KEARNEY — Property owners may clear river bottoms on their land, Emergency Manager Darrin Lewis told the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.
“It doesn’t take a special permit for property owners to manage the debris,” Lewis told the board.
His information was delivered as a follow-up to a meeting last week in Wood River where an official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers clarified the rules about clearing river bottoms of debris that acted like a beaver dam during flooding this spring and summer in Gibbon.
Weary from two historic floods, the residents of Gibbon have said they want to clear out the Wood River so floodwaters can flow more easily through their community, rather than damming up and flooding the town.
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Although some Gibbon residents pushed for the debris removal, it was unclear whether it is legal to clear rivers, so there was no action on what some officials labeled a short-term approach to the flooding problems.
Some elected leaders and hydrology experts are planning to study more long-term approaches to flood damage control. Both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Central Platte Natural Resources District want to study the Wood River and potentially Turkey Creek, which is the north channel of the Platte River that contributed to flooding in south-central Kearney on July 9.
Lewis also reported that the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency has a program that pays residents in flood-prone areas to abandon their houses and move to higher ground or other communities. The buyback is 75 percent federal money and 25 percent local, although it’s unclear what entity might provide the 25 percent share.
“There needs to be additional discussion on how you want to proceed on the buyback program,” Lewis told the commissioners.
In other business, Board Chair Bill McMullen of Kearney reported the assessor advisory committee conducted its first meeting last week. Attending the meeting were three Kearney real estate agents — Nicole Straka, Rocky Geiser and Matt Meister — as well as McMullen and Assessor Ethel Skinner.
The committee is part of a seven-step plan McMullen drafted to address issues with inaccurate property valuations. Buffalo County has averaged about 2,100 protests per year the last three years.
McMullen said the meeting lasted more than an hour and resulted in three priorities:
1) Send preliminary notices of valuation changes by Feb. 1 so errors and other problems can be corrected prior to the protest season;
2) Reduce protests by the owners of multiple properties, such as developers; and
3) Educate the public about property valuation issues during town hall meetings.
“Things are going very well,” McMullen reported.