Housing, Infrastructure Reimbursement Remain Challenges One Year After 2019 Floods

March 9, 2020, 3:25 p.m. ·

A washed-out bridge over the Loup River on Highway 39 near Genoa. (NET Nebraska)

Reimbursement for infrastructure repairs remains the most significant barrier to recovery from last year’s catastrophic flooding. State officials provided updates to ongoing recovery efforts Monday morning.

When the floods hit on March 14 last year, one of out of every three highways was closed.

Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis says 99% of the roads were back open within 30 days, but, "Just one month ago, 11 months after the flood, we opened the last bridge."

FEMA will reimburse 75% of the cost for eligible infrastructure repairs – the state will kick in 12.5%, and local governments are responsible for the remaining 12.5%.

Gov. Pete Ricketts asked the state legislature for about $50 million for the state’s share, and another $9.2 million to help the hardest-hit counties.

The Appropriations Committee is recommending about $7 million less than the governor asked for, because it says some of the projects included in his request haven’t historically been eligible for assistance. Lawmakers are expected to begin debating the budget Thursday.

State officials are working a long-term disaster recovery plan.

Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Bryan Tuma says housing is a top priority in the ongoing flood recovery efforts.

"Home repairs, housing stock, and access to affordable housing are critical issues in many areas that were impacted by the flooding," Tuma said. "The availability of contractors to address home repairs are in short supply."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated $109 million for disaster relief, but local governments won’t be able to apply for funding for several months.

And while emergency managers across the state are planning for the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, Gov. Pete Ricketts says flooding should remain a priority.

"We want people to continue to be mindful that even though the focus right now is on coronavirus, we could still, with weather events, face additional flooding," Ricketts said.

The National Weather Service says the risk of flooding this year is elevated, especially along the Missouri River.