High water hurting business in Brownville, Nebraska

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June 21, 2011 - 7:00pm

The Army Corps of Engineers says the amount of water being released at Gavin's Point Dam in South Dakota will be increased from 150,000 cfs to 160,000 cfs. That could push the Missouri River another 6 inches higher downstream. In Southeast Nebraska river towns like Brownville, residents were hoping that wouldn't be necessary.

The river is flowing higher than 44 feet at Brownville, and the bridge on Highway 136 has been closed, shutting down an important link to traffic from across the state border. Grant Gerlock of NET News talked to Martin Hayes, chairman of the Brownville Village Board, to find out what the town is facing with the high water.


GRANT GERLOCK: Tell me what the river looks like in Brownville right now.


MARTIN HAYES, BROWNVILLE VILLAGE BOARD CHAIRMAN: Well, right now it's plenty high. It's probably dropped a foot since Sunday morning, but we're expecting a lot more water to come down with all the rain north of us.


GERLOCK: Up in the Dakotas?


HAYES: Yes.


GERLOCK: The bridge closed over the weekend, the bridge on Highway 136?


HAYES: Yes. They closed it Sunday night, I think it was.


GERLOCK: So that's making it harder to get around in your area.


HAYES: Oh yeah. Especially with Rulo closed (Highway 159) and Highway 2 at Nebraska City. It's closed. So you've either got to go to St. Joseph or Omaha.


GERLOCK: I'm wondering how the businesses in Brownville are being affected so far with the bridge closed. Does that have a big impact?


HAYES: Well, it's hurting everybody because people just aren't able to get there.


GERLOCK: How important is it having that link with I-29 on the Iowa side?


HAYES: It's very important because we get a lot of tourist trade. With the bridge being closed and Interstate 29 being shut off where it is, it's affecting quite a bit of the town's business.


GERLOCK: Is the water itself affecting business in Brownville?


HAYES: The Riverboat Inn and the excursion boat, it's really affecting them because they're not able to run. The elevator was able to get their grain out, but there's no way they're able to get grain in because the river went over the dike that was protecting the elevator and the water treatment plant.


GERLOCK: So they're shut down for the time being?


HAYES: Yes.


GERLOCK: What's the next threat if the water keeps coming up?


HAYES: Well, I don't know. I know right now the water's running over the top of our wastewater plant but it's still running. The people that are the lowest, closest to the river will be the first ones affected. I would imagine water and sewage would start building back up into their houses. The only way we could correct that would be to pump it out.


GERLOCK: Are people in Brownville concerned about the Cooper Station downstream, the nuclear plant?


HAYES: Not so much. They do a pretty good job taking care of any emergencies that come up.


GERLOCK: Do you have any idea when the water may go down? Are the Army Corps of Engineers or the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency giving you any kind of idea of what kind of timeline you're looking at?


HAYES: All we've heard is it may be this way until October.


GERLOCK: That's a long time to be without the bridge, for one thing.


HAYES: Yes, but I look for them to open the bridge back up. If the water goes down just enough I think they'll open the bridge back up. Right now, across the river, the water has not gone across the highway, but there was a levee that had water going across it. Now, they were working on trying to sandbag it last night, and I haven't heard whether that was completed or not. They thought if they could stop the water from going across the levee they could open the highway back up.


GERLOCK: Are all the other sandbags in place so far, or is there still a lot of work going on?


HAYES: Well, I know they've been doing a lot of sandbagging at Cooper Station. Whether they're done sandbagging or not, I don't know. I haven't heard there. Across the river they're using helicopters to drop some of those 2,000 pound sandbags.


GERLOCK: Is there any chance that you'll actually see water in the community of Brownville itself?


HAYES: I don't think so. We're high enough. But there is a chance. We've got one house right now that's surrounded by water and there is a chance if it gets high enough there's two more houses that might get surrounded by water.


GERLOCK: You just have to keep your eye on the river.


HAYES: Yes. That's about all we're doing.


GERLOCK: Well, good luck.


HAYES: All right. Thank you.

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