1 Month Later, Long Recovery Remains For Flood-Damaged Northern Wisconsin

FEMA Teams Toured Sites This Week To Assess Damage

Damage caused by flooding on Kallgren Road in Bayfield County
Federal, state and local officials survey the damage caused by flooding on Kallgren Road in Bayfield County. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

One month after floods caused $11 million in damage, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been getting a closer look at washed out roads in northern Wisconsin. Three teams have been conducting assessments this week on whether the region will qualify for a federal disaster declaration. The declaration is tied to money that could help the region with its recovery.

A caravan of cars recently drove down a stretch of Kallgren Road in Bayfield County. After exiting his vehicle, Troy Christensen with FEMA said it was good a road engineer advised him to go slow.

“I’m glad he mentioned not to go too fast because from a distance it just looks like a big area of shade,” he said.

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What looked like a shadow is a huge gaping hole where the road is missing. The damage is what FEMA calls a “significant total road washout,” said Catherine Warren, a public assistance specialist for the agency.

Catherine Warren with FEMA talks with county and state officials about the damage in Bayfield County. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

“At this site, they’ll have to put the culvert back in and put a lot of big rocks on top of it to hold it in place, hopefully, during the next storm,” said Warren.

She said they visit sites like this to gauge how much repairs might cost. A walk around revealed debris from downed trees and a length of exposed fiber cable in the missing road segment.

The team eventually headed down the road to a similar site nearby on Andrew Anderson Road in the Town of Mason. The roads turn from gravel to blacktop back to gravel again — it’s a temporary fix that towns have been using until they can repair washed out roads.

When the team arrived, town road worker Mark Lake pointed out a six-foot-wide, 60-foot-long drain pipe mangled in pieces among the trees. He said it’s been long, hot days since the flooding.

A culvert lies in two pieces after being blown out by flooding on Andrew Anderson Road in the Town of Mason. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

“We’ve worked on other roads getting them open … but there are still some people who have to drive four to five miles out of the way to get to an open road,” Lake said.

Lake said the town has 56 areas where roads are damaged or washed out. So far, they’ve been able to make 10 passable and hope to finish Andrew Anderson Road by the end of the week. He said the rest will take time and money.

“You look at the money that’s involved to fix this stuff, and you’re looking at three, maybe four times the amount of money that the township has for the entire budget — not just the roads budget — everything,” he said.

That’s why county and town officials in northern Wisconsin are hoping for a federal disaster declaration. It would mean access to more money to fix roads and public infrastructure, which may also mean resources to mitigate the possibility of future damage. However, the declaration won’t help close to 80 homes and businesses damaged by flooding. There would have to be about six times that many damaged properties for individuals to qualify for federal aid.

Chester “Chet” Brauer of Delta has been relying on his neighbors to help him clear out mounds of sand that flooded his home.

Chet Brauer’s home still has about 130 yards of sand that needs to be removed from the crawl space after flooding caused a landslide to bury part of his house. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

“Where the house was, there was just nothing but water. As far as you could see, there was water. It was crazy,” Brauer said. “There was like a river going through where my home was and down the ditch down to the town hall. It washed out the road — like a whole lane it took out.”

He said the wall of water and sand moved his house three inches and buried two of his trucks.

“Every day is a fresh adventure. I have to spend some time away otherwise I’d be digging all the time, but that’s my goal,” Brauer said. “I want to be back in my home before the winter. It’s just going to take time.”

Chet Brauer and his daughter Krista. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Friends, neighbors and strangers have pitched in to help. This week, cars stretched all along County Highway H by Hyde’s on Buskey Bay in Iron River. Inside the restaurant, people were eating spaghetti and buying raffle tickets.

Helen Hyde and her husband Don own the restaurant and resort. Hyde said she and others organized a benefit to raise money for Brauer. People and businesses from surrounding towns chipped in to help.

“They all came together and donated amazing prizes and gifts and paintings,” she said. “You name it.”

Brauer said the generosity of those in the surrounding community definitely lightens the load.

“Everybody makes it easier … I always think there’s good in people,” he said. “I’m the glass is half full guy. Can’t give up. You just got to keep going.”

Damage assessments from counties affected by flooding will be reviewed by FEMA, and the agency’s assessments will be provided to Gov. Scott Walker by the end of the week so he can decide whether to request a federal disaster declaration.