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2008 floods generate 2010 prevention projects

By Sean Ryan

The soggy furniture and waterlogged photo albums are long gone from basements swamped in 2008, but the threat of more flooding remains.

Dennis Heling, executive director of the Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium, said there is a storm cloud-shaped shadow hanging over businesses that flooded in summer 2008. It’s the fear of more flooding that prompted Heling’s organization to apply for $2.9 million in state money so companies can move out of flood-prone properties or at least waterproof their foundations, he said.

“It has a tremendous impact,” Heling said. “The fact that they were flooded — not only did they have to deal with the immediate flood issues, but then you have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again because the impact is not only on the businesses, but also their employees.”

The Wisconsin Department of Commerce is sifting through $172 million in applications from local governments for flood-prevention projects. The agency has only $75 million for those residential, commercial and public projects. Only properties damaged in the 2008 floods are eligible for the money, which the state received from the federal government.

Department of Commerce spokesman Tony Hozeny said the agency will select grant winners in February.

The city of Milwaukee is seeking money to improve houses, businesses and government properties that sustained $23 million in damage when a 2008 storm dropped more than 7 inches of rain on the city in two days.

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy, whose district experienced flooding, said the state grants would pay for residential flood-prevention construction and municipal sewer projects that could prevent basement flooding.

“Water damage can be as devastating as fire damage,” Murphy said, “and when you spend time with people in their basements, and when they break down and cry over losing their family wedding photos, it puts all things in perspective.”

Relining or replacing cracked sewers keeps rain from swamping pipes and causing basement backups. But the increasing intensity of recent storms has Murphy and Milwaukee Alderman Joe Dudzik considering new capacity standards for sewers.

“It all comes down to a dollar amount,” Dudzik said, “and really I’ve seen people that have lost $10,000 two years in a row.”

Murphy said he asked Milwaukee public works officials to review sewer design standards and compare the water capacity with water amounts received during recent rainfalls. He said the studies are under way.

Dudzik said Milwaukee, like other communities applying for the latest round of state grant money, will continue to chip away at the flooding problems.

“The city is working on it,” he said. “It will be solved, though it be slowly.”

Heling said if his consortium, which is a public agency, receives money, he will accept applications from local companies. He said the state money, which comes from the Community Development Block Grant Emergency Assistance Program, will cover only a small portion of the flood-prevention expense.

“We have several businesses that are in the floodplain,” he said, “and the EAP funding is geared to making sure that we keep those businesses operating in the future.”

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