Shelby seeks $790,000 disaster declaration after 35 roads damaged in storm

Sewage also backed up into the basements of nearly 15 homes
La Crosse Flooding 2
Rain Friday also created extensive flooding in La Crosse, which has the lift stations that service the Town of Shelby's sewage system. Many Shelby homes suffered extensive damage when the town's sewers backed up because the lift stations were overloaded. (WKBT photo)

TOWN OF SHELBY, Wis. (WKBT) — After sometimes-heated debated over whether a deluge Friday that backed sewage into nearly 15 homes and damaged 35 roads in the Town of Shelby was an act of God or Mother Nature or the result of long-time, unresolved issues, the Town Board passed a disaster declaration resolution Tuesday.
The declaration seeks $790,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover road repairs and other damage. The force from an estimated 7 to 9 inches of rain also caused mud to ooze and boulders to cascade into yards and driveways, with much of the damage resulting from runoff from surrounding hills and farms.
“It was an act of God we have progressively investigated,” said Board Chairman Tim Candahl, who suggested that the town of 4,700 souls probably suffered more damage than any other municipality in La Crosse County.
“It was not brought on by us but Mother Nature,” aggravating conditions that town officials have investigated since 2008, Candahl said during a board meeting Tuesday.
“I’d like the little rocks, boulders and mud taken out,” said one resident who added, “Please, please find a solution.”
Another homeowner, among about 15 who attended the meeting to complain about damages, said his basement had 2 feet of water and 8 inches of mud.
A homeowner who said an adjuster had assessed sewage, mud and other damage to his home at $35,000, noted that countless neighbors had told him it has happened five times. The damage has made the home unlivable, he said.
Chafing that the previous owner hadn’t disclosed such longtime problems, he said, “My problem is seeing this an act of God.” Instead, he said, some of the blame must fall on the town’s shoulders.
“I don’t know what to do. If I can only use half of my house, should I only pay half my taxes?” he said.
Candahl countered, “The sewer system did not fail,” but rather, the lift stations located in the city of La Crosse weren’t able to handle the volume of water that wreaked havoc throughout the county.
“It’s unfortunate about the disclosure with the previous owner,” he said.
The town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to line sewage pipes, Candahl said.
Home inspections had revealed that some people’s sump pumps were funneling water into sewer lines, which is illegal, he said.
Candahl recommended that homeowners report their damage to their insurers in hopes of being reimbursed and, if that fails, to submit claims to the Shelby Sanitary District.
“I apologize those are not the answers you want,” he said.
Public Works Foreman Terry Wright said 35 roads were damaged — some slightly and others, washed out. He has reported that to Wisconsin Emergency Management and, when the disaster declaration gets to FEMA, a federal official will “ride every road” to assess the damage.
Wright also has hired two private contractors to help town crews clear roads and repair damage, he said.