Winslow Striving for Higher Ground – Part 1

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The floods of 2019 forever impacted a number of communities throughout the Midwest. We’ve already chronicled the struggles of towns hit hard by the floods. The struggles of Hamburg, Iowa, in their desire for a levy tall enough to protect their community. The tough decisions at the hands of Pacific Junction residents on whether to accept FEMA assistance, which essentially dooms the future of the community. 

Winslow, Nebraska, has never been a big town. Sitting at 103 residents in the 2010 census, it’s high mark was 275 in 1920. But the community held some importance during its early years due to its proximity to two railroads. Initially started in 1895, the railroad community grew quickly and was incorporated on May 28, 1909.

A variety of businesses set up shop in the early years. But most of them closed up or moved on when the Great Depression hit and the Dust Bowl impacted Nebraska communities. One rail line still runs through town, but it doesn’t stop. And most residents head to Hooper a couple miles to the West or the larger Fremont, ten miles to the south.

Flooding is Nothing New in Winslow

Although they weren’t flooded by the mighty Missouri River in 2019, their own levy didn’t protect them from flood waters either. The waters of the Elkhorn River overcame the levy and tore through the community. A majority of the community sat inundated with two feet of water. All 48 structures were impacted as flood waters washed through, leaving a trail of mud, damaging everything in its path. The picture below shows the extent of the flooding in and around Winslow in 2019. But check out this YouTube video from Matt R to get a better look at the devastation.

Flooding of Winslow NE

Winslow, Nebraska surrounded by the Elkhorn River in March 2019. (Photo courtesy state of Nebraska)

Although some residents moved on and left the community, others were steadfast in their desire to stay. The community had weathered floods in the past. A few of them actually. In 1873, before the community was even incorporated, flooding caused livestock and buildings to be washed away. Floods also impacted the community in 1912, 1944, and 1960. A 1996 flood caused widespread damage throughout Winslow and served as the impetus to build a levy to protect the community. 

The problem that faced them this time around was FEMA’s stance on future assistance. FEMA was willing to assist in the rebuild from the 2019 floods, but they were not willing to provide assistance in the future if another flood ravaged the community.

Winslow Levy

Photo courtesy JEO Consulting Group

University Provides Assistance

Much like with Brownville, Nebraska, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) offered their assistance. Professors Gordon Scholz and Zhenghong Tang, along with 27 of their students and representatives of JEO Consulting Group came to their aid. They conducted a field survey of the damage and met with community residents. In the end, the students prepared a 122 page report that identified issues and needs for recovery. The report also included an appendix with roughly 200 pages of parcel inventories, FEMA mitigation strategies, and news stories that documented the event.

UNL Assistance

Photo courtesy JEO Consulting Group

Thinking Outside the Box

This lead community leaders to ponder the best way to use their funding. Should they rebuild in place and hope that the levy holds in the future? If it doesn’t, then who will help bail out the town when the next flood hits?

Community leaders in Winslow decided to look at things from a different angle. “Why not move?”

No, not to move out of their community they are looking to move THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY.

Winslow Roads

Photo courtesy JEO Consulting Group

But Wait, There’s More!

Stay tuned for the second part of this story to be posted next Monday. We will dive deeper into the concept of moving an entire community. We’ll look at the hurdles that Winslow needs to overcome and what’s in the future for this rural Nebraska town.

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