Oconto County storm costs still being tallied

192 miles of national forest road closed to motorized vehicles
Warren Bluhm
Oconto County Times Herald News Editor

OCONTO — The total cost incurred by Oconto County government to clean up after the July 19-20 windstorm is $418,386, County Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann told the County Board on Thursday.

“This is the various departments — administration, county clerk, emergency management, damage to a couple of our radio towers, extension office, forest and parks, human services, highway, land information, planning and zoning, sheriff and veterans services — all those departments participated in the storm issues,” Hamann said.

The estimate covers the first six weeks after the macroburst — defined as an intense, small-scale downdraft produced by a thunderstorm — that hit Oconto County, part of a series of storms that included at least 19 tornadoes and led to a federal disaster declaration covering 17 counties and two tribes.

Hamann said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will only reimburse the county for 5% of the project costs for administration, and Hamann estimates that figure will be more than 5% of the total.

“But certainly the damages, any of the regular time and overtime for debris cleanup will be eligible, any of the supplies and equipment used, so we’re starting to put that information together,” he said. “Any of the damages that are not covered by insurance — at Chute Pond, the trails, etc. — that will be covered by FEMA.”

Tim Magnin, the county emergency management director, said FEMA will make an exploratory phone call to each of the entities that will be applying for reimbursement, including the county and affected towns. Lakewood and Little River opted out of the process because their dollar figures did not meet the threshold for federal help, Magnin said. YMCA Camp U-Nah-Li-Ya and Oconto Electric Cooperative are also applying as nonprofit entities.

Those calls will probably take place in October or November, Magnin said.

“With all the other disasters going on in the United States right now, it might be on hold a little bit, but that’s the plan right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of steps involved going forward.”

It will likely be up to a year after the storm before grants for cleanup projects are actually paid, Magnin said.

Supervisor Gregory Sekela said the county lost $325,000 in expected timber sales just for this year and will have to replant the lost forests.

“The timber contracts for this year, those were contracts that we had let and now are changed to salvage contracts,” Sekela said. “But in the future, going forward, the next 40 years, the loss of those timber sale revenues is going to be a big hit to the county.”

Magnin said such mitigation costs will be another piece of the puzzle.

Meanwhile, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, with the help of towns, contractors and others, has been able to clear just over 400 miles of road, District Ranger Mike Brown said Friday.

These miles are identified in green on a map at the forest’s website, indicating that they are open and the right-of-way has been cleared. In addition, just over 155 miles of road are open (identified in yellow) but with hazards remaining, such as debris along the roadways in the right-of-ways.

Just over 192 miles of road, identified in red, remain closed to motorized vehicles. The map can be found at http://go.usa.gov/xyA8D.