Newsmakers, September 28, 2017

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Keith Butler, Melisa Myers and BJ Rauckman
Keith Butler, Melisa Myers and BJ Rauckman Hope Kirwan/WPR

The head of emergency management for one western Wisconsin county said he’s concerned a Federal Disaster Declaration request made after July flooding may go unfunded.

Gov. Scott Walker made the request of President Donald Trump on Aug. 23 for storms that caused flooding and more than $10 million of damage to public infrastructure in 11 western Wisconsin counties.

La Crosse County Emergency Government Coordinator Keith Butler said many county officials are wondering if the declaration will be acted on.

“The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds that would typically be available for us rather quickly have been exhausted,” he said. “The hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico now have taken all the attention and available funds. Ours may be delayed for quite some time, we just don’t really know.”

La Crosse County and its towns and municipalities sustained $4.6 million in damage in July, about half of which is eligible for FEMA funds according to Butler.

Roads, bridges and culverts were damaged in the flash flooding, and while most of the county’s roads are repaired, Butler said many of the roads were only temporarily repaired, requiring additional work. Butler said those repairs may not happen until 2018.

Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management Crisis Communication Manager Lori Getter said it’s still premature, given the unprecedented storm damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to assume Wisconsin’s August declaration request will be denied. She said it may take longer than usual for Trump to make a decision given that FEMA is still working in the affected areas damaged by the hurricanes.

But Butler said there’s been recent precedence to deny federal damage requests in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin has submitted requests for aid during a severe winter, a couple of winters ago. We had just huge propane shortages. We had water mains breaking all over the state. It was horrible. It was very, very expensive situation. Aid was not provided,” he said. “So, we understand that asking for it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get it.”

To pay for emergency infrastructure repairs immediately after a disaster hits, local governments have two choices: delay existing or future projects or borrow the money.

If a Federal Disaster Declaration is denied, Wisconsin has a disaster fund that local communities can apply to for financial aid.

Getter said there is $782,460 in the fund right now, with 48 applications from local governments pending to access money.

That fund has been around since 2006 and Getter said the Joint Finance Committee and governor’s office have always been willing to allocate more state dollars to the fund if local communities need it to help pay for necessary emergency infrastructure repairs.

At this time, local officials do not know when they’ll hear whether or not the Federal Disaster Declaration will be granted.

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Melisa Myers Guest
  • Keith Butler Guest
  • BJ Rauckman Guest