Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lake Delton Moving Forward Despite Incredable Disaster

Lake Delton will surely never be the same.

Joseph Leute/Contributed
By Trevor Kupfer, Dells Events

State and local officials are already planning rebuilding efforts — and are confident that it will qualify for federal disaster aid — after intense rainfall emptied Lake Delton into the Wisconsin River Monday morning, taking five buildings with it despite efforts to advert the disaster.

Around 4 a.m. Monday morning, hundreds of volunteers — including village officials and workers from both boat companies, Tommy Bartlett's and Noah's Ark — gathered at Lake Delton Dam to create a barrier of sandbags.

"From 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock the water continued to go up," Trustee Tom Diehl said. "There was no way to stop it."

During this time, officials realized water from the lake was moving over the roadway on Highway A.

"The dam was holding up fine and then the area near County Highway A breached," said village engineer John Langhans, one of the volunteers. "And once that started, there was nothing that would have stopped it."

As the 700 million gallons of water continued to flow, it increasingly eroded Anchor Bay, eventually taking three homes into the river and splitting two others in half. The breach was estimated at 400 feet wide with water more than 12 feet deep.

It also uprooted several trees and utility lines, which led to an hour-long gas leak and a broken sewer pipe temporarily flowed directly into the river. There were no injuries from the event, as officials evacuated residents early that morning.

Just after the roadway breached, the village board held an emergency meeting to establish a response. The first priority was to immediately concentrate their efforts around Pump Station 1, where significant erosion on both sides created an island and threatened its operation.

The police, meanwhile, needed to launch their rescue boat as people continued to fish on the lake at 11 a.m. By 2 p.m. the lake was almost entirely empty, and the department's boat is now stuck in the middle of the lake.

In order to start the rebuilding procedure, Police Chief Tom Dorner and Clerk-Treasurer Kay Mackesey drafted a disaster declaration letter, while other village officials worked on a damage assessment.

"It's more than just the repair costs," attorney Richard Cross said. "There's also the damages to property owners and businesses, so we're easily looking at seven figures if not eight."

The damage assessment will expedite the federal decision of whether or not to declare Lake Delton a disaster area, said Tim Stieve, administrator of Emergency Management, Buildings and Safety for Sauk County.

"It's not a really quick process, but from what I know so far ... I'd be surprised if we weren't federally declared a disaster area," he added.

A disaster area is dictated by the President of the United States and Federal Emergency Management Agency. If labeled as such, Lake Delton stands to receive a significant amount of aid, including a pay program that has the federal government picking up 75 percent or more of the costs, leaving the state, county and village to divide up 25 percent of the rebuilding bills.

"FEMA has been very good with us the last couple of years. So we're hoping we'll get a response from them very quickly," said Gov. Jim Doyle, who arrived by helicopter Monday afternoon along with Rep. Doc Hines, Sen. Luther Olsen and Brigadier General Don Dunbar of the National Guard.

During the emergency meeting of the village board, Langhans contacted Rep. Doc Hines about receiving state aid. After the meeting Diehl contacted Gov. Doyle. Both of the officials arrived on the scene, along with two National Guard helicopters, to an audience comprised of dozens of media outlets and hundreds of onlookers.

If the federal government does not recognize Lake Delton as a disaster area, it could still stand to receive financial assistance from the State Disaster Fund. But that scenario is not likely, Doyle said.

"What our fund does is try to pick up what the federal doesn't, but I don't think there's any question that all of the counties that I designated will be declared a disaster," he said referring to the 29 counties including Adams, Columbia, Sauk, Juneau and Marquette. "If they aren't, I don't know what qualifies."

While flooding in Waukesha and other cities in southeastern Wisconsin effected more people and structures, Doyle said Lake Delton tops the list in terms of physical damage.

"There's no doubt ... that this was the most dramatic," he said. "I don't think there's anything that compares to this in terms of the sheer force of what the water did."

Langhans told village officials that they'd likely begin working on a temporary structure, like a dam, to close off the 300-foot gap and begin refilling the lake as early as Tuesday.

"The big concern held by everybody here is, when this drains the lake, will we be able to get the water levels back up and, if so, how fast?" he said.

Though officials could not estimate how long the lake will be gone, Assistant Zoning Administrator Jess Eastman said it certainly won't be several years.

"I heard some reports that said it wouldn't be back for two years," he said. "Don't they realize that this community's livelihood is the lake?"

The Department of Natural Resources would need to approve the structure, which Langhans said would likely need a culvert in case it happens again. Langhans added that Gasser Construction may haul in stone to begin a temporary road as well.

Though some reports alleged that Mirror Lake Dam broke, it continued to hold up throughout the event with a significant amount of water flowing over it. Because the dam will control the flow into what's left of Lake Delton, Mirror Lake will not empty.

The board gave Langhans "carte blanche" to continue repairs and preventative measures, with the understanding that the officials meet every morning this week for updates.

Wisconsin Real Estate
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