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It takes a village … to move a village

By Jan Basina

EMS Building, Gays Mills, Crawford County

Public Works Building, Gays Mills, Crawford County

Community Commerce Center, Gays Mills, Crawford County

Flooding is nothing new to the village of Gays Mills. After all, the Kickapoo River has spilled over its banks 11 times in the past 100 years.

But the last two floods, in 2007 and 2008, proved too devastating for this village of 625 people to recover. The Kickapoo River wanted to reclaim the territory. And the citizens of Gays Mills were forced to consider moving if the village was to remain a viable community, amid the forests, hills and valleys of the Kickapoo Valley.

Prompted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a decision was made. Portions of the village would move to higher ground, about a mile away.

But not without help.

In 2009, the village received a Rural Development grant for $100,000 to help businesses move. The USDA Rural Development awarded the Redevelopment Authority a $1,081,500 Community Facilities Loan for the relocation and construction of a new village community center.

A view of Gays Mills on Aug. 20, 2007, after the Kickapoo River overran its banks and flooded the village. Gays Mills recently received $4.4 million to help revive the community. (AP File Photo/Andy Manis)

In March of this year, the village received a $4.31 million grant from the Economic Development Administration to prepare a strategy for moving the village’s commercial district outside the floodplain and a $640,000 Community Development Block Grant-Emergency Assistance Program from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to help with relocation costs. Other federal and state agencies have also aided in the move, along with private investments.

Some estimates have put the cost of moving the entire village between $13 million and $18 million.

Villagers also had to decide whether to move or take their chances living in the flood plain (about 150 of the village’s 230 houses lie in the flood plain). Buyouts were offered to property owners who sustained at least 50 percent damage in past floods. Many residents opted to relocate and began moving into new homes earlier this year. Others did not — determined to defy the odds of facing yet another devastating flood.

Bids are now out for construction of several of the village’s buildings. The EMS Building and Public Service Building are bidding Dec. 29 with the Community Commerce Center set to bid on Friday.

Bids for the Mercantile Building, which bid on Oct. 28, were rejected — the project is set to be rebid soon.

The new Community Commerce Center is planned to house village offices, a library, a meeting room, offices for the Commercial District manager and facilities for a farmer’s market. A café, local newspaper office, barber shop, hair salon and office space will also relocate to the Mercantile Building, according to reports. The EMS building will house fire and rescue departments.

Let’s hope the village of Gays Mills continues to prosper in years to come. We know it will definitely be a lot drier for residents determined to live near the most crooked river in the world.

Jan Basina, who lives nowhere near a flood plain, is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter.

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