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Beth and Pat Shaw, over the course of just a few days in August and September of 2018, saw their home’s basement fill with water, watched it leak through floorboards, and were then evacuated twice. Beth says they were lucky.

The Shaws live on Franklin Street, one of the roads hit hardest by the 2018 floods in Elroy.

The houses on Franklin Street were so heavily damaged that the city applied for a hazard mitigation grant to demolish all of the homes in the area, and will instead install green spaces where residents once lived.

Elroy city administrator Carole Brown said that removing those houses is “the biggest thing we’re doing to prevent future damages to ensure there is no future loss of property or loss of life.”

When the flooding started in late August, the Shaws were at home. Water began pouring into the basement during the heavy rains, and it was not long before they received word they were being evacuated.

They went to a hotel, where they stayed for a few nights before they were able to return to their home.

Then it rained again.

The Shaws were evacuated, again for another few days at a hotel. When they returned, there was over $40,000 worth of damage to the home and their possessions.

“Water completely filled the basement,” Beth Shaw said. “We were only one of two houses where it didn’t hit the main floor. It was only an inch or two before the floor, but not quite on the main floor… it was seeping through the subfloor.”

Despite the damages, Beth Shaw says the family felt lucky. The water caused substantial damage, but it mostly stayed in the basement, and the Shaws carried flood insurance.

“We ourselves did go through the (20)08 flood as well, but we were told ‘that’s the 100-year flood, you’ll be fine,’” Beth Shaw said. “Now, 10 years later, it was the 500-year flood is what we’re told.”

Their home is on the list of residences the city is planning to demolish as part of flood mitigation efforts.

“It’s been preapproved to mitigate all the houses on Franklin Street,” Beth Shaw said. “The city is looking to completely tear them down … So we had to figure out what we’re going to do.”

As part of the process, the Shaws are receiving a buyout of their home, and they are using the funds to build a new home on much higher ground on W. Elroy Street.

The Long Term Recovery Partnership for Juneau County offered to perform the labor on the new house for the Shaws as long as they provided the parts.

“It’s kind of a hairy situation,” Beth Shaw said. “They’re still trying to help, but they didn’t get as many volunteers as they had hoped so we’re doing it a lot ourselves.”

Pat Shaw is an electrician, which has been a great help in working on the house themselves.

Low number of volunteers is not the only issue with the new house, however.

“We are getting a loan from SBA, but we have been through the ringer with them as well,” Beth Shaw said. “It started in March and we still haven’t got the money from that… So we will be getting that, it’s just a matter of getting all the documents.”

FEMA originally gave the Shaws $6,000 for their home. Now, FEMA is asking for the money back.

“I just received a letter stating ‘Oh, we made a mistake, we need that back,’” Beth Shaw said. “So now we got to come up with those funds because I already replaced the water heater and furnace in my current home.”

The build is time sensitive, as the Shaws need to complete the new home before mitigation is complete.

“If it’s not done we won’t have a house to live in,” Beth Shaw said.

If the house is not finished, the Shaws plan to fit into a camper with their 13-year-old daughter until construction is done.

Anyone wishing to volunteer to help the Shaws or other families like them can contact the Juneau County Long Term Recovery Partnership at 608-562-3813.

Reedsburg

Kathy and Dave Kosak had their retirement years planned out.

The Kosaks planned to live in their newly renovated house, with new wood floors, wallpaper, windows and installation, on North James Avenue in Reedsburg. Kathy Kosak, 65, planned to retire from her job as a clerk at the Reedsburg Public Library in the summer of 2019 and teach making jewelry on her front porch. Dave, 63, is semi-retired, helping his brother with his chimney installation and sweeping business.

Then 21-feet of water swept through the region on Aug. 29, 2018 and the Kosak’s plans went along with it. While the waters of the Baraboo River have receded, the memories and stress of the floods remain for the couple one year later.

The Kosaks’ house filled with water from Baraboo River during the back-to-back floods, creeping onto the house’s deck, through patio door and spreading throughout the entire house. The basement filled with 2-4 inches of water, Dave Kosak said. The couple moved as much of their personal belongings and valuables upstairs and assembled the rest on saw horses.

The couple received money from FEMA to fix their house and flood proof it when their house went through the 2008 floods. Ten years later, it’s a different story. The Kosak’s were told by the city they could not repair, move or fix the house because of flood regulations set by FEMA and the DNR. For Dave Kosak, who’s lived in the house for 40 years, possibly losing his house is an emotional thought.

“Somebody thinks they have the authority over me to tell me what to do with my property,” Dave Kosak said.

He still goes to the house every day to remove items from it and use an upstairs room as an office, still helping his brother with his business. He also mows the law and shovels the snow since he still owns the property.

The financial burden has also been difficult. While the couple’s flood insurance helped paid off the remainder of their mortgage, they are still responsible for the $2,400 annually in property at their flood stricken house. They pay $950 a month in rent in an apartment they have lived in since the floods aftermath.

“We’re only keeping our head above water,” Kathy Kosak said.

Kathy Kosak said house hunting hasn’t been successful with many of the houses out of their budget and waiting for what they will receive in a buyout if they will receive one. They will use the money towards the purchase a new house if they receive a buyout, they said.

“It’s difficult to know,” Kathy Kosak said. “They say they are going to buy you out but they don’t come up with a figure. They haven’t.”

Rock Springs

Steve Statz didn’t sandbag the former Baraboo National Bank in Rock Springs when 27 feet of water inundated the downtown last August.

“I think in a building like this you want to let the water come in and equalized pressure and recede on its own,” Statz said.

