Nearly three months after historic flooding washed away 30 acres of his cornfield, and piled three feet of sand over much of the remaining soil, a federal disaster assessment team finally arrived on the Drew Wolfe’s farmland along the Platte River on Tuesday.
But, the FEMA team that arrived at the farm south of Richland didn’t come to inspect the damage to his farmland, instead, they came to assess damage to a series of jetties that were originally built to protect the north bank of the Platte River where Wolfe’s cornfield used to be.
And just as the land Wolfe’s family has owned since the mid-70s had washed away, so are the eight jetties which were built in 1994 under sponsorship from the Lower Platte North Natural Resource District (LPNNRD).
“It looks like there is really no way to recoup or refurbish it,” NRD Operations and Maintenance Manager Bob Heimann said after looking out into the river where the jetties used to be.
The jetties were originally built under the sponsorship of the LPNNRD for approximately $110,000 back in 1994 in an effort to deflect water away from the riverbank to prevent erosion.
Heimann said the need to prevent erosion at that particular spot along the Platte is necessary due to the potential that the riverbank could erode to a point where it cuts a new channel that flows into Lost Creek.
The importance of stopping the Platte from channeling into Lost Creek is to protect Schuyler from flooding. Schuyler sits within the Lost Creek river basin.
“That’s why it was done 25 years ago because if that channel reroutes into Lost Creek and goes up to Schuyler it would affect a lot of people,” LPNRD Assistant Manager Tom Mountford said. “It did its job for all these years, but this flood was just too powerful.”
Along with damage to the eight jetties, a river road used by the Wolfes was washed away and also a berm that ran along the riverbank for many years.
Viewing and recording the damage on Tuesday, alongside Heimann and Mountford, was a federal disaster assessment team led by site inspector Bill Miller.
Miller was hired out of retirement by FEMA to conduct site inspections following widespread flooding earlier this spring. He worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 40 years.
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While Miller sympathized with Wolfe and his family, he also stressed that he and his team do not make determinations on whether projects qualify for federal disaster assistance, but rather just record and verify the damage.
“Our main purpose here is to just record the damage, we have mitigation people who have their own place in the process,” he said.
The assessment completed by Miller on Tuesday serves as an early step in the process that allows public agencies, such as the LPNNRD, to see if the damaged areas qualify for federal disaster assistance, which would cover 75% of the damages.
While Miller doesn’t determine whether a project will receive federal disaster assistance, he did acknowledge the clear damage done to the jetties during the flood.
“How many do you see?” he asked referring to the lack of any visible jetties still remaining in the river. “That’s about what I see.”
While the Wolfes sought answers about what to do with the tons of sand covering their field — six feet deep in some places — and whether or not they could push some of it back into the river to restore the riverbank, they were left with more questions.
“We just want to know what our options are, and it feels like now we’ve still got more questions than answers,” Wolfe said.
The LPNNRD also had few answers for the Wolfes, as they are also only responsible for jetties, and can only apply to receive federal disaster assistance to potentially rebuild the jetties.
According to officials from both the LPNNRD and FEMA, the Wolfes avenues for rebuilding the riverbank and removing all of the sand most likely will need to be addressed through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Farm Service Agency.
While FEMA can’t address all of the harm felt by families like the Wolfes and so many others currently wading through the wreckage left by the flood, Miller hopes the agency he works for can do its part in addressing the damage.
“There is no doubt that this is a major disaster and it really caused a lot of grief and harm to a lot of people and hopefully FEMA can do its part to help them restore some of that damage,” he said.