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Platte River flooding

A FEMA disaster assessment team, along with representatives of the Lower Platte North NRD, assess damage caused by flooding along the Platte River south of Richland.

RICHLAND — Nearly three months after historic flooding washed away 30 acres of his cornfield and left behind 3 feet of sand, a federal disaster assessment team arrived at Drew Wolfe’s farm along the Platte River this week.

But the FEMA team that arrived at the farm south of Richland didn’t come to inspect the damage to his farmland. Instead they came to assess damage to a series of jetties that were originally built to protect the north bank of the Platte River.

And just as the land Wolfe’s family has owned since the mid-’70s had washed away, so did the eight jetties built in 1994.

“It looks like there is really no way to recoup or refurbish it,” said Bob Heimann, operations and maintenance manager for the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District.

The NRD helped to put in the jetties at a cost of $110,000 in an effort to deflect water away from the riverbank and prevent erosion.

Heimann said that spot was identified year ago because of the potential that the Platte could cut a new channel flowing into Lost Creek and heightening the flood risk in Schuyler, which sits in the Lost Creek basin.

“It did its job for all these years, but this flood was just too powerful," NRD assistant manager Tom Mountford said. 

Along with damage to the eight jetties, a river road used by the Wolfes was washed away.

Viewing and recording the damage on Tuesday, alongside Heimann and Mountford, was a federal disaster assessment team led by site inspector Bill Miller.

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Miller was hired out of retirement by FEMA to conduct site inspections in Nebraska. He worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 40 years.

The assessment completed on Tuesday is another step in the process that allows public agencies, such as the NRD, to see if the damaged areas qualify for federal disaster assistance, which would cover 75% of the damages.

While Miller doesn’t determine whether a project will receive federal disaster assistance, he did acknowledge the damage done to the jetties.

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“How many do you see?” he asked, referring to the lack of any visible jetties still remaining in the river.

While the Wolfes sought answers about what to do with the tons of sand covering their field — 6 feet deep in some places — and whether or not they could push some of it back into the river to restore the bank, they were left with more questions.

According to officials from the NRD and FEMA, the Wolfes' avenues for removing the sand and rebuilding the riverbank most likely will be addressed through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Farm Service Agency.

While FEMA can’t address all of the harm felt by families like the Wolfes and so many others since the flooding began, Miller hopes the agency can help in the recovery efforts.

“There is no doubt that this is a major disaster and it really caused a lot of grief and harm to a lot of people and hopefully FEMA can do its part to help them restore some of that damage,” he said.

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