In late spring 2008, Nebraska experienced a string of severe storms that debilitated many communities. The storms produced dangerous winds, tornadoes, and a heavy influx of water, causing extensive flooding. Evaluations were done by the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine whether the state would qualify for disaster-based aid. Nebraska received a major disaster declaration, meaning that different entities in the state were eligible to receive funding assistance from FEMA and other organizations that distribute emergency funds. A total of 19 projects statewide qualified for disaster recovery aid in 2008.
Alexandria (pop. 176) was one such community awarded Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds in 2008 for storm-related damages, mainly flooding. The goal of the CDBG-DR program was to fund projects that would help prevent severe future damage in response to recent disasters, as well as aid in repairing damaged infrastructure.
Nebraska was awarded approximately $5.5 million in CDBG-DR funds, distributed and awarded during four different funding cycles. Although all communities applied in 2008, following the storms, the funds were distributed over time. Alexandria received its grant funds in 2010, totaling $754,532.14 for their project activities. With matching loans of $871,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the project totaled $1,625,532.14. A total of 197 people throughout the area received assistance (121 or 61.42% of whom were low-to-moderate income persons). While the project was officially funded in 2010, activities commenced in early 2013, with most finished by December 2014. All project activities will be completed by March 2015.
The Alexandria project activities addressed lagoon walls that collapsed as a result of heavy flooding, and improving the water/wastewater infrastructure of the sewer mains. Following the walls’ collapse in 2008, sewage was released downstream from the lagoon, resulting in a long-term safety concern that needed to be addressed in order to prevent future problems. During the design process, Village officials and their engineer determined the best solution was to relocate and construct new lagoons and a lift station away from the 100-year floodplain. Final project activities included acquiring land for and constructing the new lagoons, elevating manholes, building a lift station, sliplining sewer mains, filling dirt in the old lagoons, and repairing exposed sewer mains.
Alexandria was the last of the 2008 CDBG-DR projects funded in Nebraska, with no other CDBG-DR funds having been distributed since the 2008 storms. Currently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is overseeing a new federal program called NDRC (Natural Disaster Resilience Competition) which will allocate CDBG-DR funds for similar projects. The NDRC is a competitive standard used to better measure the disaster needs of applicants for Disaster Recovery funds. States must apply if interested and funds will be distributed according to established criteria for fund allocation based on competitive rankings of applicants. Approximately $1 billion of Disaster Recovery funds have been allocated nationally for this program.
Safety is the number one issue addressed by the CDBG program as it relates to Disaster Recovery. Without funding availability to safeguard and protect against future infrastructure damage resulting from natural disasters, communities are left vulnerable. The value of safety can never be overstated, especially in rural communities statewide that may not always receive the same level of attention as larger Nebraska cities. Safety needs require this kind of detailed attention, when necessary.