Flood-fighting berms may stay - Omaha.com
Published Friday, April 13, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 7:02 am
Flood-fighting berms may stay

Spooked by last year's historic flooding along the Missouri River, cities in the Omaha area have plenty of reason to like the emergency fortifications made to their levees.

More than $9 million in hastily placed seepage berms helped repulse water that tried to force the river through weak spots in metropolitan-area levees.

Now the question is what to do with the berms.

Typically such emergency measures must be torn out after disasters, but local and federal officials are working to keep the berms in place, said Kim Thomas, chief of emergency management for the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She said the berms proved their worth during the flood.

But the solution isn't as simple as it sounds.

First the corps must analyze each berm to figure out if it has enough structural integrity to remain in place, Thomas said. The corps is doing that now in Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie Counties at a cost of $510,000. Results are expected this summer.

"More than likely all those seepage berms will need to be left in," Thomas said.

The corps has a vested interest in keeping the seepage berms in place because successive years of flooding make clear that they are needed, said Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the corps in the Kansas City, Mo., area. In years past, the corps simply repaired levees to pre-flood condition. Now officials are moving toward making the levees more robust.

Most of the seepage berm work was concentrated in the Omaha area and northwest Missouri.

In the Omaha and Kansas City corps districts combined, about $12 million was spent last summer on the berms. Of that, $8.7 million was spent by the corps in the Omaha metro area, $3.2 million by the corps in northwest Missouri and about $560,000 by the City of Omaha.

But there's a financial twist in Omaha.

The city will get reimbursed by the federal government only if the berms it built are torn out.

Local governments are eligible for state and Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars for temporary protections erected in the middle of a disaster. Under federal rules, neither FEMA nor the corps reimburses cities for city-funded improvements made permanent, said Thomas and regional FEMA spokeswoman Amanda Bicknell.

So if the Omaha-funded berms are robust enough to remain in place, as the city and corps want, Omaha will pick up the full cost of its sand berms. It also might end up absorbing the $500,000 it spent to surface the top of its northern levee with chipped asphalt.

Omaha officials say they understand FEMA's limitations.

"During the flood fight, we needed them," said Gordon Andersen, chief of operations for Omaha's flood fight. "These were put in under the assumption they would be temporary. We realized upfront if we didn't remove them, we wouldn't be reimbursed.

"As we continue to evaluate the levees, it may be better to leave them in."

Aida Amoura, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Suttle's office, said the city wouldn't dare pull out the berms to get a FEMA subsidy.

"The long-term savings and the long-term protections will be a much bigger win" for the city than what Omaha would get from federal aid, Amoura said.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1102, nancy.gaarder@owh.com

Contact the writer: Nancy Gaarder

nancy.gaarder@owh.com    |   402-444-1102    |  

Nancy writes about weather, including a blog, Nancy's Almanac. She enjoys explaining the science behind weather and making weather stories relevant in daily life.

Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
After all his bluster and bravado in the courtroom, Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »