Special committee on flood control, water resources advanced

A legislative committee would study potential flood control projects and related economic development opportunities in three areas of the state under a bill advanced from the first round of debate April 29.

Sen. Mike McDonnell
Sen. Mike McDonnell

LB406, as introduced by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, would have created a task force to study three to five flood control infrastructure projects in the Lower Platte River basin.

A Natural Resources Committee amendment, adopted 43-2, replaced the bill. It instead would create a special committee, consisting of at least seven members of the Legislature, that would study the need to protect public and private property, enhance economic development and promote private investment along the Platte River and its tributaries from Columbus to Plattsmouth.

The committee would conduct similar studies on the Lake McConaughy region and the region in Knox County that includes Lewis and Clark Lake and Niobrara State Park.

Under the amendment, the Platte River study could not include a study of any dam on the river’s channel but could include infrastructure that maintains the integrity of its main channel.

The committee could hold hearings and request reports from federal, state, county, city and village agencies and natural resources districts on matters pertaining to the studies. It could hold one or more closed sessions to receive confidential information upon a majority vote of committee members.

With the Executive Board’s approval, the committee could enter into contracts for consulting, engineering and development studies. The committee would complete the studies no later than Dec. 31, 2022.

The amendment states that it is the Legislature’s intent to appropriate $2 million to the committee for fiscal year 2021-22.

Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln supported the amendment, saying it would expand the proposal’s scope beyond the southeast part of the state.

“This is an opportunity to actually study something in an aggressive way that could form the basis for a big swing for the state of Nebraska,” he said.

Creighton Sen. Tim Gragert also supported the bill. He said the proposed study area in northeast Nebraska, which includes scenic views and hunting and fishing opportunities, is underdeveloped and underused but could attract more tourism with additional investment.

Also in support was Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood. He said he opposed the original proposal because it would have considered building a dam on the Platte River, threatening private property and infrastructure.

Clements said the amendment would restrict potential flood control projects to the river’s tributaries and to levees in the area, some of which still have not been repaired after floods in 2019.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte supported LB406 but said he would seek to amend it on select file. The bill as introduced does not set a termination date for the committee, require it to seek bids or include the state Department of Natural Resources in the process, he said.

Columbus Sen. Mike Moser opposed the bill, saying the state’s natural resources districts could conduct similar studies.

“I think this is just another study to put on a shelf somewhere,” he said.

After adopting a technical amendment, senators voted 42-2 to advance LB406 to select file.

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