A celebration is planned on Tuesday afternoon to recognize the opening of Highway 12 over the Niobrara River.
Today, the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) announced Director Kyle Schneweis will join Niobrara area stakeholders to recognize the collaborative efforts of the NDOT and others in the opening of Highway 12 over the Niobrara River. With the opening of the temporary bridge over the Mormon Canal and repairs made to the bridge over the Niobrara River, mobility has been re-established in the area.
This marks a major milestone since the March 2019 flood event caused significant damage to the approach and girders of the bridge over the Niobrara and completely washed out the bridge over the Mormon Canal. The temporary and permanent reconstruction of Highway 12 is one of the most complex flood recovery projects in the state.
During the event, NDOT Director Schneweis will join industry partners and local stakeholders to make remarks before taking questions. This event is open to the public.
What: NDOT Director Schneweis to join industry partners, state and local officials to recognize efforts
resulting in the early opening of Hwy. 12.
When: 2:00 PM CT on Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Where: West end of the Mormon Canal Bridge just east of where the temporary road diverges to the
bridge. Parking is very limited at the event site and shuttle ride service is available for attendees at the
old NDOT Niobrara Maintenance yard at the northeast corner of the junction of Highways 12 and 14.
Who: Speakers are, in order of appearance:
For the 10th straight season, the Wayne State College men's track and field team earned USTFCCCA All-Academic Team Honors announced Monday by the U.S. Track & Field Track and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Wildcats tied for 16thin NCAA Division II with a cumulative grade point average of 3.214. Four individuals – senior Robert Sullivan, juniors Jayle Hinkle and Dylan Kaup and sophomore Cade Kalkowski – were awarded USTFCCCA Individual All-Academic Awards.
To qualify for the team academic award, an institution must record a cumulative grade point average of 3.00 or higher and individuals must maintain a 3.25 grade point average and have achieved a provisional or automatic qualifying mark for the NCAA Championships in either indoor or outdoor season.
Robert Sullivan, a senior from Bennington, recorded a 3.333 GPA in exercise science for his second USTFCCCA All-Academic Award. This season Sullivan was the NSIC Champion and a national qualifier during the outdoor season in the decathlon and was a national qualifier during the indoor season in the heptathlon.
Jayle Hinkle, a junior from Ericson, recorded a 3.335 GPA in exercise science for his first USTFCCCA All-Academic Award. The thrower placed sixth in the shot put at both NSIC Championships this season.
Dylan Kaup, a junior from Neligh, maintained a 3.766 GPA majoring in Spanish/ Physical Education and is a two-time USTFCCCA All-Academic award winner. He was an All-NSIC selection and NCAA National Qualifier in two events, placing second in the NSIC Indoor weight throw and third in the NSIC Outdoor hammer throw.
Cade Kalkowski, a sophomore from Niobrara, maintained a 3.338 GPA majoring in business administration and agri-business. During the indoor season was NSIC Champion in the weight throw and earned All-American honors with a seventh place finish. He was a repeat NSIC Champion in the hammer throw and NCAA National Qualifier in the event for a second straight season.
For many living on the west side of Niobrara, the last four months have been strenuous to say the least. With a 15 minute drive turned into 2 hour commute, many have lost jobs, lost livestock or crops, put land up for sale or taken to riding a boat across the river everyday just to get to work. The village itself, which relies heavily on tourism during the summer, has had little out of town visitors leaving many businesses hurting.
However, they can find some relief in seeing the dedicated NDOT crew working tirelessly on the temporary bridges made for the Morman Canal Bridge and the Niobrara River Bridge that were washed out during the March Floods.
Nebraska Department of Transportation held a meeting in Niobrara on June 27. They are sticking to their August deadline for the temporary bridge and have set the permanent bridge’s goal of completion at fall of 2020.
This project includes the removal and replacement of the bridge structure over the Mormon Canal, the rehabilitation of the bridge over the Niobrara River, and the construction of approximately 1,350 feet of new roadway from just west of the Mormon Canal Bridge to the Niobrara River Bridge.
