Monday, October 24, 2016

FEMA aid will be a big help to get flooded Wisconsin back to normal

After last month's major floods in western Wisconsin, local and state governments were facing an extra level of road repairs that they didn't account for. While the state of Wisconsin sets aside $1 million a year in the Transportation Fund, and budgets an additional $6.5 million of General Fund Aid for the 2015-17 biennium to help local governments pay for damages, that wouldn't be nearly enough to handle the needs that have arisen from record rains that happened last month, as well as the widespread damage from a 12-inch downpour in July in Northern Wisconsin.

Governor Walker and members of Wisconsin's Congressional delegation made a request of President Obama to release funds from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to lower the burden that state and local governments would have to shoulder for repairs to roads and buildings. And on Thursday, the President agreed, making a major disaster declaration for much of western Wisconsin, which means FEMA will pick up 75% of the costs involved in repairs from the floods. Governor Walker announced the FEMA declaration in a press release and thanked President Obama's Administration for the move (without using Obama's name, of course).
...The counties included in the declaration are Adams, Chippewa, Clark, Crawford, Jackson, Juneau, La Crosse, Monroe, Richland, and Vernon.

"We're pleased these communities will receive federal assistance as they work to repair roads and other infrastructure that was damaged during the flash floods last month," said Governor Walker. "The damage caused by these flash floods and mudslides have placed significant strains on many local budgets, so this federal assistance is a welcome relief."

Last week, Governor Walker formally requested a federal disaster declaration. Although impacted by the floods, Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties did not sustain enough damage to qualify for the federal assistance.

Heavy rains hit western Wisconsin September 21 and 22, causing flash floods, mudslides, and washed out roads. Preliminary damage assessments conducted by FEMA determined the storms caused more than $11 million in damage to public infrastructure, including over $5.2 million in damage in Vernon County.
Walker's request and promotion of the FEMA aid seems ironic for a guy who ranted at the Republican Convention about how states like Wisconsin shouldn't rely on "liberal Washington." And while I applaud Walker for actually doing his job and asking for help from FEMA, it shows how absurd that neo-Confederate "state's rights" pose is, because the state of Wisconsin and especially the local governments in the western part of the state would have faced significant disruptions to their road repair plans if they had to pay for it on their own. And no local or state government deserves to be handcuffed because of natural disasters like the large-scale floods that have afflicted Wisconsin in recent months.

Now that the feds have done their duty to help the states in their times of need after natural disasters, there will likely be little long-term damage to state budgets and infrastructure. The FEMA funds are especially handy for Vernon County, a place without a lot of people or money flowing around, and the Vernon County 2017 budget needs to be finalized in the next month after millions of dollars in unforeseen repairs have been made.
Vernon County Highway Commissioner Phil Hewitt said Obama's Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration is like Christmas coming early.

"It means that we're going to be able to do road construction and that sort of thing next year instead of paying for flood damage," Hewitt said. "This declaration, especially with the townships and even with the county, it saves us.".
The Vernon County Highway Commissioner also says in the Wisconsin Public Radio article that the FEMA money also allows for pre-emptive measures that minimize future disasters.
Hewitt said FEMA officials usually approve funding for infrastructure improvements, not just replacements. Without FEMA authorized improvements to riverbanks and bridges after flooding in 2008, this year's flood damage would have been 10 times worse, he said.

"That's the big thing about FEMA, is they usually will allow you to do mitigation on some of these projects, and then you don't have to go down this road again," Hewitt said.
And there's no question that preparing for the next storm is something that is a worthwhile investment of tax dollars. With these once-in-a-lifetime floods seeming to hit every few years these days, and 1-2 inches of rain forecast for much of southern Wisconsin over the next 48 hours, it seems that natural disasters are something that will cost us more money now and in the future. And regardless of how much the Kochs shell out to make GOP politicians deny the man-made contribution to climate change, to not budget and prepare for this new reality of weather-related costs is something that cannot be done by any responsible government.

1 comment:

  1. A small win for Wisconsin. Now if Walker would accept federal dollars for Medicade expansion, we could help thousands more.