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Nebraska will get $65 million more in federal flooding aid

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Luke Thomas and Air Force Tech Sgt. Vanessa Vidaurre look at a flooded portion of Offutt Air Force Base. In March 2019, historic flooding included breaches of two levees protecting the base from the Missouri River.

March of 2019 was just the start of what will be a years-long struggle to repair and rebuild livelihoods along major Midwest river systems. A massive storm drove river levels higher and higher in mid-March until hundreds of levees across the Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas River basins failed. Then came the record rains.The Army Corps of Engineers estimated damage along the Missouri and Platte Rivers alone caused more than $1 billion in damage. The floods of 2019 punched so many holes in the river levee system, just the initial fixes aren't expected to be finished until late 2021. The Corps is now racing to patch as many holes as quickly as possible, but farmers, homeowners, even entire towns are still vulnerable as the 2021 wet season ramps up.The U.S. levee system is a true mishmash protecting millions of people and trillions of dollars of property and infrastructure near rivers. Much of it was built up following the Great Depression with no one agency charged with maintaining it. Some levees the federal government built, but the vast majority are built and maintained by locals. That makes for a massive range in the quality of levees, all of them expected to hold up for the safety of others.Based on data analysis of the National Levee Database, U.S. levees currently protect 19.5 million people, 5.5 million structures and $2.5 trillion in property value.It's an old, incredibly complex system facing a new reality: It wasn't built for floods like this. Experts agree wet seasons that are becoming more and more severe due to climate change will continuously challenge and damage one of the largest infrastructure systems in the country.

Nebraska will receive an estimated $65 million in additional federal funding assistance to help pay costs for repair of public infrastructure damaged as a result of historic flooding that ravaged the state in 2019.

"This news is great for the state of Nebraska, but especially for the counties that were severely impacted," Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said. 

"This will significantly defray the cost of the disaster for state and local governments."

Feds pledge $50 million to help remove failed Spencer Dam

The White House made the announcement last week in a news release declaring that President Joe Biden has authorized the increase in the level of federal funding support for public assistance repairs or rebuilding infrastructure from 75% to 90% of total eligible costs.

The increase was triggered by a regulation that authorizes additional federal assistance when a jurisdiction is "severely impacted above and beyond normal recovery costs," Tuma said.

This will "drive down local and state costs," he said.

The 2019 flooding that resulted from heavy rainfall and rapid snow melt caused more than a billion dollars in damage in the state as surging waters and ice flow swept through farmland, killed livestock, tore up highways, smashed through the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River and prompted emergency declarations in 75 cities and 65 counties.

Tuma said he expects $437 million in public assistance costs will grow beyond $500 million over time.  An early estimate is $511 million.

An anticipated additional $65 million in federal assistance benefits now will be "a significant benefit to the state," Tuma said.

The 2019 disaster was described as "a bomb cyclone" event.

Warm temperatures and heavy rain melted a deep snowpack, and the resulting flow of water moved rapidly over frozen ground into swollen rivers, many of which had accumulated thick ice during a cold winter. 

Resulting damage was estimated at more than $1.3 billion.

Legislature considers study of Platte River flooding, hike in non-resident park fees

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSdon


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