In 2012, a previous owner made repairs to the over century year old building at 102 West Broadway Street to protect it from flooding, installing corrugated galvanized steel, upgraded electrical equipment, plumbing and elevated heating system, furnace and overhead duck work. Statz, who owns Statz Mechanical Heating and Air Conditioning, helped install the heating and air components.

Statz became interested in the building because of its historical significance and purchased it in January 2018.

The building is still prone to flooding and was one of ten structures in Rock Springs ruled substantially damaged and at risk of potential demolition due to the village’s flood plain ordinance. Statz received the first letter from the village regarding the matter in December, he said. The next day he installed a Christmas tree inside the building.

One year later, the tree is still inside the building to provide “a sign of life” to a village devastated by two massive floods in a decade, he said.

Statz appealed the village’s claim after he received the first letter and is attempting to save the building based the village’s floodplain zoning ordinance, which mirrors state and federal regulations, about historical structures in a flood plain. According to the ordinance, historic structures are granted certain provisions in a flood plain and the owner must conduct mitigation efforts to keep the building in compliance.

The building was constructed in 1912 as Farmer’s State Bank. Sauk County Executive Director Paul Wolter said the building eventually became the Baraboo National Bank, which moved out after the 2008 flood, and a sign shop. Statz said the building has two vaults and an apartment on the second floor where the bank president lived over a century ago.

Statz said if offered a buyout he wouldn’t take one because he doesn’t want to “be a drain on the taxpayers” and have the money go towards someone who needs it more for their own property. Statz said he has ideas for the building’s future but didn’t want to share them because his “first job is to save the building.”

Sauk Prairie area

Most of the time, the Sauk Prairie area is not particularly impacted by heavy rainfall or snow-melt because of its elevation over the Wisconsin River and an absorbent sandy soil. But in March of 2019, that soil was still frozen, and when rain and heat combined to melt what remained of the winter’s snow, the water couldn’t drain.

Sauk City Family Restaurant co-owner Sam Aliju remembers getting worried as water pooled around his business.

“We did not sleep that night because the next day was Sunday,” Aliju said. “It’s the most busy day, when (customers) come from church.”

Aliju said he heard the building’s sump pump “screaming (and) yelling” from the heavy workload, trying to move a body of water that was “like a lake.”

Sauk City Family Restaurant has been in the open for a year and a half, but Aliju said they’ve never experienced a weather event like that.

The business’ parking lot had about 1-2 inches of water covering it, while the back lot had nearly five inches.

The water rose high enough to carry a half-full dumpster about 30 feet. Aliju said they had to wait for the garbage service to move it. “Nobody could lift that besides the truck,” Aliju said. But the water that day was sufficiently powerful for the task.

Aliju said he called the fire department, but was told other than sandbagging, not much could be done.

Luckily, no water got inside the building.

Aliju and his family checked on the restaurant at 2 a.m. and when they came back in the morning much of the water had drained or moved away from the property. Damage was minimal, other than some debris carried in by the water.

Sunday turned out to be a busy one for Sauk City Family Restaurant. Aliju said the business may have been so popular that day because those whose homes had flooded couldn’t make breakfast at home. Others may have been up all night trying to keep water away from their property, and were too tired to get throw the first meal of the day together themselves.

Either way, Sauk City Family Restaurant was able to offer patrons some level of comfort after a tumultuous day of unexpected turmoil.

Aliju and his family live in Sauk Prairie, but their home was unaffected by the flooding.

Going forward, Aliju said the best they can do is hope. “Even 50 years from now, nobody can do anything,” Aliju said. “The farmer’s land was full of water too. There’s nothing you can do to make that water go. I hope it never happens (again).”

Wisconsin Dells

For Dan Gavinski, general manager of Original Wisconsin Ducks, sending his unique craft to help out in cases of extreme weather is all but implied in the business.

Ever since 1994, the Original Wisconsin Ducks have gone out across Sauk and Columbia Counties to help evacuate residents trapped by extreme weather, as recently as last year. According to Gavinski, their work with area municipalities has been on-call and extensive.

“Through the years, the Ducks have been called over to Baraboo or over to Reedsburg, and we have had a history of it,” Gavinski said. “In 1994, we were called by Sauk County to come over and help evacuate some people from a campground over there.”

Their participation in these events has varied. Sometimes it’s one Duck sent to recover a single Reedsburg man trapped in his home. At other times, the company will send 10 vehicles over, as they did in 2008 when the Baraboo River flooded and trapped families in their houses.

As Gavinski points out, the Ducks, amphibious vehicles that can negotiate land and water, are capable of reaching stranded people where other vehicles would not be able to do so. This makes them an invaluable tool to rescue efforts in the area.

Others concur.

Darren Jorgenson, the Delton fire chief, mentioned the Ducks when discussing Lake Delton’s emergency action plan. According to Jorgenson, the company is written into the village’s emergency action plan.

“In the past, we have used, with great success, the Wisconsin Dells Ducks, to assist with evacuations,” Jorgenson said. “And that’s written into our plan now, because they are so effective.”

The Ducks slot into the village’s plan nicely, since Lake Delton automatically reports to Sauk County’s emergency action plan. According to Gavinski, the Ducks are always on-call during severe storms, and often receive calls to action from a county sheriff’s office or municipal police departments.

He said that there is no formalized agreement between the Ducks and any law enforcement agency, but that the familiarity of the company around the area leads to their repeated calls into action.

“I don’t have anything set up, we’re just available for them,” Gavinski said. “They’ll call us, if we’re able to help them and we’re able to do it, we’ll go over there and help them. The Ducks are so well-known in this area, that I think in some cases the first reaction is to see if we’re able to come over.”

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.

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