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Dam project near Gretna will bring new lake, park to Omaha area

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For the next three weeks, a dredger will continue to grind and suck up sand and silt that swept into the marina during the 2019 flooding of the Missouri River.

A small lake that will be built south of Gretna is a big deal, state and local officials say.

The dam and park is the first project in the four-state region of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas to be selected for final review and funding in a new competitive grant program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that supports more resilient communities. The states didn’t win a competitive grant last year, and so far, this dam is the only one among the four states to win final approval for the grants being distributed this year. (The states did receive some FEMA funding through set-aside money.)

So on Thursday morning, it was time to celebrate.

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, Gov. Pete Ricketts, the regional head of FEMA and other state and local officials announced the news at a press conference in Omaha.

#12763_090222_dam site Gretna copy

FEMA will underwrite $5.3 million of the cost of the lake through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, or BRIC as it is known, said Andrea Spillars, regional administrator for FEMA. Spillars was among those to make the trip to Omaha for the announcement.

“The most important piece of this is that we are planning for the future,” she said with a nod to the increase in heavy rains and flooding that has come with climate change. “We are building resilient communities ... and doing it in a way that is really innovative.”

Spillars said the project successfully secured FEMA funding for several reasons: Nebraska’s mandatory statewide building code gave the state a leg up because codes contribute to resiliency; and the project sought to combine watershed management and flood control with new recreational opportunities.

The total cost will be $7.5 million, and the rest of the funding will come from the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, said John Winkler, that agency’s general manager. The NRD hosted Thursday’s press conference.

Built on a creek in the Gretna area near 204th Street and Schram Road, the project includes a 65-acre park and a 15-acre lake (That’s about half the size of Candlewood Lake). The park will include a 1.3-mile paved trail and picnic areas, and the lake will have a handicap-accessible kayak launch.

Winkler said the lake is the NRD’s top priority of six dams it would like to see built in the metro area in the near term. That’s because it’s the project most ready to be built. The dam, he said, will impound runoff that already threatens homes downstream.

Bacon said knowing that this dam was a priority for the NRD motivated him to submit the project for funding through BRIC.

“I want to make sure we’re as prepared as possible to protect our community,” he said.

The NRD in recent years suffered a setback in its efforts to secure funding for this and some of the other dams it wants built in Sarpy and Douglas Counties. In an extensive study of potential metro area flood control projects, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to fund this dam, saying it didn’t meet that agency’s cost-benefit analysis.

Winkler said corps standards are more stringent and don’t take into account factors covered by BRIC criteria. This dam will protect future development from runoff, lessen the need for flood insurance by area property owners and “shrink” the flood plain. The latter allows for additional development.

Similarly, another dam project rejected by the corps will be built with federal dollars from a different source, he said. A dam near 180th and West Maple Road/Fort Street will be built through a partnership between the NRD and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. That project will create 20-acre lake and an 80-plus acre park at an estimated cost of $7 million.

The Corps did conclude that two proposed larger dams met its criteria. Winkler said those are years down the road and are in the queue for possible corps funding.

Development already is occurring around the six dam sites the NRD has prioritized, he said, which is why it’s important to get to them first.

“We are looking for every pot of money we can find,” he said of the various federal partnerships the NRD is entering to build dams.

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Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Email: nancy.gaarder@owh.com

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