Mississippi River Cities Anxious For Federal Dollars To Address Flooding
Lake Geneva Regional News (WI)
La Crosse is among the communities up and down the Mississippi River eager for federal funding to help address chronic flooding.
In a report from the Associated Press published Monday, a flood planning consultant for the city of La Crosse talked about what the incoming funding from President Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure package might mean for the city's aging flood infrastructure.
The new AP report states that community groups and advocates are "worried smaller cities will struggle to navigate the maze of government programs and miss out on the rare change to protect against rising waters and heavy rains." Some advocates are calling on the Biden administration to better engage with states and municipalities.
La Crosse's flood levees were first installed in 1965 after a massive flood, and have had minimal maintenance and upgrades since.
Brad Woznak of the engineering firm SEH that's been hired by the city said that upgrading the outdated levees would be so expensive it's difficult to know where to start.
"But with this potential infrastructure bill funding, that's what I keep telling them — don't rule anything out yet," Woznak told AP.
According to La Crosse's most recent budget, rehabilitation of the flood levees would cost about $4 million. This would be to remove, replace and upgrade 10,000 feet of levees.
The costly project will need to be done in multiple phases to complete and the city has been chipping away, spending $100,000 this year on some of it.
La Crosse's levees were last reviewed in 2011 through a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey, according to the budget, and Woznak said the federal infrastructure funding could help pay for an initial evaluation of the project.
Along with infrastructure risks the outdated levees pose, one of the major issues is that they don't currently meet federal standards, causing big headaches for residents who are now seeing an increase in flood insurance rates and face restrictions on upgrading their homes.
The city has worked in recent years to become more compliant with floodplain regulations.
Homeowners in the city's floodplain currently need a permit for routine upgrades such as new siding or replacing a door. And earlier this year — after being incorrectly told they weren't in the floodplain — more than two dozen homeowners on the North Side were told they would need to bring their garages out of the floodplain or enter into a deed restriction that limits any new construction until the flood issues are addressed.
Meanwhile, residents on the South Side continue to work against outdated FEMA floodplain maps that still list their property as at risk of flooding despite no issues, decreasing property values and plaguing homeowners with costly flood insurance.
A third party has created an updated map, which will eventually be submitted to FEMA with the hopes the federal agency will change its official map and release the dozens of properties from its restrictions.
The AP contributed to this story.
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