NDOT officials know the public is ready to see these projects finished. According to them, the flood response projects are not simple repairs. They say the flooding caused serious changes to the stream banks and caused underwater damage to bridge structures leaving some unstable. Engineers have conducted assessments and are working with contractors to find the most efficient ways to make repairs. The process to design, contract and build these repairs has been iterative and takes time.
NDOT is also currently evaluating options for previously scheduled projects. Flood damaged roads take precedence. NDOT will prioritize projects accordingly as much as resources will allow.
As of June 27, the State of Nebraska and local agencies received $25 million in federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief (ER) program. Additional federal funds may be available to lessen the financial burden on the State of Nebraska.
A calm moonlit night struck tragedy around 3 a.m. on June 3, 1969 in the South China Sea when the Melbourne collided with the USS Frank Evans.
The Evans was a destroyer that had previously served in World War II, the Korean war and the Vietnam War before a grave mistake lead it to be sunk.
According to historians, the Melbourne was a light aircraft carrier of the Royal Australian Navy and had signaled the Evans to prepare to take the position of plane guard. This was not the first time the Evans had tried to carry out this maneuver, in fact it was the fifth time that night that the Evans was asked to take plane guard.
The Evans turned the wrong way, directly into the path of the Melbourne, which sliced the Evans in two. The bow quickly began sinking taking 74 lives with it.
The small town of Niobrara felt the pain from halfway around the world. Radarman 3rd Class Gregory Sage and Seaman Recruits Gary Sage and Kelly Sage died together that night.
The Sage brothers grew up on a farm near Niobrara and joined the Navy. They wanted to serve together, and eventually obtained special permission to sail on the same ship.
Survivors of the accident said Gary, the oldest at age 21, jumped from the stern to join his brothers in the bow shortly after collision. All three perished in the black night at sea. The 199 sailors on the stern survived.
As if the brothers’ loss wasn’t enough to bear, the Department of Defense refused to consider the Evans sailors as casualties of the Vietnam War. DOD officials determined that the accident happened outside the combat zone. Consequently, the names were not included on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
After many efforts for the last 50 years, the DOD still fails to see that none of the men on that ship would have been in the South China Sea that fateful night if they had not laid down their lives to serve their country.
Niobrara decided to dedicate their own memorial to the 74 sailors which includes all of their names, photos and the history behind the incident.
This year, a special ceremony was held at the Niobrara Sage Brothers Memorial. On June 2, at 3 p.m. friends and family gathered there to remember the incident exactly 50 years after the event occured, which would be June 3, 3 a.m. where the incident took place between Vietnam and the Spratly Islands.
A special guest, Darwin Sietsema, a Navy veteran from Ruthton, Minn. spoke at the ceremony. Sietsema remembers the tragic night vividly as he wasn’t too far from the collision serving on the James E. Kyes. In fact, the Kyes was sent to the collision to help in rescue efforts.
He recalled the event, “right away we launched our small boats, but we felt helpless,” he said. “There was nothing you could do. It was over with.”
Historians say that it took less than five minutes for the bow to sink taking 73 men with it, one body was also recovered from the water.
Sietsema asked the small crowd if they remembered where they were when JFK was shot, when the terrorists attacked the twin towers. He stated how he will never forget where he was in the South China Sea when the Melbourne struck the Evans.
He also pleaded with the crowd to keep up the efforts on getting the 74 sailors names on the Vietnam wall.
The ceremony also included the reading of the 74 sailor’s names followed by the traditional ringing of the bell.
