Senator Describes Frustration Over Flood Repairs, Concern About Future

by Fred Knapp, Reporter/Producer NET News

Nov. 21, 2019, 7:18 p.m.

Nebraskans are frustrated with bureaucratic obstacles to rebuilding public infrastructure damaged in this year’s floods, state senators heard Thursday.

At senators’ annual retreat in Nebraska City, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks described what she and her colleagues are hearing as they travel to flood-affected areas, including frustration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She says there’s a particular problem with levees.

“There’s aggravation because many of them are being told they have to take the levees back down to pre-flood levels. So they have built many of these levees up for emergency purposes to stop the floods going even farther, and then to get FEMA funds they have to spend thousands or millions of dollars to take back out that dirt to pre-flood levels before they can ask FEMA for the money,” Pansing Brooks said.

Bryan Tuma of the Nebraska Emergency Management agency said updated estimates of public infrastructure damage are around $400 million. If that holds, the federal government will eventually pay about $300 million, with state and local governmetns paying $50 million each. Tuma said the goal is for projects to be completed within four years. But he added that doesn’t always happen.

“You know, I’ll give you an example. Katrina is still an open disaster,” Tuma said. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast 14 years ago.

Tuma said while final approval for projects is still being sought, repairs are progressing. In most cases, local or county governments borrow the money for projects, and state and federal reimbursement comes later.

Pansing Brooks said with soils saturated around the state, there could be more trouble ahead.

“So depending on the kind of snowfall we have, the kind of snowfall those people upstream of us have, I think there’s a great concern that more floodings going to occur. And of course levees haven’t been rebuilt, bridges haven’t all been rebuilt, so there are communities at high risk right now,” she said.