Gibbon Flood in July

The 1,850 residents of Gibbon are wearily recovering from their second 1,000-year flood in six months, and asked last week if the Buffalo County Board could help prevent more floods. On Thursday, two county board members learned how the Central Platte Natural Resources District might assist with flood prevention along the Wood River.

KEARNEY — There may be options to tame flooding of the Wood River as it winds through Buffalo County, but protecting against the rare and powerful floods that struck twice in Gibbon this year may be impossible.

“Both the March and July events were very unique, but it raises the awareness that something needs to be done,” said Deb VanMatre, who is mayor of Gibbon and sits on the Central Platte Natural Resources District Board of Directors.

As mayor of Gibbon, she’s cautioning her town’s 1,850 shell-shocked residents that fixing flooding problems isn’t simple.

As a board member of the NRD that might ultimately assist efforts to solve the problems, she said there will be no quick fix.

VanMatre also said on Friday it could require the involvement of multiple communities and governing entities because Gibbon isn’t the only town threatened by the untamed Wood River.

“Until we get around the same table, I don’t know how we can move forward,” she said.

Last week about 30 Gibbon residents overflowed the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners meeting and — tearfully at times — pleaded for help. Many who addressed the county board had barely finished repairing damage from a massive March flood when, from July 10-12, waters rose again in their town.

Buffalo County Emergency Manager Darrin Lewis labeled the floods “every 1,000-year” events. Gibbon residents said another flood of such strength could be a town killer.

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Tuesday’s county board meeting ended with the commissioners pledging to help Gibbon.

On Thursday, two commissioners — Dennis Reiter of Elm Creek and Myron Kouba of Kearney — attended the meeting of the Central Platte Natural Resources District Board of Directors. Afterward, Kouba and Reiter spoke with CPNRD General Manager Lyndon Vogt and Assistant Manager Jess Mintken. VanMatre sat in on the discussion, in which Vogt outlined how CPNRD might help reduce the Wood River’s flooding potential.

On Friday, Vogt told the Hub that CPNRD already has applied for a grant to study the Wood River, and that there may be some flood control options.

However, he cautioned there is a limit to what is possible, and that a comprehensive solution to Wood River flooding won’t be a quick fix.

Vogt said flood control structures help little when there is a 1,000-year flood like the ones that struck Gibbon and other communities, but there are ways to protect against damage from less extreme events.

“I think we can find ways to help them deal with that stuff,” he told the Hub.

Commissioner Kouba said he feels optimistic after talking with Vogt on Thursday, and that Vogt will sketch out potential options for the Buffalo County Board.

“I felt encouraged, but keep in mind that these projects go slow. As far as telling the people of Gibbon there is an immediate fix, I can’t do that,” Kouba said.

Reiter, the commissioner from Elm Creek, said the talk with Vogt was “very educational. I’d say the conclusion is this is something that, to be done right, will take some planning and a lot of cooperation from different groups.”

So far, Gibbon has been the most outspoken about reducing the Wood River’s flood threat. However, Vogt told the Hub the CPNRD office has received multiple calls, “but not just from Gibbon. It’s all up and down the Wood River.”

CPNRD is asking the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to fund a study of options for the Wood River from the west edge of Riverdale to Chapman. CPNRD has conducted a number of flood control projects and hydrological studies in its 10-county area, including some that involve the Wood River.

Gibbon residents told the county board on Tuesday that fallen trees are like a beaver dam that needs to be removed so the river flows better through Gibbon. Many people at the meeting agreed that, long term, a more comprehensive approach stretching outside Gibbon may be a better answer.

Vogt told the Hub that on smaller, non-navigable rivers such as the Wood River, landowners are responsible for keeping drains and waterways cleared.

After four years on the CPNRD Board and 6 ½ years as Gibbon’s mayor, VanMatre said the flood threat is larger than can be solved simply by clearing the river bottom from one edge of Gibbon to the other.

“I think everybody is aware that we need to do something,” VanMatre said. “Be patient, know that we’re concerned and committed to looking at some options. That will require working with some other entities, but step one is getting those entities together.”

Reiter agreed.

“To get started is the first step, and then communication and getting to know each other,” he said.

Vogt said, “We plan to try to have some meetings with the county commissioners and Gibbon officials.”

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