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Flooding of the Middle Loup River near Mike Kaminski’s family farm. 

Washed-out roads, toppled bridges and flooded canals all cost a lot of money to repair. Just ask Nance County, just west of Columbus and the spot where two rivers flow into the larger Loup River.

Early estimates put the repair cost for public infrastructure at $65,000 for each of the county’s 3,569 residents. That’s $231 million overall, according to preliminary estimates from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. That figure doesn’t include damage to private property, which is estimated at another $1.5 million.

The estimates will probably change, and Nance County officials say they expect the public infrastructure figure to come down. Still, Nance is expected to remain among the Nebraska counties hit hardest in last month’s flooding.

“It was just kind of the perfect scenario” for flooding, said Russell Callan, general manager of the Lower Loup Natural Resources District.

The ground was frozen, and so were the rivers. When the rain came, the snow started melting, but it couldn’t be absorbed into the frozen ground. In Nance County, the Beaver River and Cedar Creek both feed into the Loup River.

“Those large pieces of ice are like a bulldozer flowing down the river,” Callan said, taking out bridges and flooding the Loup Power District’s canal.

In the end, 13 of the county’s bridges were damaged or unusable because the approaches were washed out, though some have already been repaired.

Statewide, the damage to public property is estimated to be more than half a billion dollars, and that figure is likely to rise as more losses are reported. Private citizens have reported millions of dollars more in damage on top of that.

Larry Dix, the head of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, said he expects Nance to remain the hardest-hit county, or at least one of the worst, as more damage estimates come in. He said Nance, like other counties in the state, is finding that bridges are particularly expensive to repair.

“It’s one thing to sort of dump a bunch of gravel on a road,” he said. “But when you have to go through and repair a bridge, you’re just going to spend all kinds of money.”

The Nance County Board is set to vote Tuesday to allocate $3.3 million to repair flood damage between now and June. County-owned roads alone will cost almost $11 million to repair, Deputy County Clerk SuAnn Engel said. That’s more than the county spent last year — $7.5 million.

And this year, the county doesn’t have $3 million to spare — it has about $1 million in reserves. The hope, Engel said, is that more will come in through federal or state aid.

For more perspective: The county is spending roughly $3,500 each day on fuel for trucks hauling gravel and making other repairs.

“The expenses are going to add up quickly,” Engel said.

Generally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses 75% of approved disaster costs. But it’s not clear when Nance County and other Nebraska municipalities will receive that money.

A FEMA spokesman wouldn’t say how long it normally takes to provide reimbursement for counties. (He did say private citizens can receive reimbursement within a few days of applying.)

But Denise Ziemba, the emergency manager for Nance and three other counties, said she expects it to take about two years to receive any money and up to seven years to receive full reimbursement.

“You fix some, and you worry about payment later,” she said. “That’s all you can do.”

The City of Omaha received staggered FEMA reimbursements for the 2011 flood, said Finance Director Steve Curtiss. Multimillion-dollar projects took about two to five years to be reimbursed, he said, in part because of FEMA audits and inspections of the work. Reimbursements for smaller projects came in more quickly.

A $13 billion disaster relief package that is currently stalled in Congress could help out. But in the absence of that, Ziemba said the county will probably have to look into a loan or bonds to pay for some of the damage.

And even if local municipalities had all the money they needed, it would still be a long process to repair damaged infrastructure. Labor and engineering take time.

“The damages are so severe that we ask for patience,” she said. “This is going to be a long, long fix.”

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