Grass lake resident trying to save home from flooding

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Friday, July 23, 2010
— July rain might be comforting to some. For Grass Lake resident Ben Applebeck, it’s a nightmare.

Applebeck and his wife, DiAnne, built their 3,800-square-foot home on the southwest side of Grass Lake north of Milton seven years ago. They’d planned to retire there.

But that was before area floods in 2008. Since then, water levels at Grass Lake have fluctuated wildly. Now, whenever it rains, Applebeck says, waters from the lake shoot into low spots in his yard, coming within a few feet of his two-story house, and swamping his detached garage.

Applebeck runs a one-horsepower pump constantly, funneling water back to the lake. It costs him $200 a month. He’s laid scores of sandbags around his garage to keep water from pouring in and damaging an expensive wood stove used to heat his home.

Nothing works.

“Here we go again,” Applebeck said Thursday, inspecting a 2-foot-high sandbag wall he and his sons Benjamin and Mitchell had built around his garage.

Heavy rains Thursday morning brought Grass Lake up, and the waters had toppled the sandbags. The garage was wet, again.

“There goes nine hours of effort,” Applebeck said. “It’s too much work, and I don’t have enough ambition no more.”

Thursday was the latest in an uphill battle for the Applebecks.

Ben, who is unemployed, lost his job at General Motors when the Janesville plant closed in 2008. DiAnne, also a GM employee, took a relocation option, and now works at a GM plant in Fort Wayne, Ind.

She rents an apartment there for $700 a month, and visits home on her time off.

Applebeck says the family has scrimped to keep their home at 9304 N. Clear Lake Road, refinancing their mortgage and living as frugally as they can with a split household and one income.

“We don’t have nothing special,” Applebeck said. “Our house is special, though. It’s our life savings. It’s what we worked for.”

But floods at Grass Lake are slowly drowning the family’s finances.

Despite Ben’s employment status, the couple doesn’t qualify financially for federal flood aid, and because the condition at Grass Lake is considered groundwater flooding, Applebeck’s homeowner’s insurance won’t cover any damages.

The flooding has left mold problems and pavement heaving in Applebeck’s garage and has saturated the ground to the point that his wells and septic systems are threatened, Applebeck said. He fears the tanks will pop out of the ground.

“If it does that or water gets in the wells, it’s finished,” he said.

Grass Lake shares flood conditions similar to Clear Lake, its neighbor to the south. Clear Lake has seen high water since floods in 2008 raised a nearby water table.

Officials are unsure why Clear Lake won’t recede, but it’s left several lakeshore homes underwater and threatens to submerge scores of others.

Worried his property could face the same fate, Applebeck has plans to build a 450-foot berm between his house and the shoreline of Grass Lake to block lake waters from entering his yard.

Applebeck has spoken with DNR officials, who haven’t approved work at the property, but have advised him on possible materials for either a berm or a portable dam and have referred him to consultants, he said.

Two problems: Applebeck doesn’t have permits the county requires for the project, and he’s not sure how he’ll pay for it.

Plus, he claims, Rock County officials have been slow to assist him.

Applebeck said in August 2009 he called Rock County Zoning Administrator Colin Byrnes to learn how to get a permit for a berm. Applebeck said Byrnes sent him an aerial photo of his property, telling him to detail his plans.

Applebeck said he sent the county plans in September 2009. For months, he claims, he heard no response.

“The people I called to try to find the right guy would never give me the right guy,” he said. “They’d just beat around the bush.”

Applebeck said he finally heard from the county in mid-June 2010 and was told then that he’d have to pay $550 for a shoreline work permit application, which would have to be approved by the county’s Planning and Development Committee.

This week, Byrnes told the Gazette he’d called Applebeck in the fall, shortly after he’d received his plans. He said at the time he explained to Applebeck the permit application process for shoreline work.

“He needs to go through the process, however burdensome he feels that to be,” Byrnes said.

Applebeck said money’s so tight, now, that he can’t justify spending hundreds on a permit application that county officials might not approve.

“At this point, I need that money for sandbags,” he said. “It sounds bad, don’t it? I’m wanting to save my money for sand.”

Meanwhile, Applebeck wonders if a water barrier on his property would even work. He said he’s waiting on a visit from a hydrogeologist from the Wisconsin Geological Survey to shed light on the cause of the flooding at Grass Lake.

“Mother Nature’s going to do what she’ll do. I’m not looking for total solution,” he said.

“I just hope to find some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Last updated: 2:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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