June 14, 2008

Hot Rods will return to Racine in 2009

Mark your calendar early: The Hot Rod Power Tour will be returning to Racine on Sunday, June 7, 2009. Dave Blank, executive director of the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau, whispered the news into my ear this morning -- before then blabbing it all over WRJN's airwaves. Thanks for the scoop, Dave!

The tour will bring 3,500 to 4,000 souped-up cars here direct from the era in which nobody cared how much gas cost. Beautiful cars with pampering owners.

Last year, the tour brought about 2,200 hot rods to Racine, although the weather did not cooperate.

Update, 6/16:
Here's the press release Dave Blank just sent out:

Racine County will welcome the 14th Annual Hot Rod Magazine Hot Rod Power Tour, one of the greatest auto tours in the world, to the streets of Downtown Sunday, June 7, 2009. Revving through seven cities in seven days, spectators can expect to see their favorite Camaro’s, Cadillac DeVille’s, Dodge Challengers, Ford Ranchero’s and many more.

The retailers will be open and the lakefront will be hoping as 3,500 one-of-a-kind hot rods are expected to cruise the streets of Downtown. 5,000 participants and 10,000 spectators from all fifty states are expected to take part in the event. The tour begins Saturday, June 6, in Madison before coming to Racine.

The event will take place in downtown Racine and along the lakefront in Pershing Park from noon to 7 p.m. Public parking along Main Street and the adjoining side streets will be curtailed and Pershing Drive will be closed to traffic.

The majority of the estimated 1,000 “long haul” participants will be arriving between noon and 2 p.m. and will then check in and be directed to their designated parking area. About 2,500 “short haul” cars are expected from all over the Midwest.

The participants will spend the day looking at the cars, visiting with the many event sponsors, renewing old acquaintances with other participants and shopping. At 6:30 p.m. there will be a door prize drawing on the Main Stage that will be set up at the corner of 6th Street and Pershing Drive. Following this, the crowd will disperse to local restaurants, bars and lodging facilities.

The Racine event is sponsored by the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Hot Rod Power Tour is sponsored by GM Performance Division and co-sponsored by Flowmaster Exhaust Systems. The event is free to spectators. More information and car registration can be found at http://www.hotrod.com or contact the RCCVB at 262-884-6400.

Juneteenth Day in Racine... Caron steals the show

Pay attention, son, this is your first Juneteenth!

It was Juneteenth Day in Racine on Saturday, celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in 1863. But it was not Abraham Lincoln who got all the attention here, not when Caron Butler was present at the Bryant Center.

There was lots going on -- gospel singers, great food, games for the kids, booths set up by various organizations. But once Caron appeared, the Washington Wizards star from Racine stole the show.

Here are some pictures from the event, starting with one of Caron, who spoke about his 3D's that got him where he is, a star in the NBA: Discipline, Determination and Dedication.

Caron Butler is everywhere this weekend in Racine

Tom White, head of the Community Action Agency

Nothing better than corn almost as big as you are!

Beverly Hicks, head of the Racine NAACP

Allena Berry, Park valedictorian, plays a violin solo

Pictures of Caron's earlier bicycle giveaway, and a schedule of other events with him this weekend, are HERE.

And HERE's the Journal Times' coverage of Caron Butler's Friday activities.

First, you pack everything into a U-Haul...

The smaller mural, on the Hoernel Key Shop

As finishing touches were put on Uptown's two wall mosaics Saturday morning, I fleshed out the backstory to one of the workers.

Muralist Isaiah Zagar had an assistant working to herd the many local volunteers who showed up to build the mural, a young woman named Angela Talle.

Angela Talle, one determined young artist

Angela was a young artist living in Minnesota when she decided she wanted to learn how to do mosaics from the master, Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia. So she wrote him, and sent along pictures of her work, asking for an apprenticeship.

Never got a reply.

So she did what any self-respecting, determined, 25-year-old artist would do: She packed all her stuff in a small U-Haul trailer, drove to Philadelphia and knocked on Zagar's door. Turns out, he had never received her initial mailing. This time, he liked what he saw, gave her an apprenticeship, which lasted for six months, and then a job ... and she's been making mosaics and murals ever since.

Angela is married now -- her husband, Adam, was here this weekend also, helping out on the Uptown mural. Angela mostly does smaller pieces today -- vases and so forth -- but has done four large wall murals and one smokestack mural in her hometown of Minneapolis.

Below are a few more photos of our murals.

Adam Talle, Angela's husband, does his part

Closeup of one of the "blobs" on the Hoernel mosaic

The mermaid on the larger mosaic mural

Our main story about Uptown's mosaic murals is HERE.

Bicycles for 500 -- compliments of Caron Butler

Ty'zai Jones, 8, happily shows off her bicycle

Ever seen a kid smile with happiness when she gets her first bicycle?

