Businesses and Attractions Greatly Impacted Fortenberry Told Missouri River Flooding Is Taking Toll on Region
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry was in Brownville, Nebraska City, and Blair on Monday, July 18, to speak with local officials and residents regarding flooding concerns. Fortenberry toured the Cooper Nuclear Station facilities prior to a meeting at the Brownville Lyceum which drew over 30 audience members.
Purpose of the meeting at the Lyceum was to receive input from local officials, business owners and others.
While waiting for the congressman to arrive following his stop at Cooper Station, Brock resident Jim Gerking began a discussion with those present, which included three representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Director Al Berndt with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, and Mike Parker with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Gerking, with the help of his daughter Kathy, had prepared a document about the flooding and copies of which were distributed to all present. Gerking lives in Brock and is President of Entire Recycling, which has its tire recycling plant at Phelps City, Mo., about three miles east of the currently closed Highway 136 Missouri River bridge.
Gerking said his commute to the plant used to involve a 29 mile drive. Now, he has to travel 125 miles, if he could get there, and his most recent visit to the tire recycling plant was by boat.
Gerking commented, “The Entire plant seems to be in the middle of the river now as the water flows over Highway 136 from the north. Due to the levee break southwest of Watson, Mo., the river seems to be creating a new channel just east of our property. What is good news for the Cooper Nuclear Plant is not good news elsewhere, but if you live and work along this river right now all you can do is accept nature’s course.
“Except that it’s not natural. We all know that this is a flood we have been ‘managed into’. I’ve heard the words ‘historic flood’ repeated many times about this year. It is not obvious from the information released by the Army Corps of Engineers that this history won’t soon be repeating itself.
“Congressman Fortenberry, we need your help. We need answers. Even with the record level of snow pack and rainfall this year, the Missouri River Basin dams had over 34,000 Million Acre Storage Feet less on July 1, 2011 than on July 1, 2004. If the storage capacity had been at this level, we would not have had to see the Missouri out of its banks this year.
“The recent decision by the Corps of Engineers to reduce the CFS released from the Gavins Point Dam helps no one. The whole dam system needs to be flushed and returned to the capacity storage that was present in 2008 and before. Property is already inundated. Unless the system storage capacity is increased, residents and businesses down the river from the dam have no insurance or assurance that this scenario will not be repeated in 2010. Thirty percent of the storage capacity of the system has been eliminated in these last three years. Who advocated for this change and why is it part of the Corps of Engineers plan?
“The cost of this ‘historic flood’ of 2011 is huge. The loss of jobs, sales, income, tax base, and property will be totaled in the billions of dollars. The human costs cannot be calculated. People can’t get across bridges. Major highways are closed. They can’t get to their doctor. They can’t be with their families. They cannot transport their goods or offer their services. These headaches and heartaches cannot be calculated,” Gerking’s letter read.
Among Others Present
Also among those in attendance were Nemaha County Commissioners Bob Hutton, Dennis Wittmann, and Marvin Bohling, and County Clerk Joyce Oakley. A special meeting had been called so all could attend.
Helping to organize the meeting organized were Jay Tallmon and Martin Hayes, Brownville Village Board member and chairman, respectively. Others present were Brownville village trustees Martin Hayes and Paul Fish, John Stevenson with the local levee board, several Brownville business people and residents, local farmers and Chet Harper with the Brownville Village Theatre.
As the Joint Field Office coordintor out of Lincoln with FEMA, Mike Parker said a number of agencies and entities can receive with flooding situations should their presence be documented as needed.
Commissioner Wittmann asked how long entities involved may have to wait to get assistance should Nebraska receive a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Parker advised that there is a possibility of Community Development Loans should a Federal Disaster be declared by President Obama.
Hayes reported that the Village of Brownville’s water plant had been underwater for several days and may need to be replaced.
Parker reminded all considering applying for disaster assistance to document expenses and work done, and to include photographs if at all possible. This effort would be helpful later should FEMA provide funding and conduct an audit in the years following
The FEMA official said there aren’t any grants available for private businesses, but there may be a possibility for non-profit organizations to receive disaster assistance.
Al Berndt with the Nebraska EMA explained that the criteria for determining whether a project qualifies for a Federal Disaster Designation depends upon the numbers. Up to this point is has been difficult to obtain all of the information needed because some of the locations remain flooded and the extent of damage is not yet known.
Fortenberry told the constituents present that he appreciated their taking the time to tell him about the difficulty which the flooding has caused to their businesses and lives.
The representative said, “I’m very sorry for your difficulty. Seeing first-hand the ongoing flooding along the Missouri River is a very jarring sight. I can assure you that the Corps of Engineers is trying to get done what it needs to. I can assure you I will do everything I can to help expedite some of the paperwork which is required for helping to return to normal once the water goes away.”
A common comment which the congressman heard was that the closure of Highway 136 between Rock Port, Mo., and including the Missouri River bridge was having a serious impact on Brownville businesses and attractions.
Eldon Kistner with Rivertown Antiques and Ice Cream Shop advised that his businesses experienced a huge drop in tourist traffic after the bridge closed.
Brownville resident Bob Chitwood, speaking on behalf of the Brownville Historical Society, said the Missouri River community has been affected by flooding the last several years and this continues take a toll on those working to keep Brownville as a tourism destination.
Chitwood said the river, as of lately, hasn’t been helping with the quality of life in this region. “People don’t feel safe boating on the Missouri River anymore and the flooding causes too many cancellations. It’s getting harder to find people willing to invest in Brownville due to the problems with the river. We need to try to make the river a positive instead of a negative,” he commented.
BVT Director Harper said the repertory theatre has been heavily impacted by the bridge’s closing and add to that the fact that the Missouri River isn’t available for dinner-cruises. The Brownville Village Theatre normally has a number of cruise/theatre package deals with the Spirit of Brownville. With the river being declared off limits to boaters, that isn’t an option this year. This has meant the loss in thousands of dollars to BVT, not to mentioned the Smiths riverboat operation.
Also, the Smiths River Inn Resort Bed & Breakfast hasn’t been open since shortly after the Corps had to greatly increase the amount of water from its upstream reservoirs on a daily basis.
Harold Davis said about two-thirds of his business at the Brownville Mills is generally from people living in Missouri.
Allison Hayes of Brownville said people are cut off from attending activities and shows in the historic community due to the bridge being closed and the high cost of fuel for those considering taking the long way around via Plattsmouth or St. Joseph, Mo.
Fortenberry also heard that Auburn merchants are losing out on sales because their normal customers from Missouri and even southwest Iowa can no longer reach the county seat as easily.
After leaving Brownville, Fortenberry and the representatives with the Corps of Engineers, FEMA and NEMA left for Nebraska City. In the Otoe County seat he planned to review that city’s infrastructure and have lunch with the Nebraska City Young Professionals.
That same afternoon, the congressman continued on to Blair to review that community’s infrastructure and receive a briefing from officials there.