The view from high above Nebraska’s damaged infrastructure tells U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that it’s going to be a long haul to rebuild both temporary and long-term flooding protections.
Sasse, who flew around eastern Nebraska with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday morning, said at a press conference later that one of the Army Corps officials said the Missouri River levee system looks like Swiss cheese with all the breaches and holes from the powerful floodwaters.
“Their view is lots and lots of ... breaches are big enough that there are no repairs of certain levees — you’re going to have to tear them down and rebuild them from the foundations back up,” Sasse said at Riverview Community Church in Ashland. The church is serving as a donation distribution center; flood victims can stock up on supplies including fans, mops, bleach, granola bars, diapers and cat food.
Areas hard hit by flooding are just getting out of the rescue and recovery phase now, Sasse said. The next phase — getting some flood protections back into place — will have to kick into gear soon.
“Phase 2 is how do you get a temporary system of flood protections back into place for the next few months, because thunderstorms in Nebraska in the summer create flash floods all the time,” he said.
Phase 3 will involve longer-term decisions about what investments to make in damaged infrastructure, he said.
“What we ultimately rebuild will be bigger and better in the long term, but there’s going to be a whole bunch of prioritization decisions that have to be made along the way,” Sasse said.
That includes residents in flood-prone areas, who may have to decide whether to rebuild or relocate, what kind of flood insurance they need and whether they’re satisfied with local levee protection.
“You have a lot of farmers and ranchers who are already thinking now about harvest next fall — how are they going to be able to get crops and livestock to market when a lot of the roads don’t exist?” Sasse said.
Sasse said he also met with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert to discuss options for the city’s Papillion Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was shut down March 15 as waters rushed over the levee there. The plant, which processes wastewater for 600,000 Douglas and Sarpy County residents, is still nonoperational and wastewater is being discharged into the Missouri River.