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6 decades after last big flood, La Crosse not resting

By STEVE RUNDIO
La Crosse Tribune

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — The city of La Crosse hasn’t experienced a flood that triggered a flood insurance claim in nearly six decades, but Sarah Rafajko doesn’t want city residents to become complacent.

“Just because we haven’t had a substantial flood since 1965, that doesn’t mean we’ll never get one,” said Rafajko, the city’s floodplain manager and chronic nuisance technician. “A flood can happen at any time.”

The city is seeking to get ahead of any potential flood issues by developing a flood hazard mitigation plan. Representatives from government and consultants hired by the city met at Black River Beach Neighborhood Center to present information and answer questions. Displays included floodplain maps, mitigation techniques and information about flood compliance and flood insurance.

City of La Crosse utilities manager Bernard Lenz said the objective is “a well thought-out approach to protect the city from flooding. There are lots of ways to do that.”

Although the city that borders Minnesota hasn’t experienced catastrophic, widespread flooding recently, issues with water still exist. Street flooding, proximity to the Mississippi, Black and La Crosse rivers and runoff from bluffs east of the city all pose hazards, the La Crosse Tribune reported.

Rafajko said older structures are a concern. She said many were built before modern flood mitigation practices.

“The biggest concern is an aging housing market,” she said. “We have houses with basements that shouldn’t have basements.”

She said green space and wetlands are important parts of any mitigation plan.

“Any green space is beneficial, especially when it’s in a flood plain,” she said.

Alex Le of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said awareness is critical for homeowners.

“They should know where they are in the floodplain to know what kind of risk they’re facing,” Le said.

Rafajko said mitigation plans are important because the city can qualify for federal funding with an approved plan in place. Projects eligible for funding include relocating houses and storm drain replacement.

Those who weren’t able to attend the open house can still share their comments through a survey posted on the project’s website. The process is in the early stages, but city officials hope to have a plan ready within a year.

“There is a lot of regulation for living in a floodplain, and for good reason,” Rafajko said. “My personal goal is to get a gauge of the community’s perceptions of living in a floodplain and what that entails.”

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