Recovery Efforts Needed

People gathered in the Buffalo County board room. Faces were anxious. They listened as company representatives reviewed new flood plain maps prepared for FEMA.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reviewing maps of flood plains across the country. They made it to Buffalo County and not far behind will be Pierce, Pepin and Trempealeau.

Local residents grew concerned when homes were added to the flood plain on the new map. They worried insurance rates would skyrocket making it unaffordable. Many saw the exclusions on the flood insurance as making the insurance basically worthless.

“Why pay for worthless insurance?” one man asked me.

Through many conversations, I learned the city and village affected by the new map are protected by a dike and levy system. But the structure was never assessed by the federal government. If the dike and levy were evaluated and found adequate, local officials said a good portion of the communities in question would be protected and out of the flood plain.

A while ago, local officials tried to have the structure checked out by the Army Corp of Engineers. But the Corp’s price tag to just begin the process was more than the local government could afford.

As I visit with our local officials, I learn about many similar situations. Decisions were made long ago to forego action because communities could not afford to act. Often, years later, the consequences became apparent.

If the large stack of papers on my desk is any indication, the needs of our communities are great. I have been collecting details on local government projects deferred or needed. From jails to bridges, levies, dams and roads, the needs are huge.

The United States Congress is considering an Economic Stimulus Package this week. The plan may authorize the federal government to spend money on local government projects long deferred.  Working with many local officials, I am making sure the needs of our Western Wisconsin communities are on the list for possible funding.  I encourage all involved to contact me, even if you passed information on to other authorities.

The details from Washington are still sketchy, but it seems likely Wisconsin will benefit soon from federal efforts. The Governor intends to deploy funds as quickly as possible to projects to create jobs and provide long-term investment in Wisconsin.

This week, as a member of the Senate Economic Development committee, I will have an opportunity to learn details about the potential impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on economic development and job creation in Wisconsin.

Last Friday, Governor Doyle announced creation of the Office of Recovery and Reinvestment. By reassigning employees and bringing in an unpaid private sector administrator, the Governor was able to create the office with no new state dollars. 

The Governor also powered up a new website for all interested in the federal stimulus package and the state’s role. Details can be found at www.recovery.wisconsin.gov .

Much of the federal money is expected to come through existing programs funding transportation, schools or health care.

And the good news – for the people who live on the river – flood control is on the list.