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Spring Green races the rain

Sean Ryan
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The threat of rain will hang over Spring Green until town officials get state and federal money for a project to prevent flooding.

But the long process of securing approvals for the project and fears that last year’s intense rains will return and flood the town for the second year in a row are frustrating Spring Green residents, said Town Chairman Dennis Polivka. The community last week received more than $4 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency money to buy and demolish 28 houses that flooded last year, he said.

But the rest of the community will remain at risk until the town digs a channel to funnel water out of the valley in which Spring Green is located.

“That just alleviates one part of our problem,” Polivka said of the demolition work. “What we’re trying to do is get a system in where we can have no homes being flooded because we have a lot of people here who are still in limbo. They’re still worried about their homes being flooded.”

Water from last year’s June and July storms drenched 4,400 acres of Spring Green, and some of the water is still in the valley causing problems. Birds are nesting in the standing pools around Tri-County Regional Airport, and jets cannot land there for fear the fowl will fly into engines, Polivka said.

He said one person cannot farm 100 acres because the water levels are too high, and tractors would sink into the mud. The town cannot approve new housing developments until it knows what land is truly safe from flooding, he said.

“We’re working on it,” Polivka said of the flood-control project. “Sometimes you wonder if we’re making any progress.”

Water flows down the hills to the north of Spring Green into the valley. Like last year, the valley’s sandy soil is already soaked. With no way for water to escape into the Wisconsin River to the south, another heavy storm means floods will return, said Don Greenwood, grant specialist for Jewell Associates Engineers Inc., Spring Green.

The town and Jewell are engineering an up to $3 million project to dig a waterway through the valley that will collect water and channel it into the Wisconsin River. But that means the town must buy farmland for a channel right-of-way, and Spring Green must get approvals from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for a pathway under Highway 14 and from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to dump the water into the river.

“We’re probably about halfway there,” Greenwood said of getting project money and approvals, “because if this type of flood happens again, we’ll have at least removed those 28 families, or 28 properties, out of harm’s way. But that isn’t the full extent of the damage.”

The town was kicking this project idea around after flooding in 1993, Polivka said, but the project lost steam because those rains were considered 1,000-year storms, meaning there is a one in 1,000 chance they will happen in any given year. But last year’s storms and floods were even worse, he said, so there is no way to say when the tide will rise again and how much time the town has to get the project done.

“That’s a question — I don’t know if any of us have the answer,” he said. “If we don’t get another big rain, it’s not important. If we do get another big rain, that’s critical.”

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