Well, multiply that by 500 and you have the scene at the Bryant Center this morning, when NBA Wizard and hometown hero Caron Butler gave away that many bikes to Racine kids.

Two-time All-Star Butler has done this twice before, but it seems there are always kids needing bicycles. And so he arrived with a huge truck from Wal-Mart, bringing 500 two-wheelers of all sizes and 500 helmets. Every kid who registered in advance got one, and many were available for late arrivals. Almost every kid who showed up got a bike fit for his or her age and size.

And the smiles were ear-to-ear. Racine Parks Director Donnie Snow and his minions, along with Police Chief Kurt Wahlen, and his, were on hand to keep everything moving smoothly. It was the start of a joyous -- and sunny and dry! -- Juneteenth celebration at the Bryant Center, with food, music, games and lots of activities.

Butler, who donated $10,000 to the city, will be recognized at 3 p.m. as the festival's "Kids Corner" sponsor, just one of many activities he's participating in this weekend. On Friday, he was on hand for the unveiling of a classroom at the Cops 'N Kids Learning Center, along with Mayor Gary Becker and Cops 'N Kids founder and Director Julia Burney-Witherspoon.

On Sunday, Butler will host a Father's Day Clinic at the Bray Center, from 10 a.m. to noon before hosting a family skate party at Skatetown USA at 4 p.m.

"I grew up here, my family is here and the dreams that I had as a child have now come true, so I want to show all the youth in Racine that you can make a difference, you just have to work hard and put your mind to it. Follow the 3D's: Discipline, Determination, Dedication and there will be no limit to what you can accomplish," Butler said.

Nor is the bicycle giveaway Butler's only philanthropy in Racine. Each year, he also hands out 500 winter coats and hundreds of turkeys at Thanksgiving.

June 13, 2008

Art on a big scale, to transform a neighborhood

Isaiah Zagar works on his mural Friday

Sometimes, things just happen.

Last January, Gary Becker was in Washington for a meeting, and he took a side trip to see an old friend. The friend took Racine's mayor on a day and a half "art death walk" the mayor recalls with a laugh, all over Philadelphia. One of the last stops was Isaiah Zagar's Magic Garden. Telling the story of the Magic Garden could take all week; suffice it to say it's an incredible yarn about art triumphing over commerce, of protests honed during the Vietnam War era transforming part of a city and preventing its destruction by yet another expressway. (You can see pictures and read all about it HERE).

But what's important to Racine is this: "Within a few minutes of seeing the Magic Garden," says Becker, "I started thinking, 'This would be great in Racine.' "

More pictures of Racine's mural HERE.

And so, the wheels started turning that brought mosaic muralist Isaiah Zagar to Racine this week, where he has been creating -- with the assistance of a host of local volunteers -- not one but two incredible mosaics on the sides of two buildings at the entrance to Uptown, in the 1300 block of Washington Avenue.

Becker was at the site Friday morning, watching the white-bearded Zagar -- his hands deep into a bucket of grout -- direct more than a dozen young people (including the mayor's daughter, Maggie, 16) as they created artwork where there had been none, out of broken pieces of tile, mirror, stones, shells, an egg plate, cups and other scrounged and donated "stuff."

And, indeed, what they were creating is art, with a capital A.

The murals are perhaps 12 feet tall and 75 feet long, a swirling mass of color and shapes. Look closely: there's a face! Wait, it's a mermaid. And over there's a fish. And ...

Almost all of it has been created by the adult and youth volunteers assembled by Kerry Turner, the project manager from Racine County Economic Development. RCEDC, the city and the Uptown Business Improvement District helped fund the $10,000 project, which with the Create Uptown Festival this weekend is aimed to kick off the Artists Relocation Program, which seeks to revitalize Uptown by helping artists buy neighborhood buildings in which they can work and live.

I say "almost" all of the mosaic was created here, because Becker recalled picking up Zagar at the airport and lifting his suitcase. "I said, 'Holy Cow, do you have bricks in here?' " No, it was just tile and pieces for what Zagar calls the "blobs" -- some of the key design elements in the murals. The face of the mermaid, for instance; some extra large eyes for another. Zagar created and then installed them on the blank wall, and then drew the rest of the design in chalk for his workers to follow.

Since Tuesday -- in between thunderstorms -- they have been sticking the broken mirror glass, tile and what not on the brick walls of a building owned by Linea Anthony, and on the Hoernel Key Shop building on the other side of the empty lot. "Sticking the mirror on is the simplest part to learn," Zagar said, after doing it for 40 years. Friday was for grouting, "the most difficult."

"Come over here and watch me," he instructed the volunteers, clearly a teacher as much as an artist. "Once you have put something on, the sponge has to go back and forth. I'm doing it with my eyes, not my heart. I'm filling in those cracks. The thing is to get a great deal of joy from finding those edges, getting it flat so there are no