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Levee repairs likely needed, costs being assessed by city following flooding

March 26, 2019 GMT

City and county damages are being assessed, which will be an ongoing process during upcoming weeks.

The city is currently nearly positive, though, that the levee which upheld the torrential flow of the Loup River over the course of the past, will need some repair.

Though it didn’t suffer a breach, the constant ripping of water and smashing of ice against it undoubtedly caused some damage.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers was in Columbus assessing the damage and checking out the structure’s integrity.

“The thing I want to stress, and you hear the comment, and we are hearing it more now with the Corps (of Engineers) in town, that there is a lot of damage to the levee. And we did not see extensive damage to the levee,” Mayor Jim Bulkley said on Friday.

“That is why the Corps is here, that’s why they have to come and assess. I don’t want anyone in this community to think that there is a gaping hole somewhere in our levee because we are talking about damage. There will be some repair work which is expected. The volume of water that beat up against the sides of that levee, there should be some damage, there should be some things. Common sense tells you there are some things that we need to fix.”

The levee, Bulkley said, starts on the southwest side of Columbus along the Loup River’s bank near Shady Lake Road and runs all the way to the end of Quail Run Golf Course.

About two to three years ago, the city completed a $3 million to $4 million project ensuring that the prior levee structure was in compliance with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) specifications. The project was designed to place about 30 percent of the city out of the flood plain, according to Columbus Telegram archives.

City Administrator Tara Vasicek noted that the city has been in the process of reaching out to federal, state and other organizations that may be able to provide some sort of relief funding. Before any dollars can be potentially given from outside sources, the city is first tasked with assessing what those damages actually are, which takes a bit of time.

“We don’t know the magnitude, the cost, of any of these things right now,” Vasicek said. “It’s still so early that we are assessing the damage, we will have costs hopefully relatively soon, we will be able to decide how to proceed with them based on what they are.

“If it’s a few hundred thousand dollars to repair the levee, in the interim we can come up with that in our budget by adjusting slightly, and most people wouldn’t even recognize that. But if some part of the levee has to be majorly reconstructed and it’s a significant financial commitment, then we will have to reassess.”

While the city has yet to release a tentative damage estimate, Platte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jerry Engdahl on Friday said that preliminary figures show county damage exceeding $9 million. On Thursday, President Donald Trump approved Nebraska’s request for federal disaster assistance in response to historic flooding throughout the state.

Federal funding currently will be available to affected individuals in the counties of Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington.

As of Monday, Platte County wasn’t on that list. But, Engdahl said he is optimistic that federal aid will be available to those affected at some point.

“I’m just not sure that it is up to date. That may be the initial nine counties but I really don’t know one way or the other right now,” Engdahl said, adding that he has heard reports of anywhere from 600-1,000 head of livestock dying in the recent floods.

“Platte County hasn’t been invited yet, (but) nobody has said anything to us that we aren’t getting anything.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.