Oconto County officials fear southern floods and northern wildfires

Local, state and federal officials meet to discuss scenarios
Warren Bluhm
Oconto County Times Herald Editor

OCONTO — The threat of fire danger looms in northern Oconto County over the next two or three years, as the southern part of the county braces for severe flooding.

The County Board received an update Thursday from Emergency Management Director Tim Magnin regarding the aftermath of last summer’s windstorm that downed hundreds of thousands of trees, as well as flooding that plagued the city of Oconto and other bayshore communities at the start of 2020.

Town and county officials have submitted applications for disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of cleanup costs from the July 19 macroburst that leveled a huge swath of forest land in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

“They’re willing to help us try to get the maximum dollar figure we can to help get through this event,” Magnin said.

The state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service are both concerned that as time goes on, the fire danger could increase.

“They’re worried about this year but also probably over the next two, three years,” Magnin said. “It’s going to dry out even more, so they’re trying to clean things up.”

A recent meeting of FEMA, the DNR and local officials yielded much information and a good planning session, he said.

Meanwhile, the county has completed one application for Wisconsin disaster funds stemming from heavy flooding in October and is in the process of preparing a second application for the flooding that occurred Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, when ice jams on the Oconto River led to flooding in the city of Oconto.

A meeting occurred Jan. 22 involving county and municipal leaders from the city and the towns of Little River, Little Suamico, Oconto and Pensaukee, planning a response to record-high water levels on Lake Michigan that would be similar to the response up north last July, Magnin said.

“We’re going to plan for the worst and hope we don’t get anything, but I think we’re going to get hit with something,” he said of potential flooding. “I think this little hit we had, end of December and beginning of January, was just a little warning of what’s coming for the spring.”

Paul Ehrfurth, executive director of the Oconto County Economic Development Corp., reported that OCEDC is working with Bay-Lake to help property owners who sustained flood damage.

“As you know, our loan program is a maximum $10,000, but Bay-Lake has launched a disaster relief program for Oconto with a maximum $20,000,” Ehrfurth said. “We have identified at least two property owners with much damage and are working with them to see if we can work together a package for them.”