Three Wisconsin counties declared federal disaster areas
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha counties a federal disaster area after severe storms pounded the counties' Lake Michigan coastline in January. (Photos via city of Racine)

Only applies to local governments to fix January storm damage in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha counties

Communities in Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha counties will begin working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for federal aid after January storms ripped through the area and caused severe coastal damage.

FEMA officially declared the counties major disaster areas last week, meaning the counties and individual municipalities can apply for funds to help repair millions of dollars’ worth of damage suffered during the storms, which shredded the counties’ Lake Michigan shoreline from Jan. 10-12. 

Under the program, FEMA provides 75 percent of repair-project costs, while state and local authorities provide the remaining funds.

“Without the support of FEMA, these communities would face a heavy financial burden,” Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement.

Homeowners and business owners will not qualify for any federal aid because private property damage did not reach the required threshold. 

The storms came amid record-high water levels in the lake. Climate change has led to more severe storms, and also ensures that water levels reach peaks and valleys more frequently. 

FEMA officials visited southeastern Wisconsin to review the shoreline damage before allowing the declaration, said Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser. In Kenosha County, the public Kemper Center in the City of Kenosha suffered the most significant damage, estimated at $2.2 million, Kreuser said. The center’s waterfront trail and retaining wall took the brunt of the storm. 

But Kreuser said he hopes FEMA will grant more than the $2.2 million. The agency’s public assistance program generally constrains projects to restoration, but will occasionally grant funds for upgrades if they will help with future disaster mitigation.

“The rest of the story is this: Our current estimates show that it would cost $15 million to do it right, to provide the proper armor so that the damage doesn’t happen continually,” he said. “Just because it’s repaired as it was, doesn’t mean it will hold up.”

Initial damage estimates in Racine County were about $6.5 million, but a FEMA inspection determined a much smaller total of just over $2.5 million, the Racine Journal Times reported.

Most of the damage in Racine County came to the City of Racine along Pershing Park Drive, Carre-Hogle Park, North Beach, and Shoop Park, said David Maack, the county’s emergency management coordinator. Some damage also occurred near the county’s iconic lighthouse in the Village of Wind Point, a northern Racine suburb, Maack told UpNorthNews.

Now that the federal disaster status has officially been declared, the city and Wind Point will have to work with FEMA to determine what repair projects will be eligible, Maack said.

“It’s basically starting all over,” he said.

Milwaukee County suffered $4.1 million in damages, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Most of the damage occurred at Port Milwaukee, but the county’s water treatment plant and 14 public parks also sustained damage, according to the Journal Sentinel.