Generations of Brandon Hildebrandt's family know the stress and upheaval that flooding brings to a family.
By RIMSIE McCONIGA
Generations of Brandon Hildebrandt’s family know the stress and upheaval that flooding brings to a family.
His grandfather bought property near what is now Hildebrandt Road in the 1930s and his parents bought the property in 1981.
Flooding has plagued the family throughout the decades. Brandon’s mother, Patricia, who still lives in a house on the property, and Brandon’s brother, Chris, who still helps her farm the land, had to escape recent flooding of the Missouri River that inundated areas in the community.
“Recently, I was able to look through the binoculars and see that the water was up to the top of the first level of the house, which is about 8 feet of water inside,” says Brandon.
Brandon’s father, George, was a longtime farmer who farmed the property alongside his father, George Sr., just as Brandon and Chris farmed with him. Brandon’s older brother, Poncho, was a farmer on this land as well until his death in 1995.
Chris once owned a home along the river and Brandon’s wife, Cynthia, also had a home nearby. But they were forced to move after the 2009 flood. The damage that flood inflicted made it too difficult to rebuild. Now, Patricia is the only family member living on the property.
“The river flooded our farm in 1984,1993, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011,” says Brandon. “The flood of 1993 was the worst flood, at that time we had a one-story house and it went over the roof. We rebuilt a 2-story house after that flood. In 2007, 2008,and 2009 we had water in the house up to the windows maybe about 4 feet inside the house.”
In 2011, Brandon says the home sustained the worst damage with water in the house for more than three months. “My mother and father lived with me for over one year,” says Brandon. “When the water finally went down we could not access the farm because the levee to the house was washed out over 100 feet long. My dad had to fight with the Leavenworth county commissioners for over two months before he could get anyone to help. Finally after meeting with Gov. Brownback he was able to get the road fixed.”
Many people in several Midwest states who live near the Missouri River think that too much emphasis is being put on preserving barge traffic on the river and on protecting endangered species at the price of endangering property.
But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the rain and melting snow flowing into the river downstream of the dams in the north after a hard winter is what caused the recent flooding. They also say that some of the massive amounts of reservoir water had to be released. In mid-March the reservoir behind Gavin's Point Dam which is located on the Nebraska/South Dakota border was filled by water in a little over a week that completely filled the reservoir from empty more than twice according to the National Weather Service.
After the 2011 floods around 400 business operators, landowners and farmers sued the Corps of Engineers and won the suit.
Brandon's family rents properties along the river to people who mostly have campers that can be easily moved. But one of the renters has a cabin which is now underwater.
“My mother has been staying with us since last week,” said Brandon. “After a flood it’s usually bad. The smell, the mud, the process of getting all the mud out, gutting the whole downstairs and starting from scratch. We have done this so many times that it just seems natural to me. People ask, 'why don’t you give up or move?' But like my mom and dad would always tell people ‘It’s home.’ You just put in the work and do it. There is not a dollar amount that anyone could offer me to leave that farm.”
The river has changed dramatically over the years says Brandon. He remembers when he was young being able to walk halfway across it because it was always low and sandbars were out. His relatives used to have family picnics along the river. “I tell my friends I have a love-hate relationship with the Missouri River,” says Brandon. “The river runs low all winter but they never release the water up north during this time. They never take into account all the families and land that is lost. There is an ongoing lawsuit now due to these management errors. From the time I was a kid I watched my father George put his whole life into this farm. It really drains you to watch all of your hard work get washed away. I was taught by my father how to hunt, fish, and swim in that river. My dad made a living off fishing and trapping along the property. The river runs so high now that you can’t even find a good spot to fish anymore unless you have a boat.”
Brandon isn’t really sure why his grandfather, George Sr. bought the land in the ‘30s, but he says that sentimental value plays a large part in why the family still cherishes it. Hildebrandt Road was named after George Sr. and Brandon believes there are too many memories and future memories still to be made on this property.
“Some people may not understand but if you don’t live that life you may not get it. My father never gave up on anything in his life and I think I inherited that gene from him. Giving up on the farm because of some water would be like giving up on my dad and I wasn’t born that way. I want my kids and their kids to be able to carry on the legacy of the Hildebrandt farm.”