As the Lower Elkhorn NRD Board reviews options in an effort to address Battle Creek’s flooding issues, a range of solutions are being considered.
Ideas discussed Thursday night at the council meeting included a levee, a diversion channel, building a large dam, three dams or possibly moving all or part of the city, like what happened with Niobrara.
Most solutions would cost tens of millions of dollars, though some could get federal help, like dams.
One of the biggest concerns is unresolved, the city continues to be at risk of another flood.
Eric Kraft, Battle Creek City Council Member, presented the history of Battle Creek flooding and various projects that have been attempted to improve the situation.
He said one concern is that many homes could be placed in a floodplain, requiring homeowners to carry flood insurance. He described him as having two mortgages.
“Our growth is hampered by that, I think,” Kraft said.
The school has a school bond of nearly $8 million, but people won’t want to move to the city if they think it’s at risk of flooding, he said.
Some of the board members agreed, saying anything FEMA determines to be the floodplain could be a big concern. This is because it will determine who should purchase flood insurance.
Kraft said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused a levee for the city.
Chad Korth, one of the board members, said there will always be a backlash to anything the board does. The board needs to consider a solution that helps everyone and not just consider it from a “me” perspective, he said.
“You can’t flush your neighbor’s toilet,” he said.
Lalit Jha, an engineer with the JEO Consulting Group, said that since Hurricane Katrina the Corps has not supported the levees. JEO is working on an options study for the city.
Jha said one of the problems with levees and diversions is that they take water in one side and push it out the other side.
Matt Steffen, one of the council members, asked if the city could build a levee without Corps support.
Jha said it would be possible, but the reason for getting support from the Corps is that it can help with cost sharing.
Steffen asked if the dike had been examined.
Jha said yes, with everything else.
“Everything – every option was considered. This included the dike. This included widening the channel,” he said.
There are criteria that must be met with each proposal, and each of the options is considered among the criteria, Jha said.
With the levee, for example, the city would need to have four gates to close, such as on Highway 121, the Cowboy Trail, and two roads. In addition, he said, these intersections should be raised by at least 4 feet, which means these roads should be raised, as well as all the walkways that connect to them, Jha said.
“For a seawall to have continuous protection, you need to raise all of these roads,” he said.
Some of the attendees at the meeting said they wanted to have a diversion channel.
Battle Creek Town Administrator Michael Fleer raised the possibility of a floodway. It would be dry unless there was a flood, so it would have to be maintained by the city.
That means the city should probably mow it or try to rent it out to someone to pull the hay out of it, he said.
Fleer said all he saw with the floodway was that there would be a lot of reductions and more water being pushed to the Highway 121 bridge.
Fleer said he received a letter from a homeowner who has already lost property to rushing water, despite adding rockfill and other efforts.
“They weren’t compensated for it. They lost it. If we keep pushing the water faster to the Elkhorn (river, then it will go) faster to Norfolk, faster to Stanton, Pilger, Wisner and West Point. I’m just asking you to consider that as well,” Fleer said.
The other concern with building a flood wall or levee is that it would likely protect people to the east, but it would not protect people and property to the west, including Producer Hybrids.
And it doesn’t matter if people live in the floodplain and have to buy insurance, it’s going to be hard to get new people to town because people will say, “Battle Creek floods,” Fleer said.
Regardless of the proposed solution, the Lower Elkhorn NRD is still early in the process. Options are being considered and discussed, with funding yet to be determined. But board members said they wanted to help the community find a solution.
Many who lived in Battle Creek said they hoped something would be done this time and not just talked about.
The concern, they said, is that it could be discussed again in 2030 and there will have been another flood and still no solutions.
Ultimately, the board voted to authorize JEO to conduct further study, approving $149,500 in additional funds to be spent. The study is expected to be completed in April.