All the levee inspections, high-water monitoring, sandbagging and pumping at Eppley Airfield have kept the airport open and in good shape as the region deals with record Missouri River levels, the Omaha Airport Authority board heard Tuesday.
But all that work comes with a price.
So far, the airport has spent $2.5 million on flood-fighting efforts, and the total is expected to climb to $15.5 million by the end of August, Stan Kathol, the airport authority's finance director, told the board.
It's a necessary expense, because the airport contributes an estimated $745 million a year to the economy. A long-term shutdown would be a body blow to the region's economy.
Kathol said airport officials expect to apply for reimbursements from federal and state emergency management agencies and are working with the airport's insurance carrier to help cover the flood-related costs.
Work on a major part of the airport's costly de-watering effort began Tuesday as contractors started installing 70 wells along the airport's perimeter and along the river. Each well, which will go down 90 feet, will be capable of pumping 1,200 to 1,400 gallons of water per minute, discharging water into 8-inch-diameter pipes.
They will collect river water that is trying to get to the surface, then pump it over the 20-foot levee that protects the airport and back into the river.
The airport already has three pump stations: one each on the north, east and southern boundaries. Crews have been increasing pumping capacity in those pump stations after shutting down the east one to allow for changes in the way the water was pumped into the river. The pumps soon will be back up to more than 96 percent capacity, said David Roth, the airport authority's planning and engineering director.
Tyler Buford, project manager for Kiewit Corp., said crews are inspecting the levee every two hours.
“I see absolutely no signs of imminent danger” regarding the levees, Buford told the board.
Roth noted that the river is still 8.5 feet below the top of the levee on the south and about 10 feet below on the north.
Crews also regularly inspect the airport property, looking for sinkholes and sand boils, which occur when river water forces its way under a levee and percolates up on the dry side. So far, 40 such areas have been identified on the property, and they either are being monitored or have been addressed, Roth said.
Crews have placed 175,000 sandbags around airport buildings or other critical assets and have another 25,000 ready for use, Roth said. An additional 200,000 empty sandbags are on hand if needed, he said.
The reports were reassuring for board members.
“I am very impressed at the depth and detail of the planning and floodwater mitigation over the last several days,” board chairman Eric Butler said.
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