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Sauk County hoping for flood disaster declaration

October 11, 2018

Amid another round of rain, Sauk County’s emergency management director said there will be little good news on the flood front unless President Donald Trump issues a disaster declaration.

Speaking to the Baraboo Kiwanis Club on Tuesday, Jeff Jelinek said this week’s storms only will prolong the county’s battle with high water levels. The Baraboo and Wisconsin rivers already were high before this week’s storms, and Tuesday night’s rains dropped just over an inch of rain on Baraboo according to the city’s official gauge.

“You’re going to see both rivers coming up really quick here,” Jelinek said.

He estimated public infrastructure damage from late summer and early fall flooding at $5-6 million, plus another $4-5 million in losses reported by businesses. Those figures may increase as property owners step forward to report losses.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better for a lot of folks, unfortunately,” Jelinek said, noting that recovery efforts are being delayed by continued rain. With the ground water level already high, there’s nowhere for precipitation to go. “We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We’re still on step one.”

Sauk is among 17 Wisconsin counties that have submitted paperwork to Washington, D.C., to have the president declare this year’s flooding a disaster. This would trigger financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA assessors visited the county last month.

Jelinek said the county already has received aid in the form of $10,000 in short-term housing grants, helping flood victims pay for rent or hotel stays. “I’m sick of it and I haven’t even lost anything,” he said of persistent rain. “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through.”

An emergency fund established by the Greater Sauk County Community Foundation has collected $135,000 in gifts, double what donors supplied following flooding in 2008.

FEMA offers assistance to homeowners, but grants are capped at $34,000 and the average grant is $2,500. In Sauk County, 400 homes have been reported damaged. Those without flood insurance may find their best option is seeking a low-interest loan to finance repairs, Jelinek said.

If the president declares a disaster, FEMA will provide mitigation money equaling 10 percent of total damage. Jelinek estimated statewide damage at more than $500 million, which could result in upward of $50 million in federal aid.

Locally, a long-term recovery committee will start working in January to help business and home owners assess and overcome their losses. Jelinek said his agency is promoting emotional, as well as financial, recovery. The county is referring staff and flood victims to mental health counseling. “It’s not bad for someone to go and talk to someone,” he said.

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