Monday, June 18, 2018

Wisconsin floods expose bad Walker/WisGOP choices on roads, Nat'l Guard

I may have been roasting in 95-degree heat and humidity this week, but that wasn’t the case for northwest Wisconsin this weekend. They got hammered with catastrophic rainstorms and flooding that seem to have become all too common in recent years up there.
Heavy rains over the past several days have caused flooding in northern Wisconsin that has caused at least two deaths and resulted in a number of closures and washouts to roads including U.S. highways 53, 63 and 2. The rainfall is expected to cause high waters in some areas similar to flooding that occurred in June 2012, according to the National Weather Service….

At least half a dozen people needed to be rescued on Sunday due to flooding, according to Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka.

"It's been really difficult. Often times it takes so much longer than normal because we have to take alternate routes to get around," he said. "We're finding washed out roads as we try to respond to calls because we haven't gotten reports on obviously every road yet."

Susienka said the flooding in Bayfield County seems worse than the deluge that occurred two years ago because the damage to roads is more widespread. U.S. Highway 2 near Ino has been washed out between County Highway G and Tomich Road. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said the damage will mean a long-term closure, according to Jessica Felix, the agency's northwest region deputy director…

However, Felix said it was unknown at this time how long repairs may take. U.S. 63 was closed in Bayfield County for about a month after flooding in July 2016. Felix added that the department is suspending all oversize/overweight permits in Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties. In addition, southbound traffic on U.S. Highway 53 has been redirected to the northbound lane by Bennett and Solon Springs.

This means the state is going to have to get more aid from FEMA and the FHWA to get the washed-away roads from this weekend back into functional shape, and it could take a significant amount of time to do so. This is awful for the region, as the height of tourist season looming in these areas.

And the timing is even more tragic because it came just days after the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee chose to direct less than 10% of more than $67 million in new federal funding toward highways such as 53, 63, and 2. Meanwhile, the I-94 South project near the Foxconn development got nearly 3 times as much as the rest of the state did, despite the fact that the I-94 project already got a $160 million earmark from the US DOT earlier this month.

Yes, the GOPs on the JFC agreed to send an extra $38.6 million to repair bridges around the state in the same project, and that will help somewhat. But a preliminary list of projects from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s summary of the plans for the new bridge projects shows that only one bridge project is in the four counties most affected by this weekend’s storms. Which means there will need to be extra money taken away from other projects in the state to make up for these now-urgent repairs.

But there’s only $5.3 million available for the Transportation fund to pay for such disasters in this current budget, even though 2015-17 had $6.5 million in payments. Walker and WisGOP tried to roll the dice, and gamble that there would be fewer disasters to pay for in the next two years. Now there’s going to have to be some way to pay for this in the next fiscal year that we likely don’t have the funds to pay for, which means an already-low cushion of funds (because of pre-election Walker/WisGOP giveaways) just got smaller.

It’s worth noting that we’re barely 2 months removed from northern Wisconsin finally getting federal aid to repair roads and reimburse costs related to damage from major storms in each of the prior two years.
The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration with most of it slated for federal road repairs in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and on the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians Reservation. Just more than $10 million will go to the U.S. Forest Service to rebuild roads that have been washed out since 2016.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest spokeswoman Hilary Markin said the money will be used to help fund permanent repairs.

"We actually have eight portions of roads that were closed where emergency repairs were not possible given the size and scope of damage," Markin said. "We do have a closure order in place for those roads."…

Nearly $5 million in federal highway funds will be spread among 22 counties.

Parts of northern and western Wisconsin were declared federal disaster areas after storms quickly dropped more than 10 inches of rain in both 2016 and 2017.

Same area, different flood

It sure sounds like Wisconsin is going to need to start allocating more money to defray weather-related disasters, because these things seem to be happening more, and at higher costs (the point that WisGOP is so Koched up in climate change denial that they don’t want to admit this almost goes without saying).

Also, we’d usually see the Wisconsin National Guard trying to help these communities deal with the flooding and ultimate cleanup, but instead we have word today that troops in the Wisconsin Guard are heading southwest to help the State of Arizona “secure the border” with Mexico. Yes, the feds are going to pay for the Guard’s run to the border, but someone in our media might want to ask Our Fair Governor if that’s a good use of our limited resources while multiple parts of the state are flooded out.

Floods like these are tragic and inconvenient at any time, but having it come at a time when highway repair funds are already unacceptably short and right before the 4th of July make it especially devastating for northwest Wisconsin. And maybe we need to have people in charge at the Capitol that are prepared to deal with this disasters and have the money and personnel to adequately offer assistance.

Because Scott Walker and the rest of the WisGOP crew seem to care more about getting headlines from throwing more tax dollars down to Foxconn-sin while pandering for campaign donations from the Kochs and other oil oligarchs. We also could use a governor that doesn’t choose to send our National Guard members out of state to give winks and nods to xenophobic bigots over helping the Wisconsinites that pay their salaries.

And given the multiple inches of rain that fell in Central Wisconsin today, and big storms slated to hit throughout Southern Wisconsin today and tonight, I have bad fears these misplaced priorities will be laid bare a few more times before this Summer is out.

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