Photo: March 2019 brought historic flooding to major portions of Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) has awarded nearly a million dollars in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to help Dodge County and the City of Fremont repair levees breached during the March 2019 floods.
The two awardees will be the first to receive funding under the state’s new Emergent Threat CDBG category. DED Community Development and CDBG Program Specialists quickly developed the category in the wake of the disaster to allow CDBG funding to be applied toward flood relief.
“I have tasked our State agencies to look for ways to direct resources toward flood relief,” said Governor Pete Ricketts. “State teammates at DED deserve credit for their resourcefulness in allocating CDBG funds to help local communities rebuild their infrastructure.”
Vast areas of Nebraska were impacted by last spring’s historic flooding. Some of the most widespread devastation in Dodge County occurred when breaches to the Ames Dike and the Fremont, Farmland and Railroad Levee sent water rushing through the Highway 30 corridor, then into south Fremont and neighboring Inglewood.
“When the Ames Dike was breached the Platte basically formed a second river that traveled over ten-and-a-half miles through populated rural land before reaching Fremont and breaching the levee,” said Lowell Schroeder, a Community Planner for Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District.
Experts say dozens of rural homes, miles of transportation infrastructure and over a thousand acres of land were damaged or destroyed along the highway corridor, while at least 1,300 homes suffered some level of damage — or were left completely uninhabitable — in Fremont and Inglewood. In the latter, around 90% of homes sustained damage.
Now, with the spring flood season less than six months away, the dike and the levee must be repaired quickly.
Dodge County and the City of Fremont (as separate entities) have teamed up with FEMA, NEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate and repair the damaged structures. With the Corps covering 80 percent of the $2.1 million needed for Ames Dike constructions costs, the County and the Ames Dike District will use Emergent Threat funds to finance the remaining 20 percent, plus the cost of easements and materials. Meanwhile, the City of Fremont will utilize CDBG and local funding to reconstruct and improve the Fremont, Farmland and Railroad levee, where emergency repairs have been made with FEMA, NEMA and City funds.
Allocated to states by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and administered by DED to Nebraska’s non-metropolitan areas, CDBG funding in Nebraska has typically been used for non-emergency projects, from water/wastewater improvements to downtown revitalization. But the Federal Government allows for flexibility in the use of CDBG funding, so long as funded projects meet national program objectives (i.e., benefit low-to-moderate income persons, eliminate slum or blight conditions, or solve catastrophic health and safety threats). So, when the floods hit and Governor Pete Ricketts directed all State Departments to examine their programs for potential applications to disaster relief and recovery, the CDBG program was an obvious candidate.
“One of the reasons CDBG is such a tremendous resource is that it allows our Department to be agile in the way we award funding for economic development,” said DED Director Anthony L. Goins. “Now, that flexibility has enabled us to answer the call of our Governor and come to the aid of communities in need of emergency assistance.”
By publically amending its 2019 Qualified Allocation Plan, DED was able to make disaster relief funding available under the new Emergent Threat category. Dodge County and the City of Fremont were the two earliest applicants for funding, with each set to receive $485,000.
“Without CDBG dollars I really don’t know how these projects could have moved forward,” said Dodge County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Missel. “This funding will allow the projects to proceed and help to restore vital protection to ag land, roads and bridges, businesses and homes. It is truly appreciated.”
This is not the first time DED has awarded CDBG dollars to support rebuilding in the flood’s aftermath. In April, DED issued a reminder that CDBG guidelines allowed for flood relief and mitigation studies under the preexisting Planning category. This category was put to use when the City of Fremont and Inglewood spearheaded a joint venture to evaluate the local levee, formulate repair plans and create a blueprint for reaching a new safety standard.
Currently, Dodge County and local leaders are also working together to provide long term flood protection for the County.
“The Joint Water Management Board is seeking funding for a study of the entire area, which will help us understand how all these different levee and water drainage systems work together. That will ultimately help us create a more resilient system,” said City of Fremont Executive Assistant and Grant Coordinator Lottie Mitchell. Mitchell said the results of the study will help stakeholders in Dodge County determine ways to make the entire levee and drainage system less susceptible to failure during extreme events.
Meanwhile, DED will continue to accept applications for CDBG Emergent Threat funding under an open cycle. Counties or communities wishing to apply for CDBG funding should visit
https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/program/community-development-block-grant/ for application guidelines and detailed information. For specific questions, contact DED CDBG Program Manager Steve Charleston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-3757.