KEARNEY — A group of 27 Gibbon residents on Tuesday pleaded — at times tearfully — for assistance from the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners to help prevent another flood in their town.
“We’re all hurting. We just need help. My little family can’t afford to move,” said Marci Granados, whose basement has been flooded twice — first in March and again earlier this month.
Some of the Gibbon residents who overflowed the commissioners’ meeting room said fallen trees in the Wood River ought to be removed so water can flow unimpeded around their town rather than accumulating after heavy rains. A number of other suggestions were offered, including organizing a flood prevention district and building something akin to the flood prevention project that is credited with saving Grand Island during the July 9-12 floods.
The Gibbon residents said that unless future flooding can be prevented, at least half of Gibbon could become a ghost town because residents cannot afford to rebuild and businesses cannot justify investing where floods are likely.
Several Gibbon businesses remain closed with flood damage.
Townsfolk rallied around one of those businesses in March, the Mary Chuy Mexican Restaurant, and helped it to reopen. However, Bernardo and Maria Trevino’s restaurant near the Gibbon Packing Co. plant is closed again, said their daughter, Yesenia Arias.
The Gibbon residents said they were told the first step in getting help is to request assistance from the county board.
“I’m trying to find someone to listen to the townspeople and get this river cleaned up,” said Mike Montgomery. “Help the people of the town of Gibbon to get the river to flow through Gibbon, as it should.”
Montgomery said piles of fallen trees acted like a beaver dam during the July 9-12 flood. He said clearing the trees would allow water to flow more readily in the Wood River, rather than accumulating in the town after a heavy rain.
Several who spoke at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting said residents of Gibbon are spooked, and worry every time rain is forecast.
Dwight Bond even said the Old Farmer’s Almanac has ominous warnings for rain in September.
Heather Jurgens said she contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was told to ask the county board for help, but County Attorney Sean Eatherton said, “this is the first this has ever been told to us.” Eatherton said he would investigate the Corps’ ability to help with Gibbon’s problem.
Assistant County Attorney Andy Hoffmeister said preventing flooding can be a complex legal challenge because so many interests are involved.
Ron Robinson said he experienced a large flood in California before moving to Gibbon. Robinson said various governing entities worked together after the California flood and rapidly cleared obstructions from a stream. He said a rapid response is needed for Gibbon.
Another person said restoring confidence would require a thoughtful, long-term approach, similar to the flood prevention system credited with recently saving areas around Grand Island.
That project — the Upper Prairie/Silver/Moores Flood Control Project — is designed to prevent major flooding and it starts northwest of Grand Island. The project took about 15 years for the Central Platte Natural Resources District to complete.
CPNRD recently applied for a grant to study drainage options in a 250,000-acre area along the Wood River from Riverdale to Chapman.
Buffalo County Emergency Manager Darrin Lewis said talking with the Corps of Engineers about Gibbon’s flooding problems is worth pursuing, but he said the town’s residents are the victims of two rare and powerful floods.
“This (July) event was a 1-in-1,000-year event. It’s been a bad year. I think talking with the Corps might help,” Lewis said.
Commissioner Ivan Klein of Gibbon said a flood prevention district likely would stretch beyond Gibbon.
Commissioner Dennis Reiter of Elm Creek said CPNRD cleared Turkey Creek near Elm Creek. “It would be wise to talk with CPNRD.”
Board Chair Bill McMullen and Commissioner Sherry Morrow, both of Kearney, said it is apparent Gibbon needs help and that the board of Commissioners should bring together the Corps of Engineers, CPNRD, the county and Gibbon officials.
“We’ve got our marching orders, but I don’t know what we do next,” McMullen said.
Jurgens suggested that McMullen start by talking with the CPNRD. Its board of directors meets Thursday.
During Tuesday’s discussion, the Gibbon residents passed around a notebook, and 27 signatures were handed to the county board.
“Doing nothing is going to do nothing. We’re worried that the county is just sitting on its hands,” said Mark Jurgens.
He said clearing logs from the Wood River would be difficult and dangerous. “The banks are steep and the water is still there.”
Montgomery said, “Every time it rains everyone in Gibbon is nervous.”