Legislature approves water control funding; awaits governor’s signature

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Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 12:00 am

A legislative bill that would appropriate $32 million over the next two years for water control projects sailed through the Nebraska Legislature Thursday on a 48-0 vote and awaits the signature of Gov. Dave Heineman.

The bill, LB 1098, is a companion bill to LB 906 which recently became law and created a water sustainability fund into which the $32 million will be deposited.

LB 1098 establishes the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, a body appointed by the governor, and charges it with choosing what projects will be funded with the money.

The bill has gained special attention in Sarpy County because the commission it creates could provide support for strengthening the levees protecting Offutt Air Force Base.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has ruled the Missouri River levees protecting Offutt and portions of south Bellevue do not meet new standards.

If $24 million in improvements are not made, Offutt will be deemed unprotected by a levee system.

That possibility raised the specter of Offutt coming to the attention of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which recommends military installations for closure.

The FEMA ruling was fought by local leaders, who argued the levees performed well during the historic flooding of 2011, but FEMA officials declined to modify their mandate.

Local officials hope to receive $10 million from the new water sustainability fund, with the remaining $14 million cost shared between the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, Sarpy County, and the City of Bellevue.

Papillion State Sen. Jim Smith, who sits on the Legislature’s Committee on Natural Resources, said he believes the governor will sign the bill.

“I think the governor is a very pragmatic person,” Smith said. “If you look at the overwhelming number of votes given to that bill, it would be most certain to have the votes to override a veto.”

Smith said Heineman will have to make his decision soon, because the Legislature adjourns Friday.

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