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Walker’s cabinet stops in Ashland for check-in on recovery from 2016 flood

Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

Gov. Scott Walker’s cabinet made a stop in Ashland this week to talk about ongoing recovery efforts from last year’s flooding in northern Wisconsin. Local officials there say they would like to see faster reimbursement for repairs.

The July 11 storm last year claimed several lives, washed out dozens of roads and caused millions of dollars in damage to eight counties and a reservation in northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel said they heard a lot of concerns about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's process for reimbursement.

"They want the timeframe to improve, so we're going to continue to look at our processes and try to improve those so that the time from disaster to recovery to repair to repayment is as short as possible going forward," he said.

Ashland County Highway Commissioner Emmer Shields said local leaders are frustrated. Cabinet members were in Ashland on Wednesday.

"There's a good deal of angst in the room over the fact that it's been a year and two months, and, for the most part, most of the local governments have not been reimbursed," he said. "Or, if they have been reimbursed, it's only a fraction of what costs they've actually incurred."

Shields said some towns have taken out loans and are paying interest on repairs that were made as part of last year's flood recovery. Those municipalities are worried about the debt incurred and how that will impact town operations in the future, he said. Local governments are also concerned that recent disasters with Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida may divert money away from northern Wisconsin.

However, Neitzel said federal lawmakers have assured the state the money will be there. Neitzel also noted that emergency management staff have been challenged with tackling paperwork and responding to several disasters statewide in the last year.

Wisconsin has received millions from FEMA to go toward flood repairs. But, a spokeswoman with Wisconsin Emergency Management has previously said funds can’t be awarded until a project is 100 percent complete. Wisconsin Emergency Management used to reimburse local governments when projects were 75 percent done. The agency changed its reimbursement policy early last year in order to comply with federal audits. 

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