Big Flats residents frustrated after months--and years--of flooding

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BIG FLATS, Wis. (WSAW) -- Multiple Big Flats residents tell NewsChannel 7 that the flooding in their town is the worst they’ve ever seen, with standing water covering driveways, leaking into basements and closing roads. It's a problem reflected in other nearby towns as well, and in other areas across north central Wisconsin after weathering the wettest year so far on record.

Kevin Trickle, whose family has had a home in Big Flats since 1976, says he’s been running two sump pumps night and day for two years, and has reworked a lot of his property to deal with the water problem.

“It has been the worst I’ve ever seen...there’s no place for the water to go,” he explained.

But he’s far from the worst in town. Three other families have let their houses go back to the bank, town board chair Todd Peterson tells us. “They just walked away.” And they may not be the last, he said--others have said they’re considering that option as well. Some families who rent have had to vacate their homes, like one property where water covered the front driveway and filled the garage.

All that water in such a small town has people frustrated and looking for answers. Multiple residents have expressed frustration with the town of Big Flats, as well as Adams County and the DNR, with what they say is a lack of action to resolve the mess.

“The Town of Big Flats says it isn’t their problem it is the land owners,” Philip Campanella sent in an email to NewsChannel 7. Peterson says the most recent meeting on Tuesday was especially energetic, with a large crowd coming out to express their frustrations. Minutes from the last two meetings on the town board reflect notes of the town telling residents that they couldn’t resolve problems on private properties. Ultimately, some residents feel more could be done to improve the town’s drainage.

Peterson, however, says the town is working to improve some of the culverts and drainage problems, but it’s a slow process while waiting for the water to dry.

“It’s just got to quit raining, give us a chance to do our work,” he said. “I know it looks like not much is being done, but the town has replaced, I mean, over seven culverts. We have contracts for over fourteen more culverts.”

The hang-up, of course, is the water itself.

“No contractor can put a culvert in, in running water...It’s just a waiting game,” Peterson said. “I’m frustrated too. I’ve got 35 acres; only four acres is not flooded.”

Peterson adds that there’s a lot of pieces to the problem. Water in the town comes from three different sources depending on where in the town it is, and each of those sources needs different solutions--some are plagued with obstruction, while others need improved ditches.

But another issue is that residents bought land during a prolonged drought that lasted years in the earlier 2000s up through a few years ago. Land was cheap, thanks to owners who wanted to get rid of their properties that they knew were prone to flooding. Those who bought them weren’t always aware of the risks, Peterson explained.

“Then when the water does come back,” Peterson said, “They’re flooded.”

But perhaps the biggest piece of all is that it’s difficult to beat Mother Nature.

“People in the town of Big Flats always had water problems,” Peterson said. “Water from the northeast flows in through drainage ditches and natural waterways.”

In a more immediate step to remedy the problem, Peterson says the town is currently getting quotes for the town to have a study done to figure out the best places to put in new ditches. It could give guidance toward a more long term solution, he explained, but will take a few months to approve and complete.

In the mean time? “You got to have patience. You got to wait till the water goes down,” he said.