All of the lost sailors names, photos and brief summary of each sailor can be found at www.ussfee.org/the74.html
Names of the 74 include:
ENSIGN ALAN HERBERT ARMSTRONG
SEAMAN JAMES ROBERT BAKER
YEOMAN THIRD CLASS ANDREW JAMES BOTTO
RADARMAN THIRD CLASS THOMAS BELUE BOX
ELECTRONICS TECHNICIAN THIRD CLASS JAMES FRANKLIN BRADLEY
ENSIGN ROBERT GEORGE BRANDON
SEAMAN APPRENTICE HARRIS MELVIN BROWN
BOILER TECHNICIAN SECOND CLASS WILLIAM DANIEL BROWN II
CHIEF HOSPITAL CORPSMAN CHARLES WILLIAM CANNINGTON
RADARMAN SECOND CLASS CHRISTOPHER JOHN CARLSON
SEAMAN MICHAEL KALE CLAWSON
SEAMAN DANNY VICTOR CLUTE
YEOMAN THIRD CLASS JAMES RICHARD CMEYLA
ELECTRONICS TECHNICIAN THIRD CLASS LARRY WAYNE COOL
SEAMAN PATRICK MICHAEL CORCORAN
SEAMAN APPRENTICE JOE EDDIE CRAIG
ELECTRONICS TECHNICIAN (RADAR) THIRD CLASS JAMES WILBURN DAVIS
SEAMAN APPRENTICE LEON LARRY DEAL
SEAMAN JAMES FRED DYKES III
SEAMAN APPRENTICE RAYMOND JOSEPH EARLEY
GUNNERS MATE THIRD CLASS STEVEN FRANK ESPINOSA
SEAMAN APPRENTICE STEPHEN DONALD FAGAN
SEAMAN APPRENTICE WILLIAM DONALD FIELDS
SEAMAN APPRENTICE ALAN CARL FLUMMER
SEAMAN APPRENTICE HENRY KENNETH FRYE
SEAMAN FRANCIS JOSEPH GARCIA
SONAR TECHNICIAN (SURFACE) THIRD CLASS MELVIN HOLLMAN GARDNER
SEAMAN APPRENTICE DONALD EUGENE GEARHART
BOATSWAINS MATE THIRD CLASS PATRICK GENE GLENNON
SEAMAN APPRENTICE KENNETH WAYNE GLINES
SEAMAN APPRENTICE JOE LUIS GONZALES
SONAR TECHNICIAN (SURFACE) THIRD CLASS LARRY ALLAN GRACELY
SEAMAN APPRENTICE DEVERE RAY GRISSOM, JR.
SEAMAN APPRENTICE STEVEN ALLEN GUYER
RADARMAN THIRD CLASS TERRY LEE HENDERSON
CHIEF ELECTRICIANS MATE EDWARD PHILIP HESS
RADARMAN SECOND CLASS GARRY BRADBURY HODGSON
SEAMAN APPRENTICE DENNIS RALPH JOHNSTON
SEAMAN APPRENTICE JAMES WILLIAM KERR
CHIEF BOATSWAINS MATE WILLIE LEE KING
CHIEF RADARMAN GEORGE JOSEPH LA LIBERTE'
RADIOMAN SECOND CLASS RAYMOND PATRICK LEBRUN
RADARMAN FIRST CLASS EUGENE FRANCIS LEHMAN
SEAMAN APPRENTICE ISAAC LYONS, JR.
SEAMAN APPRENTICE DOUGLAS ROY MEISTER
SEAMAN APPRENTICE ANDREW MARTIN MELENDREZ
SEAMAN FREDERIC CONRAD MESSIER
SEAMAN APPRENTICE TIMOTHY LYNN MILLER
ENSIGN JOHN TOWNSEND NORTON, JR.
ENSIGN GREGORY KOICHI OGAWA
SEAMAN APPRENTICE MICHAEL ANTHONY ORLIKOWSKI
INTERIOR COMMUNICATIONS ELECTRICIAN SECOND CLASS LINDEN RUSSELL ORPURT
LIEUTENANT JUNIOR GRADE DWIGHT SCOTT PATTEE
SEAMAN APPRENTICE CRAIG ALLEN PENNELL
SEAMAN APPRENTICE JEROME PICKETT
YEOMAN SECOND CLASS EARL FREDERICK PRESTON, JR.
BOILER TECHNICIAN THIRD CLASS LAWRENCE JOHN REILLY, JR.
RADARMAN SECOND CLASS VICTOR THOMAS RIKAL
BOATSWAINS MATE SECOND CLASS GARY LOREN SAGE
RADARMAN THIRD CLASS GREGORY ALLAN SAGE
SEAMAN APPRENTICE KELLY JO SAGE
SEAMAN APPRENTICE JOHN ALAN SAUVEY
BOILER TECHNICIAN FIREMAN APPRENTICE ROBERT JAMES SEARLE
FIREMAN APPRENTICE GERALD WAYNE SMITH
SEAMAN THURSTON PERRY SMITH, JR.
SONAR TECHNICIAN SECOND CLASS JOHN RAYMOND SPRAY
LIEUTENANT JUNIOR GRADE JON KENNETH STEVER
SEAMAN APPRENTICE THOMAS FRED TALLON
RADARMAN SECOND CLASS RONALD ARTHUR THIBODEAU
RADARMAN THIRD CLASS JON WAYNE THOMAS
SEAMAN APPRENTICE JOHN THOMAS TOLAR
QUARTERMASTER THIRD CLASS GARY JOSEPH VIGUE
RADARMAN THIRD CLASS CON WESLEY WARNOCK
SEAMAN APPRENTICE HENRY DENNIS WEST III
The Nebraska Department of Transportation has authorized Omaha-based Hawkins Construction to immediately begin install a temporary bridge to provide access over the Mormon Canal while a new permanent bridge is constructed.
Hawkins Construction will build a 24-foot wide, single lane temporary bridge and then a permanent bridge over the Mormon Canal. Work will begin at the site on Wednesday, June 5.
The NDOT announced Friday that Hawkins Construction has been award contracts to reconstruct and repair two Highway 12 bridges caused by the March flooding of the Niobrara River.
The Mormon Canal was lost when the flooding damaged the approach and girders of the bridge.
Seventy-four sailors who died during the Vietnam War might have been forgotten if not for the small Nebraska town of Niobrara, where an impressive memorial has been created.
The 74 men were aboard the USS Frank Evans when it collided with an Australian ship in the early morning hours of June 3, 1969.
A program will be held at Niobrara beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 2, to honor the sacrifices of the sailors who lost their lives that night in the South China Sea. The start time coincides with 3 a.m. in Vietnam, the hour in which the ship was sunk.
“We welcome anyone and everyone who wants to come,” says Jim Scott, the commander of the Niobrara American Legion. “The tragedy of the USS Evans should always be remembered.”
However, the Evans story is especially poignant in Niobrara because three of the town’s young men were on the ship that night. Gary, Greg and Kelly Sage were brothers who grew up on a farm near town and joined the Navy. They wanted to serve together, and eventually obtained special permission to sail on the same ship.
Survivors of the accident said Gary, the oldest at age 21, jumped from the stern to join his brothers in the bow shortly after the 376-foot ship was split in two by the collision with an Australian aircraft carried called the Melbourne. All three perished in the black night at sea. The 199 sailors on the stern survived.
Scott says the June 2 remembrance will include a prayer, music and a reading of the names. Darwin Sietsema, a Navy veteran from Ruthton, Minn., will also speak. He was serving that summer on the James E. Kyes, which was only a few miles from the collision.
His ship was sent to assist with rescue efforts. “Right away we launched our small boats, but we felt helpless,” he says. “There was nothing you could do. It was over with.”
Once Sietsema learned about the Niobrara memorial, he began to make an annual pilgrimage to Nebraska to pay respects on June 2. This year, the 50th anniversary, he agreed to offer his somber memories of the event and its aftermath.
The public is welcome to attend the services, which will be held at the memorial site along U.S. Highway 12 in the middle of town. The town’s museum, which is just west of the memorial, will be open after the program. The museum has a special exhibit of photographs, artifacts and stories about the Evans and the Sage brothers.
Scott says the tragedy became even more pronounced for survivors when the Department of Defense refused to consider the Evans sailors as casualties of the Vietnam War. DOD officials determined that the accident happened outside the combat zone. Consequently, the names were not included on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. That omission led to the Niobrara memorial, which includes the names, photographs and a history of the tragedy.
