Aug. 16, 2019, 6:45 a.m.
Niobrara, in far northeast Nebraska, is still recovering after floods in March tore through the community, wiping-out major roadways and damaging homes, businesses and infrastructure. This weekend, the town is celebrating its recovery with Niobrara Appreciation Days Friday and Saturday. Niobrara City Chairman Jody Stark spoke with NET’s Jack Williams about the rebuilding in his community and how the re-opening of the Highway 12 Bridge last weekend has helped the recovery process.
Jody Stark: It’s kind of connected the community back together. We had a lot of students and faculty members with the school, I think around 40, that needed to get to school and work. The farmer and ranchers across the area, their access to town. The Niobrara State Park for tourist people, recreation, things like, so it’s a huge, huge step for us to get that open.
NET News: Niobrara has been through a lot over the past five months. When the flooding happened in March, what went through your mind when you looked at the damage?
Stark: What went through my mind, I mean, it was unbelievable. It almost felt like the world was coming to an end. It was just complete devastation, just a lot of things that were affected and a lot of businesses, the local economy, the school system, everything was kind of up in the air there for a while. As I look back to then and then today to where we are, much, much improvement.
Damage caused by huge ice chunks on the Niobrara River. (Photo courtesy of Shane Greckel)
NET News: How did you go about that? Was it that we have to take this one project at a time and not look at this in its totality and the big mess that we have here? What was the strategy there?
Stark: I guess I don’t know if we really had an exact strategy. You’re right, we just kind of took it one day at a time and did what we could. The main thing was when the flood first hit, we were without water. It took out our main water line to the town, so that definitely was a main focus. We had to get clean, reliable drinking water back to the community. So we worked on that first and then just took one project at a time and helped where we could.
NET News: Was repairing the washed-out bridge the biggest challenge or were there other things that were just as difficult in this recovery?
Stark: Water was a big issue there for a while. The bridge obviously was a big impact, not only for the local area, but probably for the whole area in general. Niobrara is a community that thrives on recreation, so bringing people from outside of the community was very difficult to get here and it affected a lot of our businesses here in town.
NET News: What is still left to do there in your community? Still a lot of work to do?
Ice chunks in the Niobrara River during March flooding. (Photo courtesy of Office of the Governor)
Stark: They’re still continuing to rebuild the local golf course there. That’s going to take some time. There’s some clean-up efforts yet here and there, but it’s come a long way. There’s always going to be projects that we’ll find I’m sure. There’s some fire hydrants and different things that need to be put in from the city that were lost or destroyed, but just a continual effort to get everything back to normal.
NET News: What has this process done for Niobrara? Has it brought you community closer together?
Stark: I guess this community has always been pretty close, pretty tight. It just seems like when we have an event, big or small with a tragedy, everybody just kind of pitches in and does what needs to be done. We just have a lot of good, local people here that never questioned anything. If we asked them for help, they did it. Just everybody kind of came together and did what needed to be done.
NET News: Is this the biggest challenge that community has ever seen?
Stark: In my 20-plus years in the community, we’ve experienced flooding before, but nothing to this magnitude. We had some flooding in 2011 that affected us greatly, but there wasn’t the destruction that was involved this spring. I would say it’s one of the bigger challenges.
NET News: Niobrara Appreciation Days are tonight and tomorrow. Is this an important step for the community and will this celebration be a little more meaningful than those in the past?
Stark: It’s definitely a big step. I guess I feel like it’s going to have a lot of meaning to the community. That bridge getting opened, that was definitely a huge, huge step to rebuilding and getting back to where we are. I definitely think the meaning of this event, I expect a good turnout and a lot of participation and I think everybody is appreciative and are going to support it.