In an unexpected change of course on Thursday night, the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resource District Board of Directors voted in favor of a motion that could potentially see the controversial Battle Creek Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) dam study completed.
With the passage of the motion, general manager Mike Sousek is authorized to negotiate the terms for completing the study with Houston Engineering.
In a recent meeting, the board voted to remove the dam from consideration altogether, thereby placing the WFPO study in jeopardy.
Speaking on behalf of continuing the study was board member Gary Loftis.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about what we can financially do. Is anyone here going to vote for spending $30 million … for a single levee?”
Loftis said the dam proposal is the only one that makes sense for the board to consider.
“To me, the only thing that makes sense is, at least, let the study go through. … That seems to be the only thing that we can financially do,” Loftis said.
Speaking against the continuation of the study was board member Jerry Allemann, who has consistently opposed the dam project. Allemann said he still questions the budget numbers for the dam project and indicated that he was concerned that the public had not been made aware of the actual costs of the project. He added that local media outlets had not accurately reported the costs of land purchase.
“For some reason the newspaper hasn’t covered this, that the NRD and the taxpayers have to buy the land; whether it’s for a levee or whether it’s for a dam,” Allemann said.
In follow-up to Allemann’s allegations, the Daily News confirmed with Sousek that the WFPO dam project would only cost taxpayers $7 million and that land purchases were, in fact, included in those numbers.
Over the years, the Daily News also has reported on comments from people who said that completing the dam project would be costly because of all the land acquisition, including as recently as stories last year.
Conversely, the levee project would come with a price tag to taxpayers ranging from $24 million to as much as $45 million.
The motion does not fully reintroduce the WFPO dam for consideration, nor does it allow for completion of the study; however, it keeps the study, and the possibility of a dam, on the table for the time being.
Houston Engineering’s Mike Sotek said the completed study would encompass the costs for the dam project as well as the levee alternative.
During discussions, Sousek said that to date, the NRD board has spent close to $1 million studying the Battle Creek flood issue. The costs for the current WFPO study are being covered by a federal grant program; however, Sousek has said that if the study is not completed, the NRD would be responsible for reimbursing the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the grant funds. The study is due to be completed next, although Sousek has said they will not meet that deadline and he has asked for an extension.
The board voted 12-3 in favor of the motion, with Allemann, Scott Clausen and Jim Aschoff voting in opposition.
The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resource District Board of Directors met on Thursday evening at NRD offices in Norfolk. All board members were present for the meeting, which also saw more than 60 interested citizens in attendance. A recap of the 21-w-hour meeting is below.
—The NRD Finance Subcommittee met before the full board meeting. Board members received monthly reports on the following:
— Nebraska Association of Resources Districts from Mark Hall; Nebraska Natural Resources Commission from Garry Anderson; Natural Resources Conservation Services from Robin Sutherland; RC&D reports from Gary Loftis; Bazile Groundwater Management Area Project from Lisa Lauver; administrative report from Mike Sousek.
— Approved Logan East Rural Water System Advisory Committee recommendations from Gary Loftis.
— Received public comments regarding the Information, Planning, Programs, Projects, Equipment and Legislation Committee of the Whole recommendations.
— Battle Creek WFPO board members and citizens spoke regarding Battle Creek flood mitigation options. The board voted 12-3 to authorize NRD general manager to negotiate terms for completing the WFPO study with Houston Engineering.
— Received a report on the annual update on Pierce County pilot project.
— Discussed enforcement options for nonsubmittal of flow meter reports. The board voted unanimously to send cease and desist letters to 10 landowners who have failed to submit requited flow-meter reports.