It’s a too-familiar story.
Roads washed out. Hungry cattle. Frustrated farmers and ranchers.
But in this case, it’s not unfolding in central or eastern Nebraska.
Dawes County in northwest Nebraska is hurting, too.
Although the White River did flood, the county’s misery started with 2½ inches of rain on March 13, followed by 18 to 24 inches of snow. Then came another 8 to 12 inches of snow on March 29. It was raining again on Wednesday.
“It’s a mess,” said Chelsey Scherbarth, who ranches with husband John 18 miles southwest of Chadron.
Because the ground was still frozen, runoff from melting snow spread across the county, forcing the closure of 34 roads.
Some now have one lane available to local traffic, but officials are asking for out-of-town people to stay away.
A section of Table Road, which is crucial for many to reach Chadron, was under about 2 feet of water until Wednesday afternoon, when pumping began to clear the area.
“This is costing people a lot of money,” rancher Mike Manion said. “I understand this storm is worse than anybody has ever seen. But we need to get out and get these roads open.”
Fourteen to 18 crews are working across the county to open roads to local traffic. County officials have asked for federal disaster relief. They’ll be using anything left in the budget to finance repairs, then will move to contingency funds.
That’s little comfort to Manion, who, like many, can’t use heavy machinery to haul in feed for the 2,500 head of cattle on his 1,500 acres south of Chadron.
The Scherbarths rely on Table Road to get son Declan to kindergarten. Chelsey was afraid to tackle the roughly 200 yards of flooded road after her pickup started to float during a trip to school, so Declan has missed some classes.
John hauls cattle, hay and grain as a side job, but they can’t get their semitrailer truck home, which causes additional stress. Other families have been able to leave their property only by using four-wheelers.
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“It’s been terrible,” Chelsey says. “It’s almost like a lake just covering our road. Our other options to get to town are mudholes. So we have no good way out.”
The warmer weather has begun to melt the icy ground, so water is starting to recede. That will allow crews to add gravel to stabilize the muddy roads.
Jake Stewart, a Dawes County Board member, hopes several will be open for local use by the end of the week.
Table Road has been a challenge because the flooded area is surrounded by wetlands, causing further frustration and questions about how to fix it.
After consulting some government agencies, Stewart said, the county will use irrigation pipes to drain off the road, leaving the wetlands undamaged.
Work started Wednesday afternoon, and water will drain off the Pine Ridge. Gravel will be used to further stabilize the road for local traffic. Because the full extent of damage is unknown, commercial traffic will have to wait.
That’s some good news for ranchers such as Casey Schuhmacher, who lives west of Chadron. He feels left in the dark about progress on the roads. He’d like to see more updates from county officials or even evening information meetings that everyone can attend.
“All these landowners, we’re paying a lot of taxes in this county,” he said. “I would think this would be important to these people.”
Vic Rivera, another County Board member, said officials know it’s a tough situation for those who live in the area. People are relying on the roads to feed their cattle and get them to market.
“It’s a necessity we get these roads back open,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”