Walker declares emergency after tour of flood damageWisconsin’s governor declared a state of emergency for Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties after flooding last week.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Wisconsin’s governor declared a state of emergency for Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties after flooding last week.
Gov. Scott Walker was in Superior on Tuesday to tour flood damaged homes in the Central Park area and the Salvation Army, which was bustling with activity to feed people despite flood damage of its own in the basement.
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, joined the early part of the tour before heading back to Washington D.C. to deal with congressional business.
“We appreciate the opportunity to get an update first-hand,” Walker said Tuesday.
The governor said while his own family has had experience with water damage in his family’s home, it did not compare to what he saw Tuesday.
“I wanted to see the level of damage, but (also) see the impact,” Walker said after touring three flood-damaged homes in Central Park near Faxon Creek. “Some people have insurance, which is good.”
The governor encouraged people who have insurance to contact the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance if they believe, they are not being treated fairly by their insurance company.
Walker also encouraged people to report whatever damage they sustained to city and county officials to determine what aid may be available to help address issues created by last week’s flooding.
“Homeowners and business owners, we need as much information as possible,” Walker said. “The more the city, counties and state get that information, the more options we have available.”
After all, the damage left in the wake of last week’s storm doesn’t appear to come even close to the $7.7 million threshold before the Federal Emergency Management Agency would set in to offer aid.
But thus far only about 540 households and businesses have reported damages sustained in the flooding that affected northern Douglas County.
“We know there are some who are just not going to report the damage,” said Mayor Bruce Hagen. “They’re just going to handle it themselves.”
But reporting that damage could help city and county officials get state aid, which would alleviate the need to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure repairs following the storm.
The emergency declaration made by the governor Tuesday does allow city and county officials to increase tax levies to cover the cost of repairs.
In northern Douglas County, at least 10 roads are in need of major repairs after culverts were washed away by rushing water. In Superior, several roads are also in need of repair, including North 28th Street, Woodlawn Drive and Marina Drive between the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center and Barker’s Island.
And it could help local government officials determine whether to seek a presidential declaration to access federal aid if the damage through Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties reaches the FEMA threshold.
“We don’t want to over promise,” Walker said. “We want to deliver our promises, but we need as much information as possible.”
Hagen said he wasn’t optimistic the areas affected by last week’s flooding in Wisconsin would reach the federal threshold.
However, local officials remain hopeful that state aid can reduce the need to raise taxes.
“Here you have this financial loss, and it wasn’t just one family; it’s a whole community,” Duffy said after touring one of the flood-damaged homes.
Duffy said he joined the tour Tuesday to gather as much information as possible so as he works with local and state officials, they can look at all the options available.
“The disaster is tremendous in an area that doesn’t have a lot of resources,” Duffy said. “I’m going to do all that I can to make sure I’m gathering all the data, so if the resources are available, I’m going to fight to make sure we get them. That’s why it’s so important that everyone who had damage reports it … There is an analysis that is done in terms of the damage and the number of homes. Getting an accurate accounting is really important.”
The governor did tell city officials there is state funding available through two different funds run by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to assist with infrastructure repairs, and there could be funding available to help home and business owners make repairs with low interest loans through the small business administration.
Public Works Director Jeff Goetzman said the city was initially receiving reports about basement flooding after the June 19-20 storm, but more recent reports are coming from people who can’t get back in their homes, which have become uninhabitable because of mold issues and smell.
“There are people who still can’t get back into their homes a week later,” Goetzman said.
While the governor has faced criticism from some for not coming to Superior sooner, after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton made a similar trip to Duluth the day following the storm.
Walker said it was his experience, as Milwaukee County executive, that it would be better to wait to get a better handle on the damage left behind and stay out of the way of the emergency response at the time of the flooding.
“You got flood damage going on; you’ve got emergency personnel — the last thing you want is an entourage from the governor,” Walker said. “I just know having gone through it personally as a county executive, I wanted someone to assist me. I didn’t want someone to get in the way.”