Daily Levee Patrol Responsibilities Return to Locals National Guard Ended Its Physical Monitoring of Levees on Nebraska Side of Missouri River
On July 30, about a dozen Nebraska National Guard troops ended their 24-hour patrol of a roughly five-mile-long levee that protects farm fields and eight houses on the northern edge of Peru. Local officials had been planning to assume levee patrol responsibility when the Guard left on Sunday.
The Guard earlier announced its plans to pull back from levee monitoring along the Nebraska side of the river starting Sunday. The areas affected include Nemaha, Cass, Sarpy, Douglas and Dakota counties. However, the Guard continues to monitor levees in western Iowa.
Floodwaters had come within 6 inches of the top of the levee at some points in recent weeks, but the water levels have receded by about five feet. According to Allan Adams, vice president, the Peru Dike and Drainage District was working to line the levee with several hundred tons of rock.
“It’s not over,” Adams told the Omaha World-Herald. “You still have the issue of saturation. That’s our biggest concern from here on out.”
Starting this week, he and a group of volunteers will monitor the levee at least once a day until the river level returns to normal.
Most of the Peru homeowners in the danger zone voluntarily relocated.
This Reporter’s Observations
On the evening of July 29, this reporter accompanied Rich Vlach, Nemaha County Emergency Management Deputy Director and his wife Judy when they delivered several pizzas to the National Guard at Neal Dining Hall. Local businesses and other groups, including the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, have helped with arrangements for a few meals each week for the citizen-soldiers who worked 12-hour shifts patrolling the levee to assure that any problems which might arise would be detected and hopefully could be fixed quickly.
CW3 Max Roland of Papillion served as the liaison officer for the final group’s stay in Peru. He was in charge of coordinating the Guard’s operations with Emergency Management and Peru State College officials, and others. Roland arrived on July 5, while the first group of Guardsmen and women arrived on the scene June 23rd, one day after Governor Dave Heineman authorized the use of the National Guard to help protect Nebraska’s citizens by monitoring levees as the Missouri River began a climb to mostly unprecedented levels.
Roland said the Guard members as of late had been able to patrol the levee both by vehicles and on foot. However, there were instances earlier when they had to complete their patrols solely on foot under some extreme temperatures and other adverse conditions. The area patrolled basically stretched from the pumping station to the bluffs east of Peru.
When Guardsmen found weak spots such as sand boils and rodent holes, they would mark them to attract the attention of levee district representatives who were responsible for filling or repairing them. The largest repairs made were “ seepage blankets” which consist of a solid plastic-like material being covered with up to a couple of feet of sand. It was noted that some seepwells didn’t seem to perform the task which they were supposed to.
The troops based at Peru came from across the state and in their normal careers perform a variety of occupations. There are also some younger members who are still attending college.
Roland explained that the Guard solicited volunteers to assist with the levee patrols and it was able to come up with sufficient manpower that way. The visitors stayed in a dormitory in the Centennial Complex and the former Neal Dining Hall served as the staging and dining location.
A Cooperative Effort
Roland said about Peru State College’s cooperation on the matter, “They [PSC officials] were great to work with. They provided free housing and had staff available to prepare our meals on a contract basis. They provided laundry machines for free and allowed us to utilize the weight room and library at no charge. They went above and beyond the call while trying to accommodate our needs.”
The Guard spokesman also credited the Nemaha County Emergency Management Agency and other local officials for being very helpful during the stint. He said that the Guard members drank a tremendous amount of water due to the hot, humid conditions. Also provided were snacks, sunscreen and insect repellents—all which came in very handy.
Although the Guard no longer has a physical presence on the levee site, it is still providing air surveillance and has sand bags available if they should be needed.