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Years After Move To Higher Ground, Gays Mills Floods Again

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Bigguylittlebikes
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2018 flooding in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

The Village of Gays Mills in Crawford County, known for apple orchards and its stunning location on the Kickapoo River, is under water, along with vast stretches up and downstream.

At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, the National Weather Service reported major flooding in Gays Mills, and major flooding remains in the forecast.

But flooding isn’t new to Gays Mills. It was buffeted by raging water in 2007 and 2008.

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Credit CHARLEY PREUSSER
Main Street in Gays Mills during the 2008 flood.

In 2009, WUWM's Susan Bence visited the town when residents were considering whether it should pick up and move out of the floodplain.

Approximately half of Gays Mills homes within the floodplain had been, or were slated to be demolished or elevated to prevent another round of destruction from flooding.

Plans were in motion to move the government center, including its village hall, library and chamber of commerce to higher ground.

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Credit VILLAGE OF GAYS MILLS
Gays Mills Village Hall opened in 2012.

Ritch Stevenson owns a sensor manufacturing company in town. He says by moving and improving its village center, Gays Mills had the unique opportunity to become a model rural community.

“That ties into the economic development work we’re doing here to recruit businesses to Gays Mills.”

Now retired librarian Maura Otis saw the move as a chance for the community to become more energy efficient.

“Our hope is to construct it at renewable-ready standards. That would mean there would be reinforcement in the roof for solar panels,” Otis says. “We also hope to provide some district heat — we’re looking at geothermal or biomass.”

In 2012, village offices opened in their new location on Highway 131. Some residents moved into newly constructed apartments and homes as well.

But Some People Decided To Stay

Years ago, Darlene and Jack Williams devised their own flood action plan.

“When we see the water coming up, we go to the basement and take the blower out of the furnace and seal it all up and then we wait,” Darlene Williams says.

If the water rises a foot at their back door, they would open the door and let the basement fill with water.

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Credit Susan Bence
In 2009, Gays Mills residents Darlene and Jack Williams said they were staying put in their home of 29 years.

“We’ve lived here 29 years and we’ve only had water in the house twice,” she adds.

Blanche Gable also planned to stay, noting that she would elevate her house an additional 40 inches off the ground. She said her neighbors had helped clean up after previous floods.

“They came in and scraped the black rubber off my floor. The veterinarian was here helping. He lost cattle in the flood and yet he came and helped me,” she said.

When I produced the Gays Mills story in 2009, the population was listed as 625. Gays Mills now boasts 504 residents, according to a Wisconsin Department of Administration 2018 preliminary estimate.

NOTE - While Milwaukee has had its share of storms recently, the Madison area was extremely hard hit. On Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker added six more counties to the state of emergency list, then later extended it statewide.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.