KEARNEY, Neb. — You can count Paul Younes among the many who never want to see a repeat of the disastrous 2019 Kearney flash flood.

At this time five years ago, all seven of the Younes Hospitality hotels in Kearney were shut down. Guests were stranded staying at the University of Nebraska-Kearney dorms as water drained from the hospitality district.

“We were very blessed to have the staff we have, that everybody stayed with us and worked with us to help and get everybody going that day, and the day after, and the day after,” Younes said.

As people across Buffalo County mucked out their basements and businesses, Jesse Mintken was observing from Grand Island.

“Yeah, this is by far the worst that I think anybody in this part of the state has seen,” Mintken said.

The flooded communities soon reached out to the assistant manager at Central Platte Natural Resources District. The NRD obtained a federal grant and Mintken launched the Elm and Turkey Creeks Watershed and Flood Prevention Operation that October with a valiant goal.

“The protection of human life,” Mintken said. “That’s why we do it.”

The preliminary plan to mitigate flood risk includes two diversion channels. One, to the southeast of Elm Creek, would be an enlarged version of an existing canal. The other would be just three miles west of Kearney’s hospitality district. A 200-foot deep diversion channel would take flood waters from Turkey Creek about a mile south to the Platte River. Engineers are putting the finishing touches on the first step of the process. 

“The first step of feasibility gives you a 30% design,” Mintken said. “The second step will take that design all the way to 100%.”

They expect to finish phase one by February. If approved by the NRD board, the second phase would take another 2-4 years. At that point, construction could start whenever the communities choose.

“If there is support in the future, we at least have a plan that we can start from,” Mintken said.

After the 2019 flood, it took Younes nearly six months and more than $10 million to fully restore his hotels. Now, the Younes campus is again thriving and expanding. A 200,000-square-foot SportsPlex will open soon, so will a new visitors center, a dual hotel, a new multipurpose district and even a year-round golf venue. 

All of that would have been underwater five years ago, prompting Younes to join the mitigation efforts.

“We took some action in the lake in here, we diverted some of the water to go to the Turkey Creek canal, we tried to take some action, everybody took some more action,” Younes said. “We’re just trying to prevent to happen again what happened last time.”

These illustrations show the expected results of a 100-year flood now and after the possible construction of the diversion channels.

Still, Mintken cautions that nothing can stop the perfect storm, like the one that struck five years ago.

“I don’t know what you can build for a 500-year storm event,” Mintken said. “At that point, we’re all in trouble at that stage.”