The potholes in Omaha are SO bad this year that the City of Omaha will make a temporary exception to its long-standing policy and pay qualifying claims of pothole-caused damage to vehicles, from Jan. 1 through Monday.

Mayor Jean Stothert announced the measure Monday afternoon. She said the city will pay the 59 claims that had been formally filed against the city by Monday. The City Law Department will consider subsequent claims on a case-by-case basis until the city gets caught up on pothole repair work orders, the mayor said.

Stothert defended the city’s longtime policy of not paying for pothole-caused damage to vehicles as being supported by state statute and in line with what other Midwestern cities do. She said that policy will remain in place. But she said Omaha’s extraordinary winter warranted the temporary exception she authorized Monday.

“We had record-breaking snow, we’ve had ice, we have had a lot of rain, and we have had below-freezing temperatures for extended periods of time,” Stothert said. “The result of that is we have widespread pothole damage all over the city of Omaha, and many, many streets are deteriorating beyond repair.”

Calling the current crop of chuckholes the worst she had ever seen in Omaha, Stothert said, “Extraordinary circumstances result in extraordinary measures to address the problem.”

She said previously denied claims and those still pending will be paid using the following criteria, according to the city:

» Potholes that caused the damage must have been previously reported to the city.

» The location must be within city limits on public streets maintained by the city. This does not include Interstate highways.

» The original claim must provide documentation of personal expense, including a repair bill and tow truck invoice, if applicable.

» If the claimant has been reimbursed by an insurance company, documentation must be provided, and the city will pay the deductible instead of the total cost of repairs.

» The claims must be formally submitted as tort claims with the Omaha City Clerk’s Office. Claims to the Mayor’s Hotline or through social media do not count. To file a claim, people can go to: cityclerk.cityofomaha.org/claims

Stothert said she picked Monday as the cutoff date because that’s when the city could finally deploy 34 pothole repair crews with hot asphalt. Repairs made with that material last longer than the cold asphalt patches the city uses in winter.

The mayor said paying the claims won’t be a budget-buster. She said 54 of the claims the city had received by Monday afternoon requested a combined total of about $29,000. Five claims did not specify a dollar amount of damage.

Stothert said the city received almost 5,000 requests to fix potholes last week alone. She said those probably include multiple reports of the same holes.

Stothert said an especially snowy February kept city crews on the plows and prevented them from patching potholes.

“This is an effort to do what in my opinion is the right thing,” Stothert said. “This isn’t a political move. This isn’t because The World-Herald or anybody else did a story. This is because it’s the right thing to do with these extraordinary circumstances and this severely hard winter that we have had.”

The World-Herald reported recently that the city had rejected every pothole damage claim, more than 500 of them, over the past five years.

Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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