Flooded property owners vent frustrations on Army Corps of Engineers over Missouri River

Flooded property owners vent frustrations on Army Corps of Engineers over Missouri River
John Remus of the Army Corps of Engineers spoke to a full house Thursday in Nebraska City. Residents have called for overhauling river management, but he said, “It is not a fast process, it is not a particularly pleasant process.” The last overhaul, he said, took 15 years and several courtroom visits. BRENDAN SULLIVAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

NEBRASKA CITY — Their futures uncertain and too much heartache behind them, people who have seen their properties repeatedly flooded by the Missouri River crowded into The Fox Center in Nebraska City on Thursday.

They called for changes in the way the Army Corps of Engineers manages the nation’s longest river.

Some suggestions drew applause and agreement from the crowd of about 200:

  • Undo changes to the river to help endangered or threatened species.
  • Existing reservoirs need to be kept lower to make room for additional flood storage.
  • Another massive dam, perhaps more than one, is needed.
  • Better levees need to be built.
  • There’s an immediate need for updated river forecasts that take into account breaks in the levees.

“We’ve had six years of flooding, and the blame can no longer be put on Mother Nature,” said Donette Jackson of Tekamah, Nebraska. Jackson lamented the “environmentalistic dream of an untamed river.”

The Missouri River’s natural tendency to flood twice a year from snowmelt was subdued some 60 years ago by six massive upstream dams and by an engineered channel downstream. That has enabled farming and development in the river valley.

But the environmental damage to the ecosystem, political squabbles between upstream and downstream states and other issues have led to numerous conflicts. Ultimately, the river’s management has landed in court, resulting in conflicting rulings.

Landowners along the river say flooding worsened after the corps made changes to some of the engineered structures that guide the river’s flow.

Those changes were made to help endangered species. And that has incensed property owners who have seen crops drown and homes flood.

The river is changing, Jackson and others told the corps.

Its flow, its height, the way it silts and scours, and the way it washes past levees have all changed, they said.

“Flood control has taken a backseat to habitat, which has put us in harm’s way,” Jackson said, referring to changes going back more than a decade.

A number of people in the room lost homes in last month’s flooding or can’t get to their homes.

One Percival, Iowa, family said they’ve been told that they won’t be able to get to their home until late summer.

A neighboring farmer said he’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and was planning on this year’s crop to pay that off. Now, he doesn’t know if the river will drop low enough for him to plant.

Farmer and businessman Scott Olson took the microphone during the question-and-answer session and choked up at the magnitude of the losses people are facing.

“Think of all the commerce that is lost,” he said, and pulled away for a minute. “The corn is gone, the soybeans are gone, the feed is gone. The cost of this flooding? How do you even wrap your head around it? There’s no way.”

The corps has made managing the river for flood control the priority since March 2018 because runoff has been so high, John Remus of the Corps of Engineers has said.

The corps hasn’t undertaken controversial spring pulses since 2009.

Intended to help an endangered fish, some people blame those pulses for increased flooding. Remus said research determined that the pulses weren’t helping to create habitat that benefited the fish.

And Remus had a message for those who want to see the corps make flood control the permanent top priority of the eight designated purposes of river management.

Don’t kid yourself. It’s much tougher than it appears to rewrite the rules for managing the Missouri. The last overhaul of the manual guiding river management took about 15 years and more than one trip to a courtroom.

“It is not a fast process, it is not a particularly pleasant process,” Remus said.

“There are people in this basin who think there is too much flood control,” he said, without elaborating.

Even changing the management manual won’t be a guarantee against flooding, Remus said. This year’s devastating floods occurred along reaches of the Missouri River and its tributaries where dams don’t exist, or in the case of Gavins Point Dam, weren’t designed to provide significant flood control.

Historic flooding in 1993 and 2011 led to studies that proposed costly upgrades, and only Congress controls the purse strings for those.

“In the end, there wasn’t the political will to carry through on those,” said Col. John Hudson, commander of the Omaha District of the Corps of Engineers.

Competing needs along the river make solutions difficult.

Improving flood control downstream deprives upstream states of the economic benefit the huge lakes provide in the form of tourism, for example.

Beefing up levees costs money.

“There’s no one simple fix,” Hudson said, “Otherwise it would already be done.”

Flood updates: Disaster relief act provides tax benefits to flood victims

WASHINGTON — Nebraska and Iowa lawmakers are pushing a new way to help individuals and businesses affected by this year’s flooding in their states — tax relief.

In a joint press release, the entire Nebraska congressional delegation touted provisions of the Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019:

  • No early withdrawal penalty from retirement accounts for those in affected areas.
  • Employee retention credits for employers with inoperable businesses who continue to pay their workers.
  • No deduction cap for charitable donations to relief efforts in disaster areas.
  • Expanded casualty loss deduction.
  • Allowance for people whose wages fell due to the disaster to claim the previous year’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

“Nebraskans have had their homes and businesses destroyed by blizzards and severe flooding,” Sen. Deb Fischer said in a release. “We are strong and tough, but I’m committed to providing people with some relief in as many ways possible.”

Iowa’s GOP senators issued their own release highlighting the bill.

“My number one focus right now remains squarely on how to get our fellow Iowans the help and support they need — and to get it as quickly as possible,” Sen. Joni Ernst said in the release. “This bill will help provide important and badly-needed relief for Iowans in disaster areas.”

Salvation Army will hold pet clinic

The Salvation Army Council Bluffs Corps will hold a pet clinic Friday for people affected by recent flooding.

The clinic is a collaboration with Dr. Melissa Harrer and the Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs.

The clinic will be open Friday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Council Bluffs Corps, 715 N. 16th St. in Council Bluffs.

The services to be offered include heartworm preventative, flea and tick preventative, feline leukemia tests and vaccinations.

People wishing to bring their pets should call 712-328-2088 to make an appointment ahead of time.

No walk-ins will be accepted as space is limited.


College students may be eligible for disaster assistance

Students who attend Nebraska colleges or universities in areas affected by the March winter storm and flooding may be eligible for federal disaster assistance.

Their permanent residence does not need to be in any of the designated counties to be eligible for assistance. However, property damage or losses must have occurred in affected areas.

Losses that may be eligible for repair or replacement include personal vehicles, clothing, textbooks and school supplies.

For more information, contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 800-621-3362 or at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.

FEMA teams are going door to door

Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance teams are working in impacted neighborhoods to help flood victims register for assistance and to identify needs.

Teams are operating in Boone, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington Counties.

FEMA staffers have visited more than 9,029 homes.

Resource centers to open in Columbus and Niobrara

Multi-Agency Resource Centers are opening in two Nebraska communities.

  • The Columbus center will be at the Columbus Fraternal Order of Eagles, 3205 12th St. It will be open from 1 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
  • The Niobrara center will be at the Ponca Tribal Headquarters, 2523 Woodbine St. The center will be open from 1 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The resource centers offer residents access to multiple agencies in one central location, including the American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Salvation Army and Nebraska Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster.

The Nebraska volunteer group and its community partners will open other resource centers throughout the flood zone in the coming weeks.

Mobile computer labs available for workers

A mobile computer lab will be available next week in several Nebraska communities for workers affected by the flooding.

The State of Kansas has donated the use of its KANSASWORKS Mobile Workforce Center for stops in Bellevue, Fremont, Valley and Plattsmouth April 16 through 19.

Nebraska Department of Labor staff will be stationed in the workforce center at each location to assist with claims for Disaster Unemployment Assistance and job searches.

The 38-foot mobile computer lab is equipped with 10 computer stations. Those who come to the lab are encouraged to log on to NEworks.nebraska.gov. Claims can also be filed with smartphones and tablets.

The unit will operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in each location. Individuals should look for a bus displaying the KANSASWORKS logo.

Locations and dates are:

  • Bellevue, Twin Creek, 3802 Raynor Parkway, Suite 201, Tuesday.
  • Fremont Learning Center, 130 E. Ninth St., Wednesday.
  • Valley, American Legion Post 58, 111 E. Front St., April 18
  • Plattsmouth Community Center, 308 S. 18th St., April 19