YORK — As Nebraskans learned this past spring, you can’t predict when disaster will strike — but you can be prepared.
Funding for emergency preparation and other community enhancements was the main topic at a recent workshop presented at the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District office in York. The event was attended by 20 individuals representing area municipalities and counties seeking grant funding.
Representatives from Marquette, Hampton, Gresham, Bradshaw, Waco, McCool Junction, Pleasant Dale, Beaver Crossing, York, Henderson, Seward and Milford attended the event, as well as those from Hamilton, Seward and York County offices.
Four organizations presented on a number of grant funding programs available. JEO Consulting Group out of Lincoln presented on Hazard Mitigation Grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This grant program offers participants a 75 percent cost share for projects that are aimed at reducing the risk to life and property from hazards such as high winds and flooding.
This funding was made available in the state of Nebraska in response to the historic storms and flooding experienced across much of the state in March 2019. FEMA grants could reduce the severity of the impact of future events in Nebraska, should they occur.
The Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District is applying for funds through this program to add tornado sirens at four of the public recreation areas it manages: Recharge Lake (York), Smith Creek (Utica), Oxbow Trail (Ulysses), and Pioneer Trails (Aurora). The NRD is also considering adding storm shelters at the areas that have RV camping facilities. These recreation areas offer a variety of activities and are in heavy use during the summer months when tornadoes are most likely.
“One of the areas of the NRDs responsibilities is to develop and manage recreation and park facilities,” said Jack Wergin, projects department manager. “Adding sirens and storm shelters to the recreation areas will help keep the public safe during severe weather situations.”
The workshop also covered community improvement grants and loans available through the Nebraska Community Development Block Grants program, including those for emergency preparation. These funds address the needs of low- and middle-income communities, with the aim of providing a stable platform for economic development.
Kirt Smith, the emergency management director for Hamilton County, was encouraged to hear that there were funds available through multiple sources for the villages he serves. “Each jurisdiction is looking at doing their own projects — storm water drainage, generators, safe rooms. Those types of things,” he said. “The workshop gave us a look at a lot of avenues of funding. Some of them I hadn’t heard of before. The recent flooding has really opened people’s eyes in the villages to the need for better planning and drainage in some areas.”
The staff of the Nebraska Environmental Trust also presented at the workshop on funding opportunities for Nebraska natural resource projects -- funded by revenues from the Nebraska Lottery, the organization funds projects in the areas of wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, recycling and waste reduction, air quality, and soil health. The Nebraska Environmental Trust is working with four other NRDs in the northern part of the state on a groundwater nitrate reduction project in the Bazile Groundwater Management Area. This is of interest, as reducing nitrates in groundwater in the district is one of the most pressing initiatives of the Upper Big Blue NRD.
Staff from the Rural Development program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was also at the workshop to discuss emergency community water assistance grants. These funds can provide improvements to water systems in rural areas to ensure access to safe drinking water. They also fund other types of emergency preparedness initiatives. From a new ambulance and medical equipment in Webster County, to a new fire station in Dakota County, to an ambulance barn in Thayer County, USDA Rural Development grants are making an impact in Nebraska.
Jerry Zieg, mayor of Beaver Crossing, hopes they can have a similar impact on his community. Zieg plans to apply for funds through the USDA to expand the village’s fire station. Emergency funding is always top of mind for Zieg since his community was the site of a powerful tornado on Mother’s Day in 2014. The event damaged virtually every structure in the small town and led to a months-long clean up and recovery process. “I would hope that such a thing never happens again, but if it does, we want to be a little bit more prepared. I’m confident there were things we could have done then that we didn’t know to do. We don’t want to make the same mistakes twice,” he said.