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'Rebuild or Abandon' - Flooded Businesses In Southwest Iowa Have A Decision To Make

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

Business owners in Mills and Fremont counties directly impacted by the catastrophic Missouri River flooding will have a decision to make in the coming weeks and months.
Do they rebuild or move on?

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“We know we have to make a decision if we’re going to rebuild or abandon,” Feed Energy Chairman Robert Riley said Saturday while touring flood damage in western Mills County with Iowa’s Third District U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.

Feed Energy, a producer of livestock feed supplements, has had a major operation on 195th Street south of Pacific Junction for nearly 20 years. The Feed Energy facility and other businesses located on the 195th Street industrial tract were surrounded by a field of water and not accessible for the congresswoman’s tour on Saturday. Riley was joined on the tour by a representative of the Kiewit Construction Co., which has a heavy equipment facility on 195th Street and has been unable to move its machinery in and out of the site since the flooding started in mid March.

Axne visited with Mark and Nancy Lincoln at their flooded out Lincoln Farm & Home BP store near the Interstate 29 – Highway 34 interchange. The Lincolns told Axne they want to bring their store back, but not before Missouri River levee issues are addressed. Mark Lincoln noted there’s a huge levee breach just a few miles away from the new convenience store and fuel center that opened in 2018.

“We’re looking at all the options that we have, but before we spend a penny to rebuild anything, before we invest, we need to be assured that the levees, at the least, are going to be fixed,” he said. “Right now, basically, just three miles west of here, it (the levee) is open, so if the river comes up, we’re just exposed (again).”

Axne said the concerns she’s hearing from business owners like the Lincolns must be addressed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state agencies.

“Mark and Nancy at BP are doing an incredible job, but they have 20 employees there that aren’t getting a paycheck,” Axne said. “If all goes well, maybe they can reopen this summer, but they have concerns about the levee and with the highway shut down, that’s a lot of business traffic for them. They want to know when is it going to reopen.”

Axne said the levee issues that need to be addressed are both immediate and long-term. The existing breaches need to be fixed  to prevent even more flooding this year and long-term changes need to be discussed to prevent future disasters. She said progress is being made on the development of a multi-state task force to address Missouri River management issues. The task force will be made up of state and federal representatives from states along the Missouri.

“We’ve got to come together on fixing this issue permanently,” she said. “We can’t have 500-year floods twice in 10 years. It’s not just the levee heights - it’s how the Corps of Engineers is serving those levees. It’s how the reservoirs are being used and the release of water. It’s addressing conservation issues, but that should never be in the place of somebody’s health and welfare.”

Mills County Emergency Management Director Larry Hurst said the widest levee breach in Mills County, located across the mouth of the Platte River flowing into the Missouri River from Nebraska, is now probably in excess of 400 yards wide and 60 feet deep.

On Monday, local officials and levee managers met with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, the Corps of Engineers, state legislators and representatives from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation to address the levee situation. Meeting attendees were told immediate repairs to the damaged levees could take weeks.

Axne, who has toured flood damage in the region twice in the past three weeks, said the federal government can and should do more to lessen the economic impact the disaster is having on small businesses and local communities. She noted that during a town hall meeting in Fremont County, she met with the owners of a flood-damaged motel that had been denied a loan from the Small Business Administration because it was determined they wouldn’t have the resources to pay the money back.

“If that’s what we’re going to end up doing – telling every small business they’re not going to get what they need because they can’t repay it, then we won’t reopen any of these businesses,” Axne said. “These are not wealthy people. These are hard-working small business owners who don’t have those resources.”