During a sunny Wednesday morning, Beatrice City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer showed members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency how areas around the Big Blue River have held up after flooding two weeks ago.
Chautauqua Park, Veteran’s Memorial Park and the West Scott Street baseball complex are muddy and have areas piled with leaves and branches, but have otherwise returned to normal after withstanding what Gov. Pete Ricketts is calling the biggest, most damaging disaster in Nebraska history.
The city of Beatrice purchased the land as part of its flood mitigation system, turning roughly 60 residences into park land that can be used by the community and withstand severe weather.
As a result of the buy-out program, over 5.7 million dollars in flood damage was avoided in the recent March 2019 flooding. Combined with avoided losses from 2015 flood, approximately 19 million dollars of flood damage have been avoided.
Dan Kaniewski, the Acting FEMA Deputy Administrator, said Beatrice is an example for the rest of Nebraska as well as the nation for how to properly do floodplain management.
“This is something that we would love to see across the nation,” Kaniewski said. “Organizations coming together to reduce risk to property owners, and increase the value of the land. The value of the land doesn’t just mean on a per dollar basis, it means making it beautiful. Making it something that’s available to the community. I think that’s really a great success story here in Beatrice.”
Tempelmeyer said that after 40 years of flood mitigation, the city was able to purchase nearly all properties at risk of flooding by 2015, when Beatrice experienced three floods in six weeks.
“When a flood happens, people call me and say ‘how is Beatrice doing?’” Tempelmeyer said. “I say, ‘we’re fine. It’s a little inconvenient right now. This highway’s closed, but for the most part we don’t have to evacuate people. We’re not dealing with those issues.’”
Kaniewski explained how the city was able to purchase the properties along the river.
“It’s a combination of federal, state and local dollars that are provided,” Kaniewski said. “In this case federal dollars, FEMA dollars were provided. Then the city works with those homeowners to see if they’d be willing to be bought out. The city works with those homeowners to see if they can find available properties elsewhere.
“Homeowners who are in vulnerable areas, they don’t want to be flooded over and over. And neither do we as the federal government want to see people flooded over and over. Both because we care about disaster survivors, and we care about safeguarding the American taxpayer’s dollars.”
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Tempelmeyer said as far as flood recovery in Beatrice, the parks need to be cleaned off and areas of grass replanted.
“We have a large parcel down here by the river,” Tempelmeyer said. “It’s about 17 acres. The plan is this spring to see it to native grasses, milkweed, trees to attract butterflies and bees, and maybe mow a path through so people can walk and enjoy nature. Just kind of turn it back to the wildlife.”
Tempelmeyer said that drone footage shows four residences that may have flooded.
“None of them were in city limits,” Tempelmeyer said. “They were all in the two mile zoning jurisdiction outside of our town. One of them we think is an abandoned house, anyhow.”
Tempelmeyer said the Department of Natural Resources gave the city 12 sites to check on after the flood, most of which were outside city limits.
“That two miles that we have authority, but they don’t know to come ask, and we don’t know to look sometimes,” Tempelmeyer said. “Those are the ones we’re kind of cleaning up now. If anyone wants to come in, we allow flood elevation checks for people.”
Kaniewski said he hopes the media coverage from the flood causes people to take action to protect their homes.
“For example, most people don’t understand that their homeowner’s insurance does not include flood,” Kaniewski said. “Unfortunately, many homeowners realize this only after a flood."
Kaniewski added he hopes more people apply for flood insurance.
“Our FEMA programs on average pay out about $5,000,” Kaniewski said. “I’m proud that we’re able to provide that funding to those individuals who are impacted by the recent floods, but the reality is it’s not going to make you whole. If you’re a homeowner, $5,000 will help you in the immediate aftermath, but not necessarily in the long term. Whereas if you had flood insurance, those policies pay out on average well over $100,000. Significant difference between having insurance and being uninsured.”