautions:

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is closed to all visitors ages 14 and under.

Patients aged 14 and under may not have visitors who are 14 or younger. Exception: Patients' own siblings may visit if the siblings are free of symptoms of infection (i.e. fever, cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing, muscle aches, tiredness).

If at all possible, the public is asked to not bring young children to visit the hospital at this time.

Water Study Results Presented to Minden City Council

Results of a recent water systems study were presented to the Minden City Council last night.

Olsson Associates of Hastings conducted the study. They determined that the water coming to town is fine and that it would not be cost effective to go anywhere else to look for a different water source. The engineers also recommended to the board what repairs and upgrades need to be made at the water treatment plant. City Clerk Abby Jordan explains there are three phases to the project.

"If we did everything, the first two phases would be $6.1 million and for the third phase was an additional $3 million. The third phase is just to help us expand and prepare for the future," Jordan says.

The results from the study will be presented at a public meeting on Oct. 2. If approved by voters in November, a one percent sales tax increase would fund the project.

Home Burglarized in Wood River

The Hall County Sheriff's office was notified yesterday of a burglary in Wood River. According to Chief Deputy Chris Rea, a home was broken into on Guenther Road. The incident occurred Monday afternoon before 4 p.m. Items stolen from the home included a laptop computer and a stereo. No arrests have been made at this time. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Hall County Sheriff's Dept at 308-385-5200.

Dimond Arraigned in Adams County

The Hastings man arrested for attempted 2nd Degree murder after firing his gun at a car over the weekend has been arraigned. 24 year-old Christopher Dimond was formally charged in Adams County Court yesterday. Dimond faces four felony charges including unlawful discharge of a firearm, two counts of terroristic threats and use of a firearm to commit a felony. Police say Dimond fired a single shot into a pickup after a disagreement with his ex-girlfriend Saturday. No one was injured. Dimond will be back in court Friday at 9 a.m.

Prosecution Rests in Casterline Murder Trial

The defense will begin presenting its case today in the murder trial of 24 year-old Andrew Casterline. Casterline is accused of helping his mother Shelly Casterline kill Virginia Barone in Guide Rock last October. Dr. Erin Linde was called to the stand Monday to give detailed accounts of Barone's autopsy. She determined Barone's manner of death a homicide. Jurors were shown pictures of Barone's more than 20 stab wounds. Closing arguments in the case will likely begin on Wednesday.

Wind Farm Near Blue Hill Gets Conditional Approval

A state energy board gave conditional approval Friday to a $140 million wind farm to be built south of Blue Hill.

The project, known as the Cottonwood Wind Project would house 52 turbines and a capacity to generate 89.5 megawatts of power. It would also produce about $800,000 a year in lease payments and about $864,000 a year in local taxes.

Becton Dickinson, which operates a medical equipment manufacturing facility in Holdrege purchased 30 megawatts of energy credits through the 75-megawatt Steele Flats project. Dave Rich, Sustainable Energy Manager with NPPD says they are looking for similar customers for the Cottonwood Wind Project to sign renewable energy credit financial agreements.

The NPPD's goal is to have 65 megawatts sold through renewable energy credit agreements. The project would create five permanent, full-time jobs and approximately 300 temporary jobs during construction. Rich says Nebraska's low electricity rates could help lure new businesses into the Webster County and south central Nebraska.

An agreement with the Nebraska Public Power District is expected to be signed by the end of the year. Construction of the wind farm could begin as early as April.

New Building Proposed for Adams County Fairgrounds

A new building for the Adams County Fairgrounds is currently in the works.

The $2.5 million project would replace the four open air barns and the small animal barn located across the road from the activities building. Fairgrounds manager Sandy Himmelberg says the hope is to bring new activities into Hastings.

The proposed building would be 125-by-250 feet in size and would also house the University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension office. Himmelberg adds there's still a long way to go to get the project done. If approved, construction could begin Jan. 1.

New Cameras to be Installed on I-80

The Nebraska Roads Department says three video cameras will be added to its system along Interstate 80 near York and Grand Island. The Department says they will be installed starting the week of Sept. 29. The project is expected to be completed in November. The cameras will be placed upstream from existing Dynamic Message System Boards that sit west of the Grand Island interchange and east and west of the York interchange. Minor shoulder closures will be required during the installation project.

Town Hall Debate Coming to Hastings

One Senate debate is already in the books after last night's debate featuring the four Nebraska candidates. The next debate, a town hall style debate will be in Hastings this Sunday.

The Hastings Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, YWCA, Area Retired Teachers and 'we the people' organization are sponsoring the debate which will take place Sunday, Sept. 21 at the Hastings City Auditorium at 7 p.m.

Butch Hughes, with the 'we the people' organization told KHAS Radio it's a great opportunity to see the Senate candidates stripped down without the politics.

The historic town hall debate will be a first for Hastings, according to Hughes. The doors open at 5 p.m. Sunday and the public will be able to meet and greet the candidates before the debate. A replay of last night's debate will air from 12:30 - 2 p.m. on 1230 AM KHAS.

Imperial Mall Being Purchased

The Imperial Mall in Hastings could soon be getting a face lift. On Friday, it was announced that Texas based Rock Step Capital was in negotiations to purchase the shopping center, which currently houses three tenants. The company has been in negotiations for 22 months. In addition, the company also will be acquiring three other Midwest shopping centers in Kansas, Minnesota and South Dakota. The property has been managed by court-ordered receiver McKinley Company of Michigan. The sale is set to become official today.

Hasting Man Arrested on Charges of Attempted Murder

A Hastings man was arrested Saturday night on charges of attempted murder. Hastings police say 24 year-old Christopher Dimond got into a disagreement with his ex-girlfriend outside of his home on South St. Joseph Avenue. Police say she got away in her car. A second vehicle followed behind her and Dimond fired a shot into that vehicle. No one was injured. Dimond fled the scene and the Nebraska State Patrol later arrested him in Kearney. He remains in Adams County jail, facing a charge of attempted second degree murder, use of a weapon to commit a felony and discharge of a firearm in city limits. He's expected to be arraigned later today.

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