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.
Attorney Dave Domina is hosting a meeting in Niobrara on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Lutheran Church fellowship hall.
The public is invited to discuss options for those affected by the flooding the followed the collapse of the Spencer Dam.
A Nebraska High School Rodeo athlete has been awarded the Gates Scholarship.
Abbi Holz, Niobrara, Neb., has received the scholarship, which covers the full cost of attendance not already covered by other scholarships, to a public or private college.
Holz, whose ACT score was 33, is on track to be the salutatorian of the class of 2019 at Niobrara High School.
In school, she was on the drama crew for three years and this year served as the assistant director for the play. She was on the speech team for two years, and has been on the A-Plus Superior honor roll since seventh grade.
She has competed in high school rodeo for three years in the barrel racing and pole bending. Holz also competes in local jackpots and loves the friends she’s made through rodeo. “The people you meet and get to know become your second family and that’s what I really enjoy about it,” she said. “Sometimes I feel closer to the people I rodeo with than the people at school.”
Holz will attend Kansas State University this fall, majoring in animal science with a pre-veterinary emphasis and hopes to attend K-State’s veterinary program. She loves animals, and gives credit to the local veterinarian for her interest in veterinary science. “I can probably blame my interest in animal science on him, for making me help castrate a horse when I was ten. I’ve always been the one ready to jump in.”
In her spare time, Holz likes to read and do leatherwork. In the eighth grade, she taught herself to tool leather, making belts, headstalls and breast collars.
She has trained the horse she currently rides, a six-year-old stallion named Feather. Her younger brother Clay, a high school sophomore, also rides him, and when Cooper, the youngest of the Holz siblings, wants to ride, he chooses Feather.
The Gates Scholarship, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, is awarded to 300 students annually and is given to students who have an outstanding high school academic record, have demonstrated leadership ability, and have exceptional personal success skills.
She is the daughter of Orvil and Kelli Holz.
The Nebraska High School Finals Rodeo will be held in Hastings at the Adams Co. Fairgrounds June 13-15. The rodeo is held at 10 am and 6 pm on Thurs., June 13 and Fri., June 14, with the finals at 1 pm on June 15. Tickets are $7 for everyone ages five and up and are available through the office and at the gate. For more information, visit AdamsCountyFairgrounds.com or hsrodeo-nebraska.com, or call 402.462.3247.
The Northeast Nebraska Bargain Jaunt will replace the Bargain Buyway this year as the buyway was cancelled due to the flood. The jaunt will be held April 26-28 and Niobrara is one of many towns that will be participating. Niobrara could use some traffic and extra business as many businesses are suffering with the Mormon Bridge out of commission. A vendor show will be held at Sportsmen's Bar April 27-28 from 11am to 4pm. There will also be yard sales and businesses open.
The State of Nebraska and FEMA have opened a Disaster Recovery Center in the Santee Sioux Nation. The center is located at the Santee Health and Wellness Center (lower level, shelter room). They will be open from April 23 to April 27 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
At the center, recovery specialists from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will provide information on available services, explain assistance programs and help survivors complete or check the status of their applications. They can provide referrals and help with appeals. Centers are equipped with captioned phones, video remote interpreting and assistive listening devices.
Nebraska homeowners, renters and business owners in the Santee Sioux Nation and Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Stanton, Thurston and Washington counties may apply for assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from severe winter storm, straight-line winds and flooding.
How to Register with FEMA:
• Online, visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
The Nebraska Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) and its community partners will open a Multi Agency Resource
Center (MARC) at the Ponca Tribal Headquarters, 2523 Woodbine Street, Niobrara, Nebraska 68760.
The MARC will offer impacted residents additional aid and resources, including financial assistance for those who qualify, from multiple relief agencies. The MARC will be open from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The MARC brings relief resources and offers residents convenient access to agencies in one central location. The American Red Cross, Salvation Army and the Nebraska Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are just a few of the organizations that will be available at the MARC.
This is one of several MARCs that will be open throughout the flood zone over the coming weeks. “Our goal is to get resources and referrals to people in need and anyone affected by the recent floods is welcome,” said Mark Lentz, Community Engagement and Partnerships Lead for the Red Cross disaster relief effort.
