Late last Thursday the Governor announced he was requesting a federal disaster declaration from President Obama for damage related to the storm of late September.
The governor’s request came on the heels of more than two weeks’ worth of work by many to collect damage estimates from the storm and analysis of the damage by the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management. Representatives Danou and Radcliffe and I sent a written request for the declaration that highlighted the need to include counties in Western Wisconsin.
In his written request to the President, the Governor detailed the damage to public structures.
"I called to get help and after they put me on hold they sent me to someone who couldn't speak English,” I was told by a woman at the fireman’s corn boil.
She was frustrated by the cable company’s response to her call for repairs. “I waited and waited for them to come & fix my cable. It took them three or four days to get there.”
Outside the lutefisk church dinner another woman spoke with me about how she was being charged for a service she didn’t order. “I told them to cancel the service I didn’t order. They said I was only being charged a penny for it but now the special offer was over. They were going to charge me $20 for it. Months later when they finally took the charge off my bill it only dropped $11.”
“A crop in the field is not a crop in the barn,” I told my non-farmer friend - it was just a day before the most recent storms when my friend marveled at the 7 foot high corn.
The corn is now in a flooded field and it may be weeks before it can be harvested.
Even non-farmers know the vagaries of weather keep the best of farmers up at night. With so much at stake there is no more stressful time than harvest season. And this season’s stress is compounded with recent storms.
Late Wednesday the rain started and when it stopped downtown Arcadia was flooded.
At about 4 am Thursday morning, civil defense sirens sounded. The mayor declared a state of emergency. Three hundred and forty three homes and businesses were damaged. One thousand people were evacuated.
Around 11 am I received a call from General Dunbar, the head of Wisconsin Military Affairs, assuring me the Governor instructed him to use all available resources to assist in the disaster.
Over the weekend, the Governor announced disaster declarations for several counties, making help available in areas ravaged by storms. Local officials hoping the same declaration would be made in Western Wisconsin won’t likely see this happen. Damage estimates failed to add up making us ineligible for assistance.
When disaster strikes the first action by local officials is to protect life and property. People are rescued, roads are opened and power is restored. Of the dozens of locals with whom I have spoken no one knew the mayor, town chair or village president also has the job of estimating damages and sending reports to county officials. No one realized without damage estimates, disaster declarations could not happen.
Most county emergency officials got on the phone after the storms and let people know they needed paperwork. One did not.
Ever have a great idea and wonder what it would take to make it happen? In almost every situation I can think of it takes team work. Solving government’s thorny problems is no exception.
Last week, the La Crosse Area Development Corporation (LADCO) took a few hours to honor those who teamed up to make Western Wisconsin a better place. Business leaders were honored for submitting a competitive business plan and achieving excellence in business. But one award focused on building a team across organizations, government and business.
Called “Triangle of Achievement”, the award honored those who, in the words of the LADCO Executive Director James Hill, “collaborated to resolve issues central to the area’s economic development.”
In April, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on the struggle faced by a hospital that needed a doctor. Moundview Memorial Hospital in Friendship - a community of 700 people about 40 miles from Tomah - tried to hire a new doctor. They received resumes from only three doctors. One didn’t return their call and the other two could not start for a year.
When no new doctor could be found, the hospital decided to keep their medical director even through he was convicted of a felony and - by federal law - could not see Medicare patients.
Finding a family doctor is not easy. The federal Department of Health and Human Services predicts a shortage of 16,000 primary care doctors nation-wide. In Wisconsin the Office of Rural Health has 174 primary care doctor job openings and two-thirds are in rural areas.
“Aw, Mom,” my son said, “Please don’t use the ‘s’ word. Not until Thursday.”
Our children might not be ready for school to begin but teachers and school officials have been preparing for the new school year for weeks. I will join other parents taking pictures of growing children before they head off for their first school day. School buses will be in front of us on the next early morning trip through town. We will all be reminded of school safety and the importance of public education.
But if you look beyond the new clothes and school supplies, the waxed halls and polished windows, schools are in trouble. Many school boards are grappling with budget deficits and administrators for most of our local schools have been stretching every dollar as far as possible for a long time.
Are we ready for an emergency? Can we protect property and life if a disaster strikes? Can we communicate across the county and between cities and counties in a widespread catastrophe?
These questions were asked by the Legislative Audit Bureau in a recent audit. The findings were disturbing and reveal that even with massive investments by the federal government through the Office of Homeland Security, there is still quite a bit of work to do to prepare for an emergency.
Over five years the feds invested $315.5 million to prepare Wisconsin for an emergency - whether a natural disaster or an attack by hostile forces.
“Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day,” the little Eau Claire girl sang to her mom. The rain came down in sheets.
When the rain and storms did go away, left in the wake was a trail of destruction. From Martel Township in the north to Little Falls Township in the south, our Senate District saw substantial damage. Downed power lines, trees toppled, tin from barn roofs blown off, semi trailers and campers blown over.
Roads and bridges were washed out or damaged. Many saw blocked culverts turn into substantial road damage for town roads and private drives.