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The sound of ice cracking can be heard every few minutes near the Elkhorn River. While that was a good sign earlier in the week as the ice broke from nearby trees, the sounds on Wednesday won’t be as welcoming. Cracking will mean ice is breaking free on the river, and that could mean more ice jams.
With temperatures expected to reach the mid-30s with sunny skies on Wednesday afternoon, Antelope County and City of Neligh officials are keeping a close eye on the Elkhorn River and have backup plans should large ice chunks get hung up on the bridges as an ice jam between Neligh and Clearwater floats downstream.
“I’m not as worried about the flooding right now,” Antelope County Road Boss Casey Dittrich said. “My fear is a 30-foot chunk of ice gets hung up on a bridge and then another chunk gets hung up. I have three construction companies with excavators on standby, so we can bust up the ice if needed. We’re going to protect those bridges.”
On Saturday night, the ice jam east of the 519 Road bridge between Neligh and Clearwater created a local flood warning. Dittrich said he’s been monitoring the 519 Road bridge south of the Royal Road several times a day, and the water level has decreased about 8 inches since Saturday night. Commissioner Charlie Henery and Sheriff Bob Moore have also been on site multiple times as well.
Although low lying areas on 519 Road remain flooded and ice covered, Dittrich said the situation has improved and water is moving through the riverbanks. However, that could change quickly on Wednesday when temperatures rise to the mid-30s and the sun shines.
Dittrich said he plans to watch the Old Mill bridge in Neligh carefully to see how the ice flows through the narrow channel. The City of Neligh is responsible for that bridge, and the State of Nebraska maintains both the Highway 14 bridge before Neligh and the 275 bridge between Neligh and Oakdale.
“The channel in Neligh is narrower but deep,” Dittrich said. “The river is open in Neligh, and if the ice flows through there, that’s a great sign. The bridges that concern me the most are the Oakdale River bridge and Tilden bridge. At Oakdale, it’s flat and only about 4 feet deep across. Ice could get hung up there or by Tilden, so we’ll be monitoring these bridges very closely.”
City of Neligh Superintendent Dean Bly said he’s been in contact with county officials and also monitoring the river since the ice jam formed Saturday. Like the county, Bly said he has a construction company on standby with a backhoe available to break ice if necessary.
“We’re gaining with the water levels, but tomorrow could have bigger chunks coming down the river,” Bly said. “I’ll be watching it closely and have a backup plan if chunks get hung up on the bridge.”
Dittrich said Antelope County is responsible for the Oakdale River bridge and shares the Tilden bridge with Madison County.
“I think the 519 situation is improving, so my concern is really down stream,” Dittrich said. “When the temperature rises, some chunks will break loose. Hopefully, they are smaller chunks. But we have excavators on standby if we need them. We’re as prepared as we can be.”
As for the two state bridges, which are much wider than the county or city bridges, Tony Tschirren of the Nebraska Department of Transportation said he, too, is monitoring the situation but has no concerns about either bridge.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flew along the Elkhorn River on Sunday for an aerial evaluation of the situation and remains in contact with officials, as does Region 11 Emergency Management Coordinator Trent Howard, who was also on hand over the weekend to monitor the situation.