It must have been like working on a chain gang.
In 100-degree heat or pouring rain, 12 to 16 hours a day, slopping in the mud and slapping back the bugs.
About 350 people filled and threw sandbags and hauled in 3,000 truckloads of dirt as the City of Omaha sculpted and packed down a nearly half-mile-long earthen levee protecting its sewage treatment plant from the rising Missouri River.
“Everyone pitched in,” said Gordon Andersen of the Public Works Department. “It was brutal — really brutal.”
Two weeks after they started, crews were putting the finishing touches Friday on the levee, even as the Missouri River sloshed up to the bottom 2 feet of the earthen berm.
The 10- to 12-foot-tall levee extends and ties the city's 1955 levee to higher ground, protecting about $150 million in assets at the sewage treatment plant. The new levee protects to a river stage of 42 feet — the same as Omaha's 13-mile floodwall-levee system.
On Friday, the river stood at about 31 feet.
A “monumental effort ... mission critical,” is how one public works official, Marty Grate, described the levee.
Andersen and fellow public works manager Scott McIntyre have been credited by city officials with getting the levee under way — and in time to protect the plant.
If the construction hadn't started when it did, Omaha would already be without this sewage treatment plant, said Steve Oltmans, chief of staff for Mayor Jim Suttle.
And without the plant functioning, 26 million gallons of raw sewage would be flowing into the river instead of 6 million gallons.
Hard as the work was, the levee required more than piling in dirt.
BNSF Railway also had to cut open a rail bed so that the berm could reach high ground by the bluffs. That track served Amtrak — which means passenger rail traffic through Omaha was sacrificed to save the sewage treatment plant, Oltmans said.
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Watch Omaha city officials explain flooding precautions taken regarding the water treatment facility.