What: Multi-Agency Resource Center – Niobrara, Nebraska
When: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Ponca Tribal Headquarters, 2523 Woodbine Street, Niobrara, NE 68760
Join the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition for its 18th Annual Membership Meeting to be held on
Tuesday, April 23rd beginning at 1:30 pm at the Ponca Tribal Headquarters located in the village of Niobrara at 2523
The meeting is free and open to the public. All interested people are encouraged to attend.
MSAC has invited Paul Boyd, a hydraulic engineer with the US Army Corps of Engineers – Omaha District, and Brad
Thompson, of the USACE Omaha District’s planning branch, to provide a progress update of developing a sediment
management plan for Lewis and Clark Lake along with the affected tributaries and the delta within the lake and
On Jan. 16, 2019, MSAC formally requested planning assistance from the USACE to develop a sediment management
plan. Currently, the USACE is drafting an agreement for MSAC to consider that would outline the scoping costs and tasks.
The preliminary planning process of scoping identifies the work that will be done and how much it will cost to develop
the sediment management plan (SMP) aimed at outlining actions that can be taken to prevent sediment from reducing
water storage capacity at Lewis and Clark Lake.
“This plan would analyze options to address the ongoing sedimentation problems that have broad national, state, local,
tribal and general public concern. The goals of this project align with MSAC’s support of reservoir sustainability for
future generations, as the benefits provided are too great of national and local importance to allow to wither away,”
said Sandy Stockholm, MSAC executive director. “But first we must determine what needs to be done to come up with
the plan, including a timeline and costs for bringing data together in a broad, holistic way.”
In July of 2018, MSAC began a discussion with stakeholders around Lewis and Clark Lake along with local, state, and
national officials about the specific pathways available for developing a SMP. Many entities in both South Dakota and
Nebraska have indicated support.
Recent flooding on the Niobrara River will also be discussed at the annual meeting.
Also invited to provide an update is Brian Halm, operations manager with Streamside Environmental. The sediment
removal and restoration service company, located in Findlay, Ohio, utilizes passive sediment collectors to remove certain
sediments moving along stream bottoms.
MSAC will hold elections for three Board of Director member positions whose terms are expiring: Charlie Gross, an at-
large member; Butch Becker, representing Class IV (individuals) and Randy Holmquist, representing Class III
The MSAC Board of Director members will conduct a board meeting beginning at 10:30 a.m. also at the Ponca Tribal
Headquarters in Niobrara. Both the board meeting and annual meeting are open to the public. Between meetings, lunch
will be provided at approximately 12:30 pm. For planning purposes, please let MSAC know via email
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone, 605-661-1594, if you are able to take part in lunch.
MSAC, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, invites its members and anyone interested in the future of the Missouri River
reservoirs and system benefits to attend one or both meetings. Membership and contribution information can be found
at www.msaconline.com. Follow MSAC on Facebook.
The Niobrara FBLA chapter attended the FBLA State Leadership Conference in Omaha last Thursday through Saturday. Students participated in competitive events, election of state officers, and attended informative workshops on business and leadership. Erika Kitto and Daniel Redowl competed in the Network Design competition, placing 8th in the state.
Residents of six more Nebraska counties and the Santee Sioux Nation, impacted by high water and power outages due to the recent floods, may be eligible for individual assistance, including Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP). The United States Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Children and Family Services have approved the D-SNAP for affected, qualified individuals in the Santee Sioux Nation and the following counties:
D-SNAP uses different qualifying rules than regular SNAP. If you would not normally qualify for SNAP, based on income, you may qualify for D-SNAP if you have suffered one or more of the following disaster-related expenses:
DHHS officials will determine eligibility based on available income, minus unreimbursed disaster related expenses. All resources except cash on hand and in bank accounts will be excluded from the eligibility determination.
If approved for D-SNAP, the benefits will be provided on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card within three days of approval. EBT cards are used like debit cards to buy food at most local grocery stores.
Applicants must visit a DHHS assistance site for in-person verifications and to receive an EBT card. A driver's license or another form of identification from the head of household must be provided. The application process may be started at the ACCESSNebraska website. Fill out an application and submit it or print the completed application and take it to an assistance site.
