We can empathize with the residents of Rock County in North Central Nebraska — as well as 15 other counties in parts of the state — for the disappointment and frustration they must have felt when their request for a federal disaster declaration recently was denied.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and other state emergency management officials had made the request in the wake of extreme rains that fell in September.
No, they weren’t as bad as the historic flooding that took place across much of eastern Nebraska in March 2019. But the reality is that there were heavy enough to exacerbate what was still a difficult situation in rebounding from the extreme spring flooding.
In Rock County, for example, the March weather blew out the approaches to the bridge over the Pine Creek. Then, in September, the rainfall generated even worse flooding, and the bridge itself was washed away.
But federal government officials denied — for a second time — the request for the disaster declaration.
“I don’t know what the county is going to do,” said Doug Fox, emergency management director for Region 24 in Nebraska, which includes Rock County. “I’m a little overwhelmed that we didn’t get the disaster declaration.”
While it’s true — as Mr. Fox and others pointed out — that the Pine Creek bridge is an important transportation option and that the September floods were, in some areas, even more destructive than those in March, we understand that there have to be rules governing disaster declarations.
The problem is that the overall amount of damage caused by the September rains didn’t reach the threshold required to merit federal aid, a Federal Emergency Management spokeswoman said.
We would have hoped for a bit of leeway since it would be difficult to pinpoint what damage may have been especially exacerbated by the second round of flooding. But no such luck. As a result, the hoped-for $3 million in assistance won’t be forthcoming.
State officials say they are committed to trying to help the affected counties as much as possible, but it won’t be the same as federal aid. Federal assistance can provide up to 75 percent of the cost of repairs, while a state declaration only amounts to 12.5 percent. Emergency funds may be able to provide up to 50 percent of a repair project’s costs to counties.
Yes, every little bit helps, but it’s still understandably disappointing to those directly affected. Certainly, Gov. Pete Ricketts and others in state government have tried their hardest, but rules are rules.
The hope now is that the upcoming spring won’t be a wet one. Many parts of Nebraska remain saturated and bountiful spring rains — in this case — won’t be helpful.