Jim Hoppe’s friends have plenty of ideas about the future of the sand-swallowed pasture he and his brothers own along the Platte River near Schuyler.
Try to grow hemp. Open an ATV park. Form a sand volleyball league. Hoppe himself suggested starting a sandpaper company.
“But none of those are practical, of course,” he said Tuesday, nearly a dozen weeks after the Platte surged and spilled and scarred their land. “The only thing you can do is leave it.”
Because scooping up the sand covering their 80 acres isn’t practical, either.
The estimated cost of pushing it all aside to reclaim the pasture? $1.2 million.
Their pasture is buried beneath an average of 3 feet of sand — more in some places, less in others — and Doernemann Construction, from across the county in Clarkson, would charge $4 per cubic yard to scrape it clean.
And that’s just a rough guess, said co-owner Jeremy Doernemann.
The company has given a few post-flood estimates, with landowners ball-parking the volume of sand they need moved. But the company doesn’t know how much it’d ultimately find, the kind of equipment it would need, or where the Army Corps of Engineers would let it pile the sand.
“It’s a big number, because nobody really knows what the rules are,” Doernemann said. “It’s a lot of shooting from the hip.”
Still, even a vague cost was clear enough to the Hoppes: No way they could justify a cleanup.
At most, their pasture land is worth maybe $4,000 an acre, Richard Hoppe said, based on a recent sale of neighboring land. That makes the estimated sand-removal cost nearly four times the pasture’s total value. And realistically, the land is likely worth $2,500 or $3,000 an acre.
But the pasture produced before the flood, and the brothers would make money renting it to cattle owners. Now the grass, and the rent, is gone.
The sand will stay, and they’ll see what becomes of the pasture. “We’ll leave it to grow whatever grows in it. That’s all you can do,” Richard Hoppe said. “Will something grow on top of sand? Eventually. What? I don’t know.”
But that’s not the only problem the Platte left behind on their 650 acres.
They still have undamaged pastures but they can’t put any cows there because the water washed away most of their fences. By their estimates, they need to replace up to 80 percent of their 5,000 linear feet of fence.
“We don’t need, like, 10 fence posts,” he said. “We need, like, four or five semi loads of fence posts.”
Also, the 160 acres they plant with corn isn’t covered with sand, but part of it was damaged, the river washing holes in the field. They need to fill those before they can plant anything.
And that leads to their biggest problem. Nearly three months after the river rose, they don’t have easy access to their land. The flood swept away the final mile of County Road 5A, forcing them to finish the trip on all-terrain or utility vehicles.
They can’t get trucks with the fencing supplies in. Or heavy equipment and a tractor to fix the field and plant the corn, or a mower and rake to put up the hay from the 160- to 200-acre meadow.
The land can’t make them money until the road reopens.
And it could be weeks before work even starts.
The flood damaged 120 to 140 miles of Colfax County roads, with some repairs requiring a few hours and others a few weeks, said County Attorney Denise Kracl.
One damaged stretch remains — the road to the Hoppe property. It was in a floodway, and it was hit the hardest. “It’s gone,” she said. “It’s no longer existent.”
Repairing it will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars, and that required the county to go through a bidding process — first for an engineer to design the new stretch, then for a contractor to build it.
That process is underway, said Mike Arps, the county’s highway superintendent, and they’re scheduled to open bids for design work June 26. But construction companies around the state are busy, and he was reluctant to predict when work would begin, and when it would end.
“There are so many damaged counties from flooding and snowmelt, these contractors are at a premium.”
Still, he hopes to get a commitment the work will be done this year, before the ground freezes. If not, he said, county crews will try to repair the road themselves.