FEMA Awards $50M For Spencer Dam, But Not To Rebuild Hydro Unit

     FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Nebraska Public Power District have clarified Friday’s FEMA announcement of a $50-million dollar grant to the state for work on the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River. 

    The 93-year old dam owned and operated by Nebraska Public Power District collapsed during the disastrous March 2019 flooding

      The initial release said the money would cover 75% of the cost of NPPD restoring the dam and its hydroelectric operations to pre-collapse design, capacity, and function, but NPPD spokesman Mark Becker says FEMA was wrong.

         Becker says the utility has no plans for rebuilding the hydro unit and had given FEMA cost estimates to rebuild because it was part of the agency’s process, but had also said its plan was to demolish and decommission the unit.

      At the time of the flood, NPPD already had an agreement in place for a group of local Natural Resources Districts to buy the hydro unit with the intent of closing it. 

      Becker says the agreement died with the collapse of the dam, which killed a man who lived just below it and caused millions of dollars of damage. 

        The Spencer Dam was overwhelmed during the 2019 flood in a surge of ice boulders, with some chunks measured up to 2 feet thick and 20 feet long. 

      A review into the collapse found that NPPD and the state underestimated the threat to the dam from ice, even though ice had damaged the structure 3 times in the past, and underestimated the downstream hazard from a collapse.