AP NEWS

Affected Nebraska residents get bad news about dam failure

May 8, 2019

NIOBRARA, Neb. (AP) — People who suffered losses when the Spencer Dam failed in northern Nebraska have gotten more bad news: A state law limits the liability of the dam’s owner.

Nebraska Public Power District, which owns the dam, has said that the March 14 collapse of the more than 90-year-old dam was caused by a combination of high Niobrara River flows and massive chunks of ice.

Attorney David Domina told a Monday gathering of homeowners, farmers and businesspeople in Niobrara that it would require exhaustive study to prove who is responsible for the significant losses from that day of flooding, the Norfolk Daily News reported.

State law limits the power district’s liability to $1 million per individual court-proven claim per occurrence and $5 million, total, for all such claims, Domina said. Knox County, which was one of four counties affected, already estimates that it suffered more than $17 million in damages.

“So you see, the counties will claim damages. If any damages are awarded ... monies will dwindle quickly or be all gone,” Domina said. “I know that is not what you want to hear. No matter who you are or the circumstances, the law is specific.”

Domina said Wednesday that he’s been retained by a couple of the downstream landowners to investigate possible claims against the district, but he declined to name the clients.

District spokesman Mark Becker reaffirmed the district’s stance: An unprecedented amount of water and mammoth pieces of floating ice besieged a dam that was designed for the generation of electricity, not for flood control.

The state’s top dam safety official, Tim Gokie, also has blamed the ice and floodwater rather than the dam’s age or any deficiencies.

“With age comes problems with any infrastructure — steel corrodes, concrete deteriorates over time,” Gokie told the Omaha World-Herald last month. “But there’s no indication that any of that led to the failure of the dam.”

One person was killed when the earth and concrete dam collapsed. The home of Kenny Angel, which was below the dam, was swept away by the wall of water and ice. His body still has not been found.

Becker said he couldn’t comment about the legal claim that Angel’s family has filed against the district.

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Information from: Norfolk Daily News, http://www.norfolkdailynews.com