Applications for D-SNAP benefits must be made on between April 5 and April 18 at the Niobrara Rural Fire District located at 259 Spruce Avenue in Niobrara.
There are no quick fixes for the bridges damaged by the flood around Niobrara, but officials are hoping to have temporary bridges in place by the time school starts in the fall.
At a public meeting Wednesday in Niobrara, officials addressed efforts to repair multiple bridges, including the Mormon Canal Bridge, between Niobrara and the Niobrara State Park. The issues ran deeper than simple transportation, according to those attending, because first responders are unable to reach those in need during emergency situations.
Mark Simpson lives west of the bridge that’s out and said he’s now an hour from town. Since he and his wife, Pat, are both EMTs, they are now carrying equipment if needed.
“We’ve got the back end of our pickup loaded with rescue equipment,” Simpson said. We’re getting a defibrillator and that kind of thing, but it can be a life. I mean you either call a helicopter or you try and drive out there as fast as you can, but it’s going to be hard to deal with that.”
Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, said he understands the concerns and Knox County won’t be forgotten despite so much emphasis on the Omaha and Lincoln area.
“I would just like to emphasize that we don’t have any bigger priorities than the projects we’re talking about here at DOT,” Schneweis said. “When you’re talking the EMTs, when you’re talking the businesses, the life of these communities, there’s no bigger priority. If you go away with nothing, please understand that.”
Schneweis said during the peak of last month’s flood, one fifth of all of Nebraska’s highways were closed. Of the 2,000 miles closed, just 117 remain closed today, including some in Knox County along Highway 12.
He said there are two bridges west of Niobrara impacted by the flood. Although one requires minor repairs, until the Mormon Canal bridge is repaired, the other bridge is all but useless.
“We hear you,” Schneweis said. “We need to get that thing open as quickly as possible. We’re trying to get that temporary bridge in place in time for school to open in August.”
Khalil Jaber, the NDOT Deputy Director-Engineering, said they are looking at combining the temporary and the permanent bridges at the Mormon Canal into one contract.
“What you’re going to see is we’re taking a 36-month project delivery or even 12 months of hydraulic analysis into four weeks,” he said. “What we’re concerned about is when the contractors are building the permanent after they finish the temporary, you’re going to see that immediately happening. We worried that if there’s any events or anything that hits that, then we’re all the sudden completely out of the temporary.”
Jaber said the the permanent bridge will take years, not months, but they are trying to be as aggressive as possible with repairs. When asked if a footbridge is possible, Moe Jamshidi, NDOT Deputy Director-Operations, said even that would require permits and inspections that would slow down other repairs in the long run.
“The footbridge also has to meet certain standards and everything and build it to a place where it doesn’t interfere with our temporary bridge that we are putting there,” he said. “ We really felt like it was not really efficient.”
Kevin Domogalla, NDOT District 3 Engineer, said there are more than 60 sites in the area that have been identified as having damages and repairs began in Knox County “as soon as the rain stopped falling.”
He said west of Niobrara — and east of Verdel — temporary patches are already in place that have made Highway 12 traversable again. South of Niobrara, he said, a contractor is working on a bridge over Burgess Creek where the bridge deck had issues due to the extra traffic and ice.
“Once again, got them in real quick,” Domogalla said. “Looks like we might get that open (and) get the traffic lights out of there on Friday, so that’ll be open for the weekend.”
A representative from the Santee Sioux Nation emergency management asked about raising Highway 12.
Jaber said, “With the unalignment, obviously we’re raising that road and then any connections and any consideration from elsewhere is not necessarily part of that.”
He said unalignment — or raising the highway is “the most feasible, practical, economical” for the situation.
Domogalla said east of Niobrara is more difficult to repair, although K Porter Construction is working on the damages, including “a rather large washout, bigger than what we had first anticipated, that slowed the progress down.” He said there’s no timeline as to when it will be finished, but they are hauling millings in to be put down.
“We’re committed to getting these roads open as soon as we can,” Domogalla said.
They also discussed a bridge south of Spencer. Although the original bridge is fine, with a quarter of the highway gone, they are needing to create a new bridge. They are aiming for a new bridge to be open by August with a permanent bridge open in 2020.
“That’s the kind of bridge you don’t just build overnight,” Domogalla said.