Mayor Chris Beutler today announced that he will propose placing a stormwater bond issue on the May 10 ballot to fund projects to decrease flooding and improve water quality. The City Council will consider the proposal on first reading Monday, February 22, with a public hearing and vote scheduled for Monday, February 29.
"We have a duty to our neighbors and the generations that follow to build protective stormwater infrastructure," Beutler said. "Many homes and businesses across the community are flooded after routine rain storms - damage that could be prevented with a modest investment from the community."
Doug Murray, General Manager for Road Builders Machinery near 56th and Fletcher, said his business and neighboring ones like Lincoln Tool and Die deal with flooding two to three times a year. "It hurts our bottom line," Murray said. "Our expenses increase to deal with the water. Employee turnover is higher as employees become discouraged. We could be doing more to help build Lincoln's economy if we could just have an end to the flooding. We have been literally waiting years for the City to fix the problem."
Mayor Beutler said the problems faced by businesses and homeowners will increase with the arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). The insect has destroyed ash trees across the nation and may be in Lincoln already. "The 14,000 public ash trees in Lincoln play a role in our stormwater management system," he said. "A single tree can absorb 100 gallons of rainwater, so losing them increases the flooding threat. As part of this bond, we will include $2 million to begin removing and replacing the public ash trees that will eventually be destroyed by the EAB."
The bond issue would include projects in 17 areas to protect property from stormwater runoff and flood damage, to improve water quality and to prevent or repair failing stream banks as well as the EAB funding. The projects are identified in the City's Watershed Management Capital Improvement Program and are on a current priority list of storm drainage needs. The projects would be completed over the next two to three years. (A list of project follows this release.)
The bond issue would also provide funding for "best management practice" projects; floodplain and flood prone area engineering and projects; street drainage projects; and preliminary engineering and projects for watershed and basin management plans.
About 2,000 public ash trees would be replaced over a three-year period under the proposal. "It is critical to act fast because EAB detection methods are imperfect," Lynn Johnson, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department. "By the time EAB is actually discovered, it could have been here three to six years. A tree damaged by EAB becomes brittle and falls apart quickly, causing hazards for property and public infrastructure."
Johnson said the urban tree canopy can reduce stormwater runoff by two to seven percent. "Losing 14,000 trees will create more, faster moving stormwater," he said. "Fewer trees will mean increased flooding, greater soil erosion and more pollutants flowing into streams and lakes."
Some projects, such as the one impacting the 56th and Fletcher area, have significant matching funds that may be lost without City funds according to Ben Higgins, Senior Engineer with the Watershed Management Division of the Public Works and Utilities Department. "Funding from the bond project enables the City to reduce flooding potential, improve public safety and reduce economic damages to impacted properties," he said. "By repairing infrastructure now, we decrease the chances of it failing and we avoid more costly repairs in the future."
If approved, the $9.8 million bond issue would increase the City's property tax levy by less than one-half of one cent and would cost the owner of a $150,000 home about $7.50 a year. Lincoln voters have approved all nine storm drainage bond issues on the ballot since 1990: 1991 - $5.58 million; 1995 - $4.00 million; 1997 - $8.25 million; 2001 - $7.50 million; 2003 - $10.0 million; 2005 - $9.95 million; 2007 - $8.30 million; 2010 - $8.20 million; and 2012 - $7.90 million.
More information on the stormwater system is available at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: stormwater).
If approved, the bond issue would fund inlet repairs City-wide as well as improvements in these areas: