Janesville39.8°

Scars of 2008 flooding still show in Newville neighborhood

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Stacy Vogel
July 20, 2009
— Pete Sisco and his family seemed worry-free Saturday as they built a retaining wall around his driveway on Ellendale Road along the Rock River.

The men joked about who was doing the most work and enjoyed the unseasonably cool weather.


You'd hardly guess that a year ago, the Siscos and their neighbors were scrambling to save their homes from the relentlessly rising water flooding their backyards and basements.


The thousands of sandbags used in the effort disappeared long ago. People no longer are dragging flood-damaged goods out of soggy basements, and no homes are visibly crumbling in this close-knit neighborhood.


But if you look closely, you still can see scars from the historic 2008 flooding.


Sisco was lucky. When he rebuilt his home two years ago, he followed recommendations to put it higher and further from the river than the old home. The water came up to the deck stairs behind the house, but it did not enter the structure.


His brother-in-law and next-door neighbor, Sam Tomasello, wasn't so lucky. About 600 gallons of water came into his home in two minutes as the river breached the sandbag wall two houses away last June, he said.


A year later, the home's tiny basement still is damp and smelly. Water seeps through the walls and gathers in tiny crevices on the floor. A small crack in the basement floor popped open during the flooding, and though Tomasello covered it with hydraulic cement, the water still creeps in around the edges.


Tomasello has just begun to assess the structural damage, he said.


"They (the experts) said they can't fix it," Tomasello said. "They said they can contain it."


If Tomasello had the money, he would lift the house and put it on a new foundation, he said. He didn't have flood insurance, and he doesn't qualify for federal grants because the house is a secondary residence, he said. He and his wife live there about half the year.


That's a problem for many Newville homeowners, said Dave Somppi, Rock County community development manager.


The county has given out $250,000 in community development block grants for homeowners to repair their homes, but only three of the 24 grants issued so far have gone to Newville.


"None of the grant programs have provided funds to address seasonal or secondary homes, and unfortunately in some parts of the county a large majority of the homes are seasonal or secondary," Somppi said.


Secondary homes also don't qualify for hazard mitigation grants, which allow the county to buy and raze homes with damage totaling more than 50 percent of the value of the home.


The county has applied for grants to tear down six homes outside of Janesville and Beloit, said Scott Heinig, Rock County Planning and Development Agency director. It also has identified four homes that must come down but don't qualify for grants. The county has offered to pay for the demolition costs in those cases.


Heinig didn't know how many of the homes that need to be torn down are in Newville.


The problems with Tomasello's house don't seem to rise to that level, and he plans to fix them the best he can, he said. He hopes to retire in a few years and live in the Newville home year-round.


Still, his heart always will race when the river hits flood stage, as it did in March, he said.


"When it went up to that 11.5 (feet), I was really worried," he said. "I'm like, 'I don't know if we can handle this again.'"


Not many homeowners are leaving Newville

Though Newville homeowners dealt with hazards large and small in last year's flooding, it doesn't seem like many of them are pulling up stakes, neighbors and real estate agents said.


Paula Carrier, an Edgerton real estate agent, said she sees fewer homes for sale along the water this year than she does in typical summers.


Most years, Carrier does about 1/3 of her business with waterfront properties. She's used to seeing about 50 such properties for sale at a time in the busy summer season.


As of Sunday, 29 waterfront homes were listed for sale in the Edgerton School District—and 12 of those flooded last year, she said.


"There's not a lot of available properties that weren't damaged by the flood," she said.


Carrier thinks homeowners might be holding onto their properties now.


Chris Sweeney, another Edgerton-area agent, said the number of waterfront properties for sale seemed average to her.


Agents struggle to sell the properties that were damaged by the flood, even if the owners have repaired the damage, Carrier said.


"The first thing people ask me is 'Did they flood?'" she said. "And what do you say? 'Yeah, they did'… Those are the ones we aren't seeing a lot of people look at."


People who know the area realize that the 2008 flood probably was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but the memories still are raw, she said.


"It's going to take time to heal," she said.


Still, if you're looking for waterfront property, you're not going to find lower prices than the ones offered now, Carrier and Sweeney said.


"The water is still something that everybody wants," she said. "That's where summers are made."



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