COLERIDGE — Every cloud has a silver lining, even rain clouds that dump inches of water on top of already frozen snow causing massive flooding.
Thanks to the generosity of several people from across the country, Cedar County received a bridge last week to help in the efforts to replace one of the 32 bridges damaged or washed out in the March 13 flood that closed several miles of Cedar County roads.
A six-year-old boy from Utah, a farmer and a small businessman from Virginia all heard about Nebraska’s flooding and wanted to help.
It all started with 6-year-old Kai Baldwin of Vernal, Utah. He saw a news story about the flooding in Nebraska and could not hold back the tears. “How will they get home and save their animals without a bridge?” he asked his mom. “We have to send them our money.”
Touched by her son’s desire to help, Kai’s mom, Kristin Forbis, researched a reputable source where a donation could be sent, and the pair invited friends and family to empty their pockets and add their change to Kai’s piggy bank donation of $3.21. The donations were then sent to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Disaster Relief Fund, knowing that 100 percent of it would be used to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
He ended up raising more than $285 in support of the Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Disaster Relief Fund — a fund that has so far taken in more than $2.5 million in direct support for the state’s ranchers, farmers and small communities.
A few days later, the Nebraska Farm Bureau got a call from Culpeper, Va., farmer Jesse Wise, who owns Wise Services and Recycling and recovered the bridge, which was bound for the scrap pile.
Besides owning the metal scrap business, Wise raises hay on 200 acres in Culpeper County for feeding cattle. Learning the bridge could be used in Nebraska, Wise rallied his friends, including Pete Read, who owns Read Transportation and Logistics, Culpeper.
“When you think about all the things that came together, God had a hand in it somewhere,”
He and another driver traveled more than 1,200 miles—dodging severe weather along the wayto Coleridge, last week to deliver a 22-ton ready-made steel bridge.
Arriving in Nebraska, Read was greeted by Coleridge community members and members of the Farm Bureau.
“It all went great,” he said. “The folks in Nebraska were really appreciative and very welcoming.”
The gesture was very kind, said Cedar County Commissioner Craig Bartels, who was on hand when the bridge arrived
“I find myself getting a little bit emotional when you think of a guy like Jesse from Virginia that you’ve never met is going to ship a bridge 1,248 miles to somebody he’s never met. I think that’s pretty neat,” Bartels said.
Tina Henderson with the Nebraska Farm Bureau thanked all those involved in an email.
“I believe God had a tremendous hand in this effort and you all are very special for helping us out in our time of need,” she said.
Wise said he donated the bridge with a spirit of giving.
“It’s good to help people and at the same time I also want to shed a positive light on our industry,” he said. “We get such a bad rep, everybody calls my business a junkyard. It’s like me hearing fingers on a blackboard.”
Wise Services is a scrapyard, he said, that recycles metal so it can be used for something else. Wise imagined something better for the bridge, and Bartels said they will find a use for it.
“If we cut it up, they’d make a new I-beam out of it. But it was a complete bridge, and you don’t see that very often,” he said.
During the month of March, record floods destroyed many homes, businesses, and communities across Nebraska.
“We have had so many people from Nebraska and around the U.S. and really around the world that have heard about the need we have here in Nebraska and have responded in some way,” said Steven Nelson, the president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.
Cedar County Commissioner Craig Bartels says 32 bridges were impacted by the flooding in March.
“I told the folks when they called, I said I don’t know where we’re going to use this bridge or where it might fit. You know, we don’t have a cookie cutter spot for that bridge to fit into but we will make a spot,” said Bartels.
After connecting with officials in Cedar County, the next challenge for the Virginia scrap metal recycling company was to figure out how to transport the massive bridge halfway across the country.
“He said, ‘These folks in Nebraska have had all this flooding and they’re really in need of a bridge so will you haul it for us?’ and I said, ‘Of course, we will.’ So the next couple of weeks, we spent planning where, when and how,” said Pete Read, the owner of Read Transportation.
Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said farm and ranch losses to the flooding topped $1 billion in the state.
By late March, just over $24 million in damages had been reported by Cedar County to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. At the time, this gave Cedar County the dubious distinction of having the fourth highest flood damage total in the state.