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Corps Section 14 project facilitates Scribner’s promising future

Planning Branch, Omaha District
Published Sept. 2, 2014
In 2010, high Elkhorn River flows caused extensive bank erosion and tree damage just upstream of County Road F and the Elkhorn River Bridge east of Scribner, Neb.

In 2010, high Elkhorn River flows caused extensive bank erosion and tree damage just upstream of County Road F and the Elkhorn River Bridge east of Scribner, Neb.

Illustration shows a series of rip rapped spur dikes used to slow down river flow and reduce bank erosion.

Illustration shows a series of rip rapped spur dikes used to slow down river flow and reduce bank erosion.

The town’s motto is “Strong heritage...promising future.” Founded in 1870 as a bustling railroad town, Scribner, Neb., has endured many financial hardships throughout the past two centuries including the locust plague in the mid 1870s; the Elkhorn River flood of 1944, which claimed two lives and caused thousands of dollars of damage; and the loss of service by a major railroad in the 1980s. Despite these difficult times, Scribner remained steadfast and now considers itself a prosperous, family-oriented community.

Scribner, located about an hour northwest of Omaha in Dodge County, boasts a vibrant downtown area with museums, shops, and parks, including Riverfront Park which provides visitors with public access to the Elkhorn River. Many people who live, work and recreate in Scribner rely on County Road F, a major thoroughfare that crosses the Elkhorn River Bridge on the east side of town.

According to the latest vehicle count conducted by the Nebraska Department of Roads, 177,000 vehicles traveled one-way on County Road F and the Elkhorn River Bridge that year, which averaged out to 485 vehicles per day. This heavily traveled two-lane highway is vital to the town because it provides access to Highway 77, a major route to the state capitol in Lincoln, and is used as a primary road by Scribner’s fire and rescue services and school buses. County Road F is also important to local farmers who transport their grain to the elevators in town.

In the spring of 2010, a major flood from the Elkhorn River caused the left river bank just upstream from County Road F and the bridge to erode back 200 feet and decimated an entire tree line several hundred feet long. Scribner town officials were concerned the erosion would continue to cut the bank and eventually damage the highway taking out the bridge. At the town’s request, a team from the Omaha District conducted a site visit shortly after the flood confirming the highway and bridge were facing imminent threat and qualified for assistance under USACE Section 14, Emergency Streambank and Shoreline Protection Program.

Corps’ Continuing Authorities

Under Section 14, USACE has authority to construct projects to reduce streambank erosion to protect public infrastructure such as highways, bridges, hospitals and schools. According to Gwyn Jarrett, Section 14 Program Manager, “The benefit of constructing a project under Section 14 is that it falls under a standing authority, a Continuing Authority, provided by Congress to allow the Corps to respond to situations when public infrastructure is imminently threatened. The result is a decrease in the amount of time it takes to get smaller, less complex projects constructed.”

Each of the ‘Continuing Authorities’ carries with it pre-approval for construction without the need for additional congressional authority, provided the recommended project falls within the parameters of the specific program including specified limits on how much federal money can be spent on a project. Currently, the federal investment in a Section 14 project is limited to a maximum of $1.5 million per project.

Erosion Solution

The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District, who is the project sponsor, the town of Scribner and Dodge County, decided that Section 14 was their best course of action and agreed to cooperate and bring this project to a reality with each paying one-third of the non-federal portion of the project. In 2013, following a public review period and collaboration with the sponsor, town and county, the Omaha District completed a feasibility study, which identified the construction of spur dikes along the eroded section of the river as the most cost-effective, feasible solution.

The project will consist of a series of five spur dikes at various locations along the eroded bank. Each spur dike will be an earthen structure between 37 and 122 feet long and covered with rip rap. The purpose of a spur dike is to slow down the flow of the river, thus reducing erosion along the bank. As the water slows, silt will settle behind the dike on the downstream side and fill in the eroded bank.

“Even though this is a smaller project,” said Jarrett, “the same amount of communication and collaboration occurs as it does with a large, multi-million dollar project. There was coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to ensure no impacts to wildlife, the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office to confirm there were no archeological resources located in the proposed project area, and the Dodge County engineer to certify the water level in the floodplain would not rise more than one foot as a result of the project.”

In addition to these and other state and local agencies, Jarrett communicated closely with the landowners who own the riverbank where the work will be taking place. “I kept the landowners in the loop throughout the entire feasibility process including explaining everything from real estate easements to the development of alternatives. They appreciated the two-way communication and had a better understanding of the Corps’ process. I think this helped contribute to their support of the project.”

Now that the feasibility phase is complete, the project moves into the construction phase with the recent award of the contract in August 2014 to Iowa-based Niewohner Construction, Inc. for approximately $289,000. Once notice to proceed is given, the project is expected to take no more than six months to complete. The District’s Fort Crook Project Office will provide construction oversight to ensure design specifications are met, safety standards are adhered to and construction remains on schedule.