The first half of the month of June brought heavy rainfall to northeastern Nebraska including the community of Schuyler. Heavy storms the weekend of June 20 caused lowland flooding along Shell Creek reminding residents of Schuyler of the importance of constructing a new levee. The Shell Creek Levee project experienced work delays during the week of June 23 because of the increased precipitation and runoff.
Ceremonial shovels broke ground in Schuyler March 27 and despite rain and chilly temperatures, warmth from smiles radiated from the project team. This was an important day for the city of Schuyler, the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District (NRD), and the Omaha District, all partnering on a project to reduce flood risks in Schuyler.
The formal groundbreaking ceremony took place at the Oak Ballroom, a Roosevelt-era structure built on the north shore of Lost Creek by the Works Project Administration. Schuyler Mayor Dave Reinecke, a speaker at the ceremony, recounted stories of watching his neighbors lose their homes to flooding from Shell Creek in 1990 and the fire department filling his basement with water to prevent the foundation from caving in during that same flood. Reinecke said that over his 16-year term in office, he has watched his entire community suffer through numerous devastating floods from the water overflowing the banks of Shell Creek and Lost Creek.
Other speakers included staff members from the offices of U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Senator Mike Johanns, and the Lower Platte North NRD. Tim Culp, owner of TJC Engineering, the contractor hired for constructing the project, also spoke. Closing remarks were given by Omaha District Commander, Colonel Joel Cross.
As each speaker addressed the crowd of approximately 50, one simple message consistently emerged – the spirit of collaboration that was shown by everyone involved with the project.
As the crowd left the Oak Ballroom and made its way to the rain-soaked project site, TJC Engineering had been hard at work removing trees and clearing ground cover for the project. The Louisville, Ky.,-based company, which has extensive experience working with other USACE districts around the country, was awarded the $3.2 million construction contract in September 2013 for the first phase of the project. Phase 1 consists of a new 2.18-mile levee located north and east of Schuyler designed to reduce flooding risks posed by Shell Creek.
Construction planning for this new levee involved extensive collaboration between numerous stakeholders. The partnership began in the early 2000s when the city of Schuyler and the Lower Platte North NRD approached the Omaha District about conducting an initial assessment of Platte River flooding and evaluating levee alternatives to reduce flood risk along the southern portion of Schuyler. According to Mark Nelson, Planning Branch Project Manager, “The results of that study indicated that there was federal interest in pursuing a comprehensive feasibility study.”
Schuyler and the NRD agreed to be cost-share sponsors with the Omaha District for a Section 205 flood risk management feasibility study. As the Platte River study progressed, a major flood from Shell Creek in May 2008 caused property damage in the northeastern part of the city. Because of the extensive flood devastation, Schuyler added Shell Creek to the feasibility study.
While residents were completing repairs to their homes and businesses from the 2008 flood, they were hit again in 2010 with flooding in the north from Shell Creek and in the south from Lost Creek, a minor tributary of the Platte River.
In 2011, with input from the cost-share sponsors and the public, the Omaha District completed the Section 205 feasibility study, which identified an economically-feasible project consisting of two levee systems, one to reduce risks from Shell Creek flooding and another along the south side of the city to address Platte River flooding.
“Collaboration on this project has been key, and every single member of the Project Delivery Team has been fully engaged with the sponsors, landowners impacted by the project and residents affected by years of flooding,” said Nelson.
Tommy Aldmeyer and Andrew Barry, Geotechnical Engineers in the Geotechnical Engineering Branch, spent many hours in the field working with landowners laying out a final levee alignment that would have the least impact on each person’s property. They also worked extensively with landowners to ensure their irrigation equipment would continue to be able to water crops on both sides of the levee.
Curtis Miller, a Hydraulic Engineer in the Hydraulic Engineering Branch, worked with residents of Rogers, a community of 95 people located 8 miles downstream from Schuyler, to demonstrate through hydraulic modeling that the Shell Creek levee would not contribute to an increased likelihood of flooding.
“Other team members played an integral part in getting this project to the groundbreaking,” said Nelson. “Candace Akins in Real Estate negotiated tirelessly with the city, the NRD and landowners to obtain the required real estate for the project. Christian Davenport in the Engineering Division coordinated with the Nebraska Department of Roads to ensure no traffic safety concerns were created with the road raise. Tom Gorman, also in the Engineering Division, worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make sure the new levee would comply with that agency’s floodplain regulations.”
By adhering to FEMA standards, the new Shell Creek levee can be accredited, which will benefit Schuyler residents in the protected area with greatly reduced flood insurance premiums.
Phase 1 construction of the Shell Creek levee is expected to be complete in the fall of 2014. Phase 2, once funded, would involve constructing a new levee, approximately 2.5 miles long, south and west of Schuyler along Lost Creek. The Omaha District is working on the design of the Platte River levee. Once the total project is fully implemented (Phase 1 and 2), the risk of flooding in the majority of Schuyler will be greatly reduced, and the potential for annual flood damages will be lowered by approximately $1.9 million.