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Wisconsin receives extra $91 million in federal road aid as officials struggle with plan

MADISON

Wisconsin is getting nearly $91 million in extra road money through a federal program—far more than it typically receives—at a time when highway funding has become a top issue in Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election bid.

The extra money will give the GOP governor a chance to move up some projects but is well short of enough to close a long-standing gap between funding available for roads and the cost of the work the state has identified that needs to be done in the coming years.

Wisconsin in recent years has typically gotten about $34 million annually through a federal program known as redistribution.

Last year, it got $66.4 million and this year it is getting $90.8 million—a record amount—according to a recent designation by the Federal Highway Administration.

State officials expected to get $43.9 million through the program this year. That means they’re getting $46.9 million more than they thought they would.

The money could be put toward an array of projects, including Highway 20 in Racine County, I-94 in Waukesha County and I-39 in Dane County. The state Department of Transportation hasn’t finalized what projects will get the money but plans to emphasize rehabilitation work, DOT spokesman Christian Schneider said.

“We can confirm the record federal redistribution received will allow us to complete additional projects ahead of schedule,” he said by email.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who sits on the Legislature’s budget committee, said the extra money will help a handful of projects but will do little to address the state’s long-term prospects for paying for roads.

“It doesn’t fix the problem,” Erpenbach said. “We may have gotten more from the federal government this time. We may very well get less next time.”

The state spends about $3 billion a year on transportation using a mix of state and federal money. The latest cash is about 3 percent of that amount.

The funding comes at a time when Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have been divided over road funding.

Some in his party have wanted to put more money toward roads, but Walker has fought efforts to raise the gas tax of 32.9 cents per gallon.

Walker’s Democratic opponent, state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, has backed putting more toward roads and said he would consider raising the gas tax to do that.

Evers spokesman Sam Lau welcomed the additional federal aid but said it wouldn’t do anything to address long-term problems.

“As governor, Tony will work with Democrats and Republicans alike to fix our roads,” Lau said in a statement.


Wisconsin flooding damage estimated to be $209 million

MADISON

Damage estimates are soaring in southern Wisconsin after weeks of severe flooding and storms destroyed pavement and damaged hundreds of homes. Here’s a look at where things stand:

How bad is it? Gov. Scott Walker tweeted Thursday that the flooding and storms that began Aug. 17 have caused at least $208.7 million in damage, including $98.2 million in damage to homes, $40.8 million in damage to businesses and $69.6 million to public infrastructure. Emergency officials expect those numbers to rise. Many communities are still responding to rising water and haven’t had a chance to tally the damage.

Who’s been hit hardest? Almost all of southern Wisconsin has been affected, but Dane County has gotten the worst of it. That county has seen about $155 million in damage so far. About 1,540 residences have been affected, with five destroyed.

Who’s going to pay for all this? Probably not the insurance companies. According to Dane County officials, only 2 percent of the affected residences and businesses have flood insurance. But help is out there. Walker declared a statewide emergency Aug. 29, triggering a number of recovery programs.

What about the feds? The federal government offers a complex web of disaster assistance programs. Many require a federal disaster declaration before they’re activated, but others don’t.

A federal disaster declaration would activate at least one of two major Federal Emergency Management Agency programs. One reimburses local governments for repairs. The other reimburses individuals for essential repairs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers a host of disaster assistance programs for farmers.

What does it take to get a disaster declaration? Federal emergency officials make a recommendation to the president after they consider a number of factors, including the cost, the disaster’s impact, disaster history over the last year, the degree of trauma, and the extent of insurance coverage and state assistance.

Will Walker ask for a declaration? Probably. Walker’s spokeswoman, Amy Hasenberg, said Thursday that surveyors will conduct a statewide damage assessment after flood waters recede. She said once that assessment is complete, the request process can take place.


Pewaukee priest charged with sexually assaulting child

WAUKESHA—A Pewaukee priest has been charged with sexually assaulting a girl.

A criminal complaint filed in Waukesha County charges Charles Hanel with second-degree sexual assault of a child. Hanel is the pastor at Queen of Apostles Church and was placed on administrative leave earlier this year after allegations surfaced that he had inappropriate contact with a minor.

Hanel's attorney, Jerome Buting, said his client has never, and would never, do what he is accused of in the criminal complaint. Buting said the one-sided complaint is only part of the story and that they look forward to clearing Hanel's name and reputation.

Hanel, 61, has served as the church's pastor since January 2014. He previously was a priest at St. Gabriel Parish in Hubertus.