But other parts of the state are lacking the money available to do weather-related maintenance, or other types of road work this year. State Senator Kathleen Vinehout recently talked about how parts of her Western Wisconsin district haven’t been able to fix the washouts and related mess from this Summer’s record storms.
The story began early August 11, 2016 when torrential rains dumped up to 11 ½ inches in our area. Small creeks became raging rivers. Wild water took out several bridges including the Schoepps Valley Bridge that connects a major road –State Highway 88 – to about 20 homes and farms.Complicating matters in Vinehout’s part of the state is that unlike similar rainstorm events near Lake Superior and in the La Crosse area, those August storms in Buffalo County were not given a FEMA disaster declaration to help pay 75% of the repairs. While businesses and home owners in Buffalo County are eligible for loans from the US Small Business Administration, that doesn’t get the bridges and roads fixed in the area.
Recovery from the floods is slow and wearisome. Some residents just recently were able to apply for assistance. Town officials borrowed money to fix roads and bridges, and the county may need to borrow for cleanup of a debris-filled creek that still threatens homes.
But for resident in Schoepps Valley, the bridge is still out.
Town officials cannot yet get funding from the state Department of Transportation to pay for a temporary bridge. Getting a new larger sized permanent bridge will take some time.
Meanwhile, people are worried about getting to work. Some fear being stranded and sometimes stay with relatives in Winona, Minnesota.
Without a new bridge, the only way out of the valley is a steep, windy road that becomes impassable during bad weather.
There is a program that sets aside money to help the state to make up the difference that FEMA won’t pay for, and this may be what Vinehout is referring to in her column when she says WisDOT has yet to release the money.
The department shall make such investigation as it deems necessary and within 6 months from the date of filing the petition shall make its determination as to the granting of aid, the amount thereof, and the conditions under which it is granted. In making its determination the department shall cause an estimate to be made of the cost of repairing or replacing the facilities damaged or destroyed to standards and efficiency similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, and also an estimate of the cost of reconstructing the facilities to a higher type or improving any such facilities if determined to be warranted and advisable. Except [in cases of disasters under $15,000 or over $1,000,000], the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a disaster described in sub. (1g) (b) 1. shall be 75 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction, plus 50 percent of the increased cost of the reconstruction to a higher type or the improvement of any of the facilities. Except [in cases of disasters under $15,000 or over $1,000,000], the amount of aid payable for damage caused by a disaster described in sub. (1g) (b) 2. shall be 70 percent of the cost of repair or replacement to standards similar to those existing immediately before the damage or destruction. The department may revise estimates on the basis of additional facts. The county, town, village, or city shall pay the remainder of the cost not allowed as aid, but this shall not invalidate any other provision of the statutes whereby the cost may be shared by the county and the town, village, or city.But there is only $1 million in the Transportation Fund and $2.45 million in the General Fund that is budgeted for such disasters, and given the large number of damage-causing weather events in recent months, that may mean another source of strain on a state budget where there isn’t a lot of money left to go around in Fiscal Year 2016-17.
And since most local governments pay for street plowing, repair, and maintenance out of the same pot of money, and because those resources are squeezed by property tax and expenditure limits imposed by the state, you can likely add these needed repairs for weather-related damage to the list of problems the state may have with its deficit-ridden transportation fund. Any carryover funds that Wisconsin communities may have been counting on to keep things as close to normal as possible might be going away with these weather-related costs, which makes it all the more vital that these places see increases in state funding, or added flexibilities beyond wheel taxes for local communities to use to pay for the roads.
But as that debate continues as to what to do about the state's Transportation Fund, the roads in Buffalo County will still be washed away (they're not going to build it when it's 0 degrees), and the people of Western Wisconsin will await the money to come up from Madison to help them get back to normal and get re-connected to other areas of the state and the country.