“There are still efforts to add the names to the wall,” he says. “I don’t know if that will ever happen. But these men will not be forgotten here in Nebraska.”
Registration for the poker run will be at Sportsmen’s Bar from 8-10:15 AM with stands up right at 10:30 AM. During registration there will be free-will-donation breakfast feed. This is an annual event to raise money for suicide prevention, awareness, and survivor aftercare. Proceeds benefiting the Paul Taggart Foundation For Suicide Awareness.
This event is open to all and the poker run is open to all forms of transportation. The eventful day will include a poker run, silent auction, ticket raffle prizes, door prizes, breakfast feed, t-shirts, koozies, BBQ, TWO talented live performing bands "Locked N Loaded" & “Shawn Cole”, and so much more. This year we will be starting/ending the poker run at Sportsmens Bar in Niobrara, NE. Due to road conditions our route will be all in South Dakota except the short 3 miles to Niobrara. 8:00 AM-10:15 AM registration at Sportsmen’s Bar in Niobrara, NE. 5:00 PM-1:00 AM is the Poker Run Finale.
A Go Fund Me page has been created to help a Niobrara man who, at age 42, suffered a heart attack and is now on life support. Jones recently left a job with benefits in Fremont to return to his hometown of Niobrara to take over Jimmy Dean's Bar.
To donate, click here for the Go Fund Me page.
According to the page, on Monday, May 6, Jason Jones checked into the Sioux Falls Veterans Hospital after not feeling well for weeks. While he was speaking to the doctor, Jones had massive heart attack. The doctors, nurses and staff took immediate action. He was fortunate to be in the hospital when this happen. He flatlined twice while he was there. When they got Jason stabilized at the VA, they transferred him to the Sanford Hospital. After analyzed him at Sanford, they realized that he would need to be life flighted to Minneapolis University Hospital, where he could be placed on a machine that would circulate his blood through his body, so that his heart would have a chance to recover.
Jones is now on full life support, he is on currently on a heart and lung bypass machine that is doing all the work for him while he is trying to recover. This machine is only a temporary device used for up to five days. Currently Jason is heavily sedated to keep him from pulling out all the tubes and wires that are keeping him alive. The doctors are periodically lowering the sedation to check if his heart and other vital organs will function correctly when life support is removed.
Currently, the doctors know that his kidneys and liver are not functioning properly. They are unsure of how his heart will react on its own. However, they have seen some heart function and will continue to monitor it.
Here is why Jones needs everyones help: Jason recently left his job and benefits in Fremont, Nebraska, to take over Jimmy Deans Bar in Niobrara. He moved back to be closer to his daughter, family and friends. He is in the process of selling his house and Fremont and getting settled back home. Jason currently does not have any medical insurance and he will not be able to receive full VA benefits from National Guard.
Last night the doctor briefed us all about what needs to happen in the next couple day. Jones has a long way to go. There are many unknown factors yet with his body's condition. What we do know is, he is going to need a device that monitors and helps his heart function after the heart and lung machine is removed. Jason will not be a candidate for a heart transplant, so this device will be needed for him to survive. The doctor explained that this device will cost $200,000. Without insurance or money to pay for this device, the hospital will not put it in.
The Doctor explained that Jones care has already exceeded $100,000. They are going to do as much as they can for him, but we needed to search for ways to help assist him with medical expenses. The family is talking with VA and the state of Nebraska for assistance. I am hoping that we can help take some of the burden off and help get Jason and his family through this difficult time.
Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers from everyone out there. Jones has touched us all. Please share this with everyone.
Every morning he grabs his backpack and lifejacket — two of the most important items he needs for school since the March flood took out the Mormon Canal Bridge near Niobrara.
Thursday was a good day for a boat ride for Austin Motacek, Katie Ryan and their son, Jacob. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a rain cloud to be seen, but they weren’t enjoying a fun day on the Niobrara River.
