leveesgraphic

The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District will ask the Pentagon for $10 million to help pay for levee repairs around Offutt Air Force Base.

The levees protect the base and the surrounding community from Missouri River flooding, and local officials have been working to recertify them since 2010.

If the levees aren’t brought up to Federal Emergency Management Agency standards, the land they protect will revert to flood plain status — including the base, the Papillion Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and a number of properties along the Highway 34 corridor that have been targeted for development.

Last week the NRD board approved a draft agreement under which the Air Force would chip in $10 million for the project. The NRD would repair and maintain 19 miles of levee and fix ailing storm sewers by the Capehart Road gate.

John Winkler, the NRD’s general manager, and Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders will fly to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to pitch the agreement to Air Force officials.

“To put anybody’s mind at ease who’s looking at bringing a mission here, who’s bringing a business here, we need certified levees,” Sanders said.

Previously the Defense Department determined that it is not responsible for the repairs and suggested that the NRD work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The NRD has since modified its proposal, Winkler said.

The project is expected to cost at least $25 million. Even if the NRD’s request is approved, Winkler said the federal money probably won’t be available until fiscal year 2017 or later.

The NRD also plans to apply for $10 million from a state water fund to finance the project, and the remaining cost would be split with Bellevue, Omaha and Sarpy County.

Winkler said the NRD already has spent about $2 million in engineering costs.

David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said the base’s future is tied to the levee repairs. And if private land behind the levees reverts to flood plain, he said, “it essentially becomes impossible to develop.”

Winkler said that if the NRD can’t get federal money for the project, the agency will focus on rebuilding the northern stretch of levee around the base. But, he said, “we’re moving forward as though the money’s coming in.”

Winkler said officials hope to start working on the project next year.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1216, cody.winchester@owh.com, 
twitter.com/cody_winchester

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