Senators united on levee improvements

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Posted: Monday, March 3, 2014 12:00 am

Sarpy County’s state senators are pulling in the same direction in an effort to persuade the Legislature to contribute $10 million toward a $24 million enhancement of Missouri River levees.

Bellevue State Sen. Sue Crawford said she and her fellow senators sometimes disagree on issues, but there is unity on the need to help fund the levees that protect Offutt Air Force Base and parts of Bellevue.

“The levees are something we need to address,” she said. “I think you’ll see that even though we might have different opinions on some of the bills, you’ll see us all really pulling for the things that are important to Sarpy County.”

Papillion Sen. Jim Smith agreed. He said he will not support Legislative Bill 940, a bill that would assign $50 million annually to a water control and preservation fund, unless the initial contribution includes $10 million to shore up Bellevue’s levees.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has told Sarpy County officials the Missouri River’s levees must be raised at certain locations by two feet. The cost is estimated at $24 million, to which FEMA will contribute nothing.

“In order to have my support the largest project funded by that first $50 million must be to redo the levees and protect Bellevue,” Smith said. “That $10 million expenditure is critical to protect Offutt Air Force Base, and I don’t have to tell you that Offutt is a huge economic driver for our state.”

Plans call for the remaining $14 million to be split between the City of Bellevue, Sarpy County, the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District and, perhaps, the U.S. Department of Defense.

Tommy Garrett, Bellevue’s second state senator, said the state must do everything within its power to ensure that Offutt does not appear on future BRAC lists.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is an appointed federal body charged with recommending the closure of unnecessary military installations. Its decisions have resulted in the closure of 350 installations since 1989.

“Offutt is near and dear to our hearts,” Garrett said. “We need to do everything we can, from dealing with veterans issues, to raising those levees, so that Offutt looks really good and doesn’t end up on the closure list.”

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