The family has been boating across the river for a few weeks in an attempt to save time and money while getting to town. Because of the March flood, families on the west side of Niobrara have been at a loss since the Mormon Bridge floated away.
“There are people who can see the town from their house, but it takes them an hour or more to get there without that bridge,” Ryan said.
For Ryan and her family, who live by Verdel, the trip to Niobrara would normally take about 10 minutes. Now, the drive would take about an hour on good roads.
The county roads are not in good condition, however. The combination of the additional travel due to the missing bridge, and the excessive amount of rain the last few weeks, has put these vital roads in terrible condition.
To avoid those roads, many people have been traveling into South Dakota, driving around to the Standing Bear Bridge and backtracking into Niobrara. This route is a two hour drive—one way.
“We have teachers that live in Verdel, Lynch, Bristow,” Ryan said as the list went on.
For these teachers, the trip that would normally take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half hour is now taking up to two hours. That is the equivalent of driving to Sioux Falls to get to work every day.
“Every day, teachers are making that trip,” Motacek said.
Motacek owns a construction company in Niobrara and Ryan and their son have to get to school every weekday.
“I finally got sick of wasting gas and time and beating my pickup up on the county roads,” Motacek said.
He decided to borrow a flat-bottom boat from his friend and set up a vehicle on each side of the river.
With the boat, it only takes 15 minutes on average to get home, depending on weather. The boat also saves money as they only had to fill the boat’s gas tank twice in the weeks since they started boating across the river.
The river is too shallow for a normal boat to get across safely. A boat with a mud motor on it works best because it can run in as little as three inches of water.
“As it warms up, I wouldn’t be surprised if more people start using the river as transportation,” Motacek said.
For Ryan, who works at the school, it is a hard choice if she should continue to work at the school for the summer once students are let out for the year.
“I just don’t know if it is worth the trouble,” she said.
Many who live on the other side of the river are in similar situations. It can cost about $50 a day to commute to Niobrara.
“We have had so many people lose their jobs already because they can’t afford the gas to get around,” Motacek said.
The couple personally knows many people who have quit their jobs or can’t get to their jobs because of the cost of getting to work.
Ranchers who have cattle on both sides of the river also suffer. Calving season was extremely hard on those ranchers. Calves were lost as ranchers couldn’t make it to them and a lot of money was wasted in an attempt to get back and forth every day.
“During calving season, ranchers need to be with them every couple hours,” Motacek said. “Look how many calves still ended up dying because the ranchers couldn’t do chores.”
Niobrara business owners will also suffer. Summer is a huge time for the village with all the tourists coming through the area to visit the Niobrara State Park, which is now just out of reach with the bridge out.
Frustration is definitely building in the community, he said.
“There is no reason why there shouldn’t have been something up two weeks after the flood happened,” Motacek said. “A simple shoefly could have been built, and we would already be across.”
It’s been eight weeks since the flood, and the NDOT has announced that there will be a temporary bridge placed in August, with a permanent bridge planned in 2020. The people of the area are not confident there will be anything in place in August or even before school starts.
Motacek also expressed his concerns for the future of the county roads, especially near Verdel. The “west-siders” will be dealing with the aftermath of the torn apart county roads well after the new bridge is put into place, unless the county uses FEMA money or tax money to fix and maintain those roads, he said.
With the rain and constant travel tearing up the roads, it is getting harder and harder for locals to take care of the road.
“I had to pull someone out of the middle of a county road the other day. You know it’s bad when you can get stuck in the middle of a road,” Motacek said.
The Pischelville Bridge has become a vital route for many after the flood, but even that road has been deteriorating due to overuse. Locals decided to take care of the road themselves.
“The only reason we were getting across that road five days after the flood was because we took it into our own hands,” he said.
Until the conditions of the roads improve and a temporary bridge gets put in, the people on the west side of the bridge will suffer, Motacek said.
“We are pretty fortunate compared to a lot of people,” Ryan said.
“It’s a Godsend that I had a buddy with a boat,” Motacek added.