FEMA awards $50 million to state of Nebraska for Spencer Dam disaster

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated more than $50 million to Nebraska for the Spencer Hydroelectric plant and dam as a direct result of major disaster declaration FEMA-DR-4420-NE.

During the incident period of March 9, 2019 through July 14, 2019, a severe winter storm, straight line winds and flooding caused damages to the 3-MW Spencer Hydroelectric plant and dam, FEMA said. Heavy rain on frozen ground followed by a blizzard created a record runoff, breaking up ice on the Niobrara River. Large chunks of ice floating in the flood waters overtopped the embankment and spillway structure, breaching the embankment in two locations and causing catastrophic damages to the Spencer Hydro Electric plant and dam.

Funding of about $50 million (75% federal share of total project cost) was obligated to assist Nebraska Public Power District in either its repairs to the Spencer Hydroelectric Facility and Dam — to restore the facilities back to pre-disaster design, capacity and function — or toward an improved or alternate project.

The Public Assistance Program provides grants to state and local governments and certain non-profit entities to assist them with the response to and recovery from disasters. The program provides assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures and permanent restoration of infrastructure.

NET Nebraska reported that the funds will be used to remove the dam: “Let’s make it clear: We do not plan to rebuild,” said Mark Becker, a NPPD spokesperson. “We have indicated that to FEMA; we will not rebuild. We will remove it, and we’ll be working with various agencies to basically return the river to what it was many years ago.”

NET Nebraska said NPPD made the decision to not rebuild because, when operational, the dam only generated a small portion – about 3 of 2,000 total megawatts – of the utility’s power, according to Becker, adding that NPPD had planned to sell the dam to local resource districts before the March 2019 failure.

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