By Kelly Edwards, USDA Rural Development, Wisconsin
The Village of Gays Mills lies in a valley among the steeply chiseled bluffs of the region known as the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin, along the banks of the Kickapoo River. The people are known for growing apples and holding the Annual Apple Festival.
The small village of 625, nearly flooded off the map twice in the past few years.
Normally the river runs its course but in 1978 the Kickapoo flooded, reaching record levels of almost 20 feet. All was quiet until August, 2007. Extensive rain in the areas upstream from Gays Mills caused flash flooding and overnight the town filled with water. Homes and businesses filled with water and many people lost everything. The river crested just below the record level of 1978, and 75 homes were damaged.
Then in June 2008 Gays Mills was dealt another blow. This time, the river broke its previous record and crested at 20.1 feet, seven feet above the flood stage level. During both the 2007 and 2008 floods, the water on Main Street submerged cars.
In October 2008, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked residents and businesses to relocate to a new site. About 150 of the village’s 230 houses lie in the flood plain.
The planned layout of the new development outside the flood area calls for village offices and a library, along with space for a farmer’s market. Local businesses that move are expected to retain 41 jobs, and new businesses are expected to create 18 jobs within the first year. The relocation project also includes the construction of 10 townhouses and 34 single family homes for the residents.
USDA is a partner in the effort to help local residents. In 2009 Rural Development awarded nearly $100,000 in a Rural Business Enterprise Grant to help businesses move. In addition, USDA Rural Development awarded the Redevelopment Authority a $1,081,500 Community Facilities Loan for the relocation/construction of a new Village Community Center in the Central Business District. The community center will house the village offices, library, a meeting room, office for the Commercial District Manager and facilities for a farmer’s market.
USDA also awarded two Community Facilities Disaster Assistance Grants to the town. A $67,100 grant will be used to buy a previously owned pumper truck for the Fire Department, replacing a truck that is almost 40 years old. The second grant of $35,200, will help to purchase a new one-ton pick-up truck with plow to assist with snow removal, and a new trailer mounted 4-inch pump for use at the wastewater treatment plant and to help with water removal from properties during high water events.
Other Federal and State agencies have also pitched in. In March of 2010, a grant of $4.31 million was awarded by the Economic Development Administration to prepare a strategy for relocating the Village’s commercial district outside of the floodplain. Also in March, the Village received a $640,000 grant through the Community Development Block Grant-Emergency Assistance Program (CDBG-EAP) from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce (Commerce) to help with relocation costs.
More construction is expected in Gays Mills over the summer.
The downtown of Gays Mills was flooded when the local river jumped its banks.
Flooding of Gays Mills shown from the air.
Gays Mills, the Apple Capital of Wisconsin