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Bill to study Platte River flood control projects gets skeptical reception in Legislature

Bill to study Platte River flood control projects gets skeptical reception in Legislature

Well-known tourist stop John Brown's Cave is closed due to flood damage and may never reopen.

LINCOLN — A proposed $1.8 million study of potential flood control projects along the lower Platte River got a chilly reception Thursday from the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.

State Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha proposed the study in Legislative Bill 406. The bill would create a nine-member task force to collect information about building three to five reservoirs or other flood control structures along eastern stretches of the Platte and its tributaries.

The measure is a follow-up to his interim study of the issue, which was prompted by the historic floods of 2019. Flooding that year caused about $3.4 billion in damage statewide and broke multiple records on the Platte, Elkhorn, Big Blue and Missouri Rivers.

John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, backed the bill, saying Offutt Air Force Base and points south along the Missouri could have been spared in 2019 if flooding in the Platte and its tributaries had been controlled.

He said the study would not focus on turning Ashland, Nebraska, into a lake, as past plans have done. Instead, he said, it would answer the question: “How do we get these benefits with the lowest amount of impacts?”

But Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard said the bill would put the cart before the horse. Lawmakers passed a bill last year directing the Department of Natural Resources to undertake a statewide flood mitigation planning effort. The department is required to produce a plan by the end of the year.

“To me, it seems we need an overall state look” at how to address flooding, he said.

Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton also said he thought that a flood control study should start farther upstream to identify problems and possibilities.

Ashland Mayor Richard Grauerholz spoke against LB 406, saying that flood control is needed along the Platte but that he wants language included in the bill to guarantee protection for his community. He said the town has had to repeatedly fight proposals to turn the community into a lake.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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