By DAVID KRIER
Power outages, flooded basements and washed out roadways were the rule when area residents awoke Saturday morning following torrential rains that dumped up to eight inches of rain overnight.
And then it happened again, five more inches of rain Saturday night, undoing all the hard recovery work of the day before and triggering numerous landslides and blocked roads. Damage from the storms is expected to top $5 million in Grant County.
After a severe thunderstorm hit the Boscobel area Friday morning, including a lightning strike on a Hinman Avenue home, the real damage hit following Friday night’s deluge. More than half the city’s streets were flooded and nearly 600 homes damaged, 20 severely.
Numerous area roads and highways were washed out or closed due to landslides, including a 200-yard segment of Highway 61/60 a mile east of Boscobel on Monday. With mud, rock and debris 25 feet deep, the highway was expected to take several days to clear, with traffic re-routed through Marietta Valley to County E in Crawford County. A stretch of County E known locally as Shockley Hill was closed most of both Saturday and Sunday due to landslides. A 300-foot section of railroad track was also washed out a mile west of Blue River along Highway 133.
Friday night’s storms caught 54 canoeists out on the Wisconsin River, including three groups of Boy Scouts who had rented canoes from Wisconsin River Outings of Boscobel the day before. Wisconsin DNR wardens and personnel from the Boscobel and Blue River fire departments responded with boats and by 9:30 a.m. Saturday all missing canoeists had been accounted for.
As water poured into Boscobel basements early Saturday morning, the city’s east side electric substation was struck by lightning at 2 a.m., with most of the city losing power. When the Alliant Energy substation went down, there was no hope for electricity for several hours as Boscobel Utility workers waited for an Alliant crew to respond.
“We’re dead in the water at that point,” said Director of Public Works Mike Reynolds.
Electricity was restored by approximately 6 a.m., but with power out for four hours and sump pumps inoperable, basements filled up quickly.
The storms also overwhelmed the city’s sanitary sewer system, resulting in sewage backups. The city’s wastewater treatment plant normally processes about 220,000 gallons per day and is designed for a maximum of 500,000 gallons per day. From Friday to Saturday morning the plant processed 700,000 gallons of sewage. Over the next 24 hours that figure jumped to 1.2 million gallons, “completely overwhelming our system,” said Reynolds.
Despite the Army Corps of Engineer’s levy project, Sanders Creek flooded its banks. Among the hardest hit due to the creek flooding were homes along East Bluff Street at the bridge, Tall Tails Sports & Spirits on Wisconsin Avenue, and Boscobel Utilities’ Clerk Misty Molzof’s house across the street. Unfortunately, after the Corps project took much of the city out of the 100-year floodplain, many business and homeowners do not have flood insurance.
“I haven’t heard a single person say they have flood insurance,” said City Administrator Arlie Harris. “In fact, several people said they couldn’t get it.”
The city of Boscobel and Grant and Crawford counties have all made emergency declarations in the hope of securing state aid for the massive cleanup costs, but the federal government will not be assisting.
“FEMA, as far as I understand, will not be here,” Harris said. “It’s not a big enough disaster.”
Boscobel City Hall was set up as a command center Sunday and has been staffed by city and Grant County emergency personnel from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout most of the week. Coordinating the effort for the Grant County Aging Disability and Resource Center was Boscobel’s Lori Reid, who lives across Park Street from the Bluff Street bridge. “I had a front row seat,” Reid said of the flooding. “It was pretty awesome, pretty scary. At some points I thought I lived next to a dam, not a bridge.”
By Saturday afternoon firemen were going door-to-door handing out damage estimate forms to homeowners in an effort to document damage for state aid claims.
“Right now we’re focusing on major damage and making homes habitable,” Grant County Emergency Management Director Steve Braun said Monday. “We’re looking for state aid, most likely through the Community Development Block Grant program and its Emergency Assistance Program. It’s one of the only programs available to homeowners.”
Braun said the Small Business Administration’s low interest loan program is also a possibility for home and business owners, but not FEMA. “We didn’t meet their threshold,” he said.
As far as road damage, with some townships looking at $500,000 in potential costs—including Boscobel and Hickory Grove—there is the state disaster fund, maybe.
“We’re eligible,” Braun said, “but the question is if there’s any money in the fund right now. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Road closures were numerous in Grant and Crawford counties, but most had opened as of Tuesday afternoon, except for the Highway 61 landslide and a similar slide on Highway 35 near Lynxville.
Among the Grant County roadways affected were Highway 133 on both sides of Blue River, Old C in Watterstown Township (bridge wash out), County M from County S to County T (mudslides), Riley, Blue River and Forest roads (washed out) and Shady Hollow Road in Woodman Township where the bridge was washed out.
Besides Highways 61/60 and 35, other Crawford County highways closed for a time included Wis. 179 near Eastman and Wis. 171 west of Gays Mills.
Area rivers are swollen, with the Wisconsin River at a record high for this time of the year and the Kickapoo River over its banks in certain locations. The Mississippi River is also expected to exceed flood stage.
While city and county government works through the paperwork and logistics, volunteers have helped their neighbors get back on their feet. Volunteers have been registering at city hall to help elderly, disabled and other families clean out basements, haul debris and other chores.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people have come in to volunteer, pretty impressive,” Harris said.
“We’ve had donations and volunteers pouring in from all over,” added Mayor Steve Wetter Monday. “The governor called me yesterday to let me know about emergency funding, but right now it’s our own people who are getting it done on their own accord. They’re going to pick up the pieces and start over again.”
As the cleanup continues, Governor Walker was to visit Boscobel Wednesday afternoon to survey the damage.