GAYS MILLS - Luckily, it wasn’t a record flood last weekend for our local area. Unfortunately, it was another severe flood event in Readstown, Soldiers Grove, Gays Mills, Steuben and a lot of other places. In some other places, it probably was the record flood.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in 17 counties in the state.
This time, it started up north like the all-time record flood of 2008 that hit Gays Mills in June of that year. Places like Ontario and Rockton were hammered by rain on saturated soils last Wednesday night and again Friday.
By Friday in light but steady rain, the water from up north began to hit Soldiers Grove and Gays Mills. At noon on Friday, Highway 171 at the Main Street Bridge in Gays Mills was closed as was Highway 131 and County C in Soldiers Grove.
As the evening approached more roads were closed. By Saturday morning, the County B Bridge across the Kickapoo River just west of 131 was also closed. Highway 131 at Honey Farm Road near the intersection of 131 and County X was closed as well.
Fortunately, through it all, the Highway 61 Bridge across the Kickapoo near Crazy Frank’s in Readstown stayed open. So did the new Highway 14 Bridge across the Kickapoo near Cheapo Depot. With the exception of those two bridges, there was no way for vehicles to cross the Lower Kickapoo River on Saturday morning other than the Highway 60 bridge in Wauzeka.
A storm that could have brought devastating rains to our area on Friday night went south and raised havoc in neighboring Grant County.
As usual, the first responders did the tough work under sometimes harrowing conditions. Local residents also stepped up to help neighbors and travelers in need of assistance.
The Red Cross checked in with the local communities and established a shelter at North Crawford School for those in need. By late Saturday afternoon no one had used it, the volunteers there reported. Later, the shelter did take in two people for the night.
It seems the worst of the storms went north or south of northern Crawford County sparing Gays Mills and Soldiers Grove the worst of it.
This time the worst of it centered on Ontario, Coon Valley and some other places in Vernon. It also went south devastating Cassville, Potosi and a host of other places in Grant County.
In Crawford County, the worst impact was in the Townships of Bridgeport, Wauzeka and Prairie du Chien, where downed tress and power lines blocked the roads, according to David Jones from the Crawford County Highway Department.
National Weather Service rainfall reports Wednesday included 6.25 inches in Marietta, 4.06 inches north of Richland Center, 3.89 inches in Steuben, 3.52 inches at the Boscobel airport, 3.18 inches in Mount Zion, 2.74 inches in Muscoda, 2.6 inches one mile west of Platteville, 2.26 inches in Readstown, and 2.08 inches in Lancaster.
Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz led the effort in the village. He credited an experienced crew made up of local firefighters and EMS volunteers, as well as other local residents, for minimizing the impact of the flood locally.
“Everybody worked great together,” Heisz said later. “There’s so much cooperation that goes on out there.
“We’re learning every time we do it,” Heisz noted. And there have been a lot of opportunities in the last 10 years—probably six major flood events since the flood of 2007 that set everything in motion for the Village of Gays Mills.
Another factor that helped the response this time was the two days advance notice.
“We had two days to get ready—it’s not like a flash flood,” Heisz explained.
In addition to the work of the firefighters, EMS personnel and local residents, Heisz also praised the Gays Mills Village Office staff, who under the direction of Dawn McCann contacted every residence in Gays Mills creating a list of contacts and the plans of where those residents might go if they left their homes.
Another factor making it easier for the Gays Mills crew was the fact around 50 houses were removed from the floodplain following the 2008 flood and most of these residences would be heavily impacted in a flood like the one that hit the village last week.
Heisz said he knew of only five buildings that got water inside of them excluding some garages and basements. He noted that most of those buildings had cement floors and were easier to clean. Among those getting water were the Societies Sons Motorcycle Club on Main Street, the Kickapoo Locker on Main Street and the Showen Company on Main Street. The Methodist Church on Rebecca Street also took on water inside the building.
The biggest problems were being caused by cars driving into water, according the village president and lifelong resident. Heisz knew of three cars that had stalled in high water and needed assistance.
Heisz said cars and trucks driving too fast in standing water caused some additional damage to residences downtown by creating two-foot high waves.
Officially, the Village of Gays Mills recorded a Kickapoo river depth of 18.08 feet compared to 18.4 feet last September and the 2008 record of 20.44 feet. Many felt the National Weather Service reading missed the real crest, which they felt was closer to 18.5 or 18.6 feet.
Soldiers Grove had some impacts from the flooding as well.
Soldiers Grove Department of Public Works Director Brian Copus said there was debris and damage in the park that he estimated would cost between $5,000 to $10,000 to clean up and repair.
Copus said Monday that one third of the park was still underwater and the rest was covered in river silt and debris.
The flooding event began on Thursday with some local flooding following the Wednesday night storms. Copus and the crew quickly secured tables and garbage cans swept up by the initial flooding.
Early Friday, the streets of Soldiers Grove began to take on water from the arrival of the water from the north. County C near the horse arena was the first flood. But by Friday afternoon, Church Street (Highway 131 was also closed by flooding and Tavern Road was closed in three places as you moved out of the village into the Town of Clayton. River Road off county C was flooded by Saturday morning.
For residents of what is known as the flats above the horse arena, they could leave town by going west on C and then either taking it all the way to County J and onto Viroqua or they could take Norwegian Hollow Road to Prestegard Road to County M to Readstown. Other residents of the village, including the Olson subdivision, were able to use New Well Road to get to Highway 61.
On Saturday, Postmaster Diane Roy moved the operation from the Gays Mills Post Office she feared might flood to the Soldiers Grove Post Office without moving most of the sorting setup. The mail was sorted under difficult conditions sin Soldiers Grove.
Water never breached the post office building on Orin Street in Gays Mills and on Monday the operation was up and running in its usual location.
On Saturday, Stacy Chamberlain, a rural delivery driver, did not return to post office until 4:30 p.m. because of the slow start sorting and problems encountered with the flooded roadways.
One Gays Mills resident with a unique perspective on the flood was Brad Otto, who lives on the corner of Post Street and Orin Street. His house was one of the first to be elevated following the 2007 flood. The residence is located deep in the floodplain or maybe even in the floodway. Otto rode out the flood staying in his residence all day Saturday.
The local co-manager of the Kickapoo Exchange Co-op was perfectly content in the residence served by fiber optic cable which continued to function through the flood delivering television and internet service to Otto. His landline phone also worked throughout the flood.
Otto said the water in the street outside of the residence was already three feet deep Friday night.
On Sunday morning, Otto received an invitation for breakfast from his friend and neighbor Don Lampert, who lives a block-and-a-half up Orin Street from the river and Otto’s residence.
Otto donned some waders and did a shuffle step through the current, as he walked up the middle of Orin Street to Lampert’s house.
Although isolated by high water in his elevated residence, Otto said that he was never afraid throughout the whole flood.