Storm-damaged counties hopeful for FEMA assistance

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WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) -- Municipalities that saw damage during July's storms are still facing a lot of paperwork. Assessors from FEMA visited Wood County Thursday to add up the damage and see what they might be able to cover should Gov. Tony Evers request federal disaster aid.

Gov. Evers requested FEMA to assess Wisconsin's damage from the July 19-20 storms Aug. 2.

"Our time frame was relatively short," Wood County Emergency Management Director Steve Kreuser said. "Probably about a week, a week to get these binders completed."

Municipalities scrambled to find their receipts, gather photos, and come up with the total costs incurred because of these storms.

"We're talking about time cards for employees that maybe worked overtime because of the storms, the materials used, the equipment used. So, all of those things are taken into consideration," Troy Christensen, FEMA's media relations specialist said.

Three teams of FEMA assessors have been traveling to the counties affected, sorting through the costs, ensuring each amount has proof, and determining whether those costs could be covered by FEMA, another federal agency, or municipal insurance.

In this instance, FEMA is looking at damage to public property, like damaged sidewalks because of uprooted trees, not damage to private property because most home insurances should cover this type of damage.

Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zachary Vruwink said if Gov. Evers does not declare a disaster or the president does not approve the aid, "it means that we're going to do less street maintenance this year, it means that we would do less park maintenance and other DPW efforts. So really it's a cost shift, but there's certainly additional costs that we've incurred."

He calculated between the city and the utilities alone, Wisconsin Rapids has nearly $3 million of damage. He said the city has a reserve fund, which would likely have to be tapped into if the declaration is not declared.

Members of Wisconsin Emergency Management when speaking with municipal leaders explained if a declaration is denied, they can appeal. They also said the money is only for reimbursement purposes, so all of the storm damage needs to be repaired to be included in the final total.

FEMA expects to complete its assessment by the end of the week and will prepare a document for the governor to assess. A WEM spokesperson said generally the state looks for a minimum of $8.5 million in damage to make a federal disaster declaration request.