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OPPD partners with Offutt on restoration efforts

September 20, 2022 | Jason Kuiper | commercial and industrial, offutt air force base, U.S. Strategic Command
offutt air force base strategic air command stratcom
The rebuilding of Offutt Air Force Base’s runway is wrapping up. This photo is looking down the rebuilt runway. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

Offutt Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Strategic Command, has a key role in protecting the United States and its interests.

The air base is one of the OPPD’s larger customers. The utility works with Offutt on projects that ensure the base can help serve its critical mission in defending the U.S.

offutt air force base
OPPD employees Andy Pedersen, construction working crew leader, left, and Pat Wolf, construction worker first class, work on flood restoration efforts at Offutt. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

This fall, one of Offutt’s largest projects ever – the rebuilding of the base’s runway – concludes after 18 months of work. The runway had deteriorated after 70 years of use by military planes and was considered one of the worst in the Air Force, said Ryan Hansen, a spokesperson for the 55th Wing.  It took about 10  years to secure funding for the project, he said.

On Oct. 1, the nearly 2-mile-long runway will be complete and ready for use. That date will also mark the return of the base’s alert crews, many of whom were stationed in Lincoln during the runway work.

The project was about 30 years overdue, and concrete on the runway had been falling apart. Hansen said that over the years, there have been several upgrades, but not a full replacement of the runway.

For OPPD and other utilities, the runway work meant that the electrical cables – including four circuits and other infrastructure – that run below the the runway would all need to be buried deeper than before.

Workers built five new duct banks and rerouted the circuits that feed the base below the runway. The runway work took OPPD about five months, said David Ortiz, senior account executive at OPPD.

Historic flooding

Plans for the new runway project were already underway in March 2019 when Mother Nature came calling in the form of some of the worst flooding the region has ever seen. A bomb cyclone caused blizzard conditions followed by heavy rainfall. The frozen ground couldn’t absorb the mixture of fast-melting snow and  heavy rain, and the fast-moving runoff breached or destroyed a number of levees, including the levees that protect Offutt from the nearby Missouri River.

offutt air force base u.s. strategic command
The record flooding of 2019 left one-third of the base under 720 million gallons of floodwater. Photo courtesy of Offutt Air Force Base

One-third of the base was under 720 million gallons of floodwater. The flooding caused damage that will take up to seven years to repair. The flooding damaged 137 facilities valued at more than $700 million and displaced 3,200 people.

OPPD is in involved in that work, too, rebuilding and relocating infrastructure at the base and providing temporary power to the makeshift “campuses” around the base. Each campus has a specific mission at the base.

The flood didn’t impact the runway though, Hansen said.

“About 3,000 feet of our runway was under floodwater initially,” Hansen said. “But after the water receded, an inspection team found no structural problems, and we were able to reopen the runway for normal flight operations.”

Helping to rebuild

For OPPD, the two projects required extra planning. The work at Offutt involved numerous employees from a number of different areas of the utility. Many of those employees worked out of OPPD’s Omaha Service Center.

Offutt U.S. Strategic Command StratCom
OPPD employees Andy Pederson, left, and David Ortiz, senior account executive, and examine a construction site on the Offutt Air Force Base. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

During the flood, OPPD  deenergized equipment quickly enough that only one switchgear was lost. Beyond that, employees spent time cleaning out equipment once the water receded, Oritz said.

OPPD workers have been at the base working on flood equipment refurbishments since January 2022. Among their tasks: removing damaged infrastructure and turning the damaged area of the base into a “blank construction area.” When Offutt is ready, OPPD crews will add equipment and be ready to power the new buildings and campuses.

Hansen said the work will happen in phases over the next few years. As Offutt works around the construction, OPPD has been able to provide temporary power as needed to areas like a temporary firing range and the military working dogs area.

A strong partnership

Oritz and Hansen agree the partnership between OPPD and Offutt has been strong for many years. That makes the work at the base go smoothly.

From breaking ground as Fort Crook in the late 1800s to opening the new U.S. Strategic Command headquarters in 2019, Offutt Air Force Base has deep roots in eastern Nebraska.

OPPD had its own beginnings near the end of World War I. Around the same time, Offutt saw its first aerial units take to the skies. For much of the century since, the two institutions have enjoyed a strong, storied relationship.

Offutt’s role as an installation essential to sustaining the nation’s defense means keeping reliable power flowing to the base, and its nearly 9,000 personnel, is at the very core of that relationship.

When frigid temperatures hit much of the U.S. in mid-February 2021, Offutt took its operations off of utility power. Instead, the base ran operations on generation for 75 straight hours. By taking six megawatts of power off the grid and using backup power, Offutt helped reduce the impacts of the frigid conditions. That was possible due to the “collaborative and supportive relationship” between Offutt and OPPD, said Doug Wendt, superintendent of the 55th Facility Systems at Offutt.

“I hear nothing but good things from the engineering squadron about the support OPPD provides us,” Hansen said.

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

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