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Steuben bar owners struggle with flood recovery bureaucracy
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Bob and Lou Atkinson have been through floods before, two devastating ones back-to-back in 2007 and 2008 that flooded and closed their Steuben bar for an extensive period of time. But even they weren’t prepared for the events of June 21-22 earlier this summer.

The rains started early in the morning of Friday, the 21st, saturating the ground and knocking out the power in Steuben. Then, at about 4 a.m. Saturday, the second wave hit. Water came pouring down the hillside behind their bar, filling up a normally dry creek bed bordering the north side of their bar. But an 8-foot-wide drain under Highway 131 was no match for the deLouge. Debris quickly pLougged the narrow opening, backing up the water and sending it pouring through their back door and up underneath the foundation, undermining the bar.

“Friday we had the power outage and we were still out of power when it hit,” Lou recalls.

“But the exit light shined brightly so Lou and I could exit,” adds Bob.

They started assessing the damage at daybreak.

Water rushing through the back door had actually peeled up the concrete floor. The dining room had collapsed four inches and would eventually require over a foot of new concrete to repair. By mid-morning Saturday, Crawford County Emergency Management showed up. It would be the last they would see of them.

“While all this was happening the emergency management guy showed up and said we had to get out because water was coming down from Gays Mills faster than ’08. So we began to clear out the bar into the street,” says Bob. “Then he came back and basically said, ‘Oops, the water’s not coming up,’ but we were already loaded.”

This would be the Atkinson’s first encounter with government and insurance company inefficiency, but definitely not their last. Despite the fact that they had insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, they wouldn’t see a dime for over two months.

“The insurance adjuster showed up about a week later and said we had over $70,000 in damage, but he wanted to get a structural engineer in so we wouldn’t get low-balled,” Bob recalls. “That’s when everything began to slow down.”

It took over two weeks for the engineer to appear. He said the Atkinsons would need to jack up the foundation and replace everything.

“He had until the 22nd (of July) to call it in, but we never heard anything,” says Lou. “We called numerous times and on the 31st they said no one had turned in the paperwork.”

But the paperwork had been turned in; it had just been misplaced, apparently, and was eventually located.

“Then they said, ‘We will be entering it in the system today.’ We heard that a lot,” says Lou. “We called and our insurance agent called. Literally, it’s every day. We finally got a hold of this Billy Morris guy on Aug. 8 and he sent the paperwork to our insurance agent in Boscobel, but they weren’t right. We sent them back and when they came back to us they still weren’t right.”

For example, says Bob, they estimated $145 in labor to dig out their entire foundation by hand. A second estimate from Continental Claims of Dunedin, Florida came in $2,000 higher.

“They gave us two days to dry the place out. We had industrial strength fans blowing this place out for six weeks,” says Bob. “They wanted to replace our water heater, which still worked fine. We replaced it in the ’08 flood and this time the water never touched it.”

So Lou turned to her elected representatives for help, with little result.

“I started with (State Senator Jennifer) Shilling and their office said no,” Lou recalls. “They gave us the Insurance Commissioner’s office. They said that’s federal, not their jurisdiction. Then I called (State Representative) Lee Nerison, nope, federal issue, no help whatsoever.”

Next up was Congressman Ron Kind’s office, where they talked with one of his staffers and did get some help.

“Like everyone else, she would get back to us, and she did, with more paperwork,” says Lou. “(U.S. Senator) Tammy Baldwin sent us another form. They needed a statement, a simplified statement. How do you simplify something like this?”

Finally, a check arrived in the mail near the end of August, for $27,000, a third of the original damage estimate.

“And yes, we did get a check. It’s not what we wanted; it won’t cover our building; and it reads ‘Final Payment,’” says Bob.

Now we’re talking about two full summer months of business, gone,” adds Lou, who plans on re-opening the bar on Friday, Sept. 13, her and Bob’s wedding anniversary. The re-opening will take place nearly three months after the flood, and would have taken much longer but for the help of good friends, who also happen to be contractors.

“Brad Bay did the concrete,” says Bob. “He brought his big submersible pump even though his own basement in Boscobel was flooded.”

Bob also singled out Lonnie Zimpel and Kevin Walker for construction and flooring help, even though they knew getting paid could be a long time in coming.

“And Bowden and Alexander of Montfort, who didn’t even know us but gave us a line of credit.

“Whenever I do get the check I have to send it to our bank and then the money can be released,” explains Bob. “So you’re looking at 2-3 weeks before I can start paying anyone. It’s been well over 30 days, so legally they can charge us 1.5 percent interest, although they probably won’t.”

It’s been two and a half months since the flood, but Bob and Lou Atkinson can’t help but look back on the combination of factors that has shut their business down during the busiest time of the year, beginning with the ditch next to their bar and the bridge it flows under during high water conditions.

“I’m told the village owns the ditch from my property line to the highway. So this little tiny section I live on is supposedly owned by the county, although no one is taking responsibility,” says Bob. “As for the bridge, they repaired it in the 40’s or 50’s and poured in more concrete, making it even more narrow.”

Bob says they have received no help from either the village or the county and the stage is set for another disaster down the road.

“The county has been told about the ditch many times and done nothing,” says Lou. “There’s never an answer. They’ll get back to you, but they never do, and if they do it takes weeks. After three floods they’ve never asked to lift us or move us and eliminate the problem altogether. I guess I’m just disappointed no one locally has done anything, but I’m not done talking to politicians. I want my business back whole.”