Kewaunee County, Algoma prepare for possible floods as spring approaches
KEWAUNEE – With as many flood problems as the county had last year, current water levels and the weather forecast could cause just as many problems this year — or more.
But some local officials who dealt with floods last year, and will do so again if it happens, said they believe they didn't need to make drastic changes to prepare for the melting snow and precipitation that caused flooded roads last March and more floods during the spring and summer.
That said, Tracy Nollenberg, director of the Kewaunee County Emergency Management Department, said residents, businesses and other private property owners should take several steps to protect themselves and their belongings in the event of flooding.
A presentation in January from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Kewaunee Common Council painted a foreboding picture for possible flood concerns. Its report forecast below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation into at least early spring, and water levels on Lake Michigan/Huron (though not specifically off the Kewaunee or Algoma shorelines) were already above last year's and predicted to continue in that vein, rising 1 to 4 inches above previous records at least through June.
In Algoma, Public Works Director Matt Murphy is planning to tackle floods pretty much the same way they did last year. He said that's because if floods do happen, he expects them to occur in the same areas as last year, such as along Perry Street along the Ahnapee River, when the department used pumps from the Fire & Rescue Department and a contractor to clear out the water.
"We're really not (doing anything differently), just for the simple fact that we have the same low-lying areas we dealt with all last summer," Murphy said. "I don't believe there will be an issue with flooding in the interior of the city. You could end up with flooding in some areas along the river, for example at the dog park (DeMeuse Dog Park, next to Algoma Boat Club at Sixth and Perry streets), but we're not going to sandbag the dog park. It'll just have to close for a while."
Murphy said the city has about 1,500 sandbags and the material to fill them. Public Works would deploy them when it's made aware of situations where sandbags could help, possibly calling on the Fire Department or volunteers to assist.
"We'll deal with that on a case-by-case basis," Murphy said. "If it's an isolated incident, we'll try to keep it isolated."
Nollenberg said her department is "… just being a little more proactive" to prepare for the potential flood season. She said the department is working to update its website, and its Facebook page (facebook.com/KewCoEM) will post updates when needed and has posted advice on flood preparation for residents and businesses. Nollenberg also has been meeting with a High Water Level Task Force comprised of municipal officials from around the county.
"We've reached out to the municipalities. We do that every year," Nollenberg said. "The High Water Level Task Force, we're just making sure we discuss these things ahead of time so everyone's prepared."
For residents or businesses with past flooding problems or concerns about water getting into their buildings, Nollenberg offered several suggestions:
- Buy sandbags or similar barriers; check at hardware or building supply stores.
- Those who have keepsakes, valuables or other items of importance in their basements should remove them from the basement or move them to a high location.
- Make sure the sump pump is working.
- Get adequate flood insurance.
Nollenberg pointed out it's a myth that homeowners or businesses that aren't located in a flood zone don't need, or can't get, flood insurance. She said coverage also is available for renters and apartment or condo dwellers. She also noted many insurers have a waiting period of up to 30 days on new flood policies before the coverage takes effect.
"If you live in a flood zone, make sure you have flood insurance," Nollenberg said. "And even if you don't, you can get flood insurance if you have concerns."
Residents should also prepare a home emergency kit in case flooded roads make travel impossible or the power goes out, and a travel kit in case of a sudden emergency evacuation. Nollenberg said that's especially important for people with electrically-powered medical equipment or medical conditions that might require a stockpile of supplies in case they can't leave the home.
If a resident is experiencing or sees a flood issue, she said, the first step is to contact the relevant city, village or town authority, which will handle the situation themselves or ask for help if they can't. It's not the county's responsibility to go onto private property to pile sandbags or riprap or pump water, although the Highway Department can be notified of county roads that might need to be closed because of flooding.
"We encourage residents to notify local municipalities," Nollenberg said. "In Wisconsin, we have what's called home rule, everything's on the local level. And if the municipality doesn't know (about a situation), it can't tell the county."
Her department's focus is more to protect people threatened by floods than prevent or repair them, she said.
"When it comes to sheltering, evacuations, power outages, life saving, that's where Emergency Management is involved," Nollenberg said.
Nollenberg said the county can request assistance from federal authorities, but that can only happen after local and state resources have been exhausted.
As for current conditions, Murphy is optimistic that the weather of the past couple of weeks — temperatures warming gradually and very little precipitation — will thaw the ground and melt the snow at a reasonable rate, thus reducing the risk of flooding at least a little. He acknowledged that Northeast Wisconsin certainly could be hit with another major snowstorm or two over the next month, but he hopes the snow cover will be lessened by then.
"Right now, we'll take this (weather)," Murphy said. "Slow and steady wins the race. If the snow continues to melt at this pace, that's okay."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County, Algoma prepare for possible floods as spring approaches