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Wisconsin Storm Damage Tops $233M

Governor Says FEMA Will Conduct Preliminary Assessment

Flooding in Coon Valley
The side of Highway 14 on the west side of Coon Valley, looking east into town, was washed out from flooding Monday, Aug. 27, 2018. Photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Hope Kirwan/WPR

The damage total from last month’s flooding and storms in Wisconsin continues to rise and now approaches a quarter of a billion dollars.

Gov. Scott Walker tweeted Tuesday that the preliminary damages are nearly $234 million, up from the last estimate of $209 million from less than two weeks ago.

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The new totals include $109 million in residential damages, $76 million to the public sector and more than $49 million for businesses.

Walker also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will conduct a preliminary damage assessment beginning Monday in 17 counties hit by the storms that began on Aug. 17.

Getting those assessments done is a necessary step before Walker can seek a federal disaster declaration. That would activate at least one of two major FEMA programs designed to reimburse local governments and homeowners for repairs.

Six counties in northwestern Wisconsin already received a federal declaration for flash flooding in June. But Lori Getter, spokeswoman for Wisconsin Emergency Management, said that won’t impact the new assessments.

“Each event is separate and is weighed based on federal criteria,” Getter said. “FEMA has been great. They’ve assured us while they have a lot of staff obviously working the Carolinas and working (Hurricane Florence), they have committed to making sure they have staff here to help us.”

But Keith Butler, La Crosse County Emergency Management director, said he’s concerned it could impact how quickly Wisconsin communities will receive assistance.

“We saw last year in the 2017 flash flooding that it took awhile to process the request and to get checks into the hands of the communities simply because of all the other major events,” Butler said.

Butler said last year’s hurricanes and wildfires in California stretched emergency management officials thin. He said estimates it could take nine to 12 months after a federal declaration to receive FEMA aid.

“We still have several of (last year’s repairs) still sitting out there, projects that were either in various stages of completion right before this disaster hit the very same place or were completed, they’re just waiting for the paperwork to be processed,” Butler said.

Butler said the frequency of major flooding events in the area has increased the need for mitigation and he hopes a federal disaster declaration this year could open up FEMA funds for preventative projects.

Walker also announced last week up to $4 million in no-interest loans from state agencies will also be available for homeowners and businesses affected by the flooding. The programs are meant to cover remaining expenses after insurance or federal assistance.

“If we’re fortunate to receive a federal disaster declaration for individual assistance, it’s not going to make people whole. It’s not going to replace their homes,” Getter said.

She said state agencies are still developing the programs and they don’t have a date for when they’ll start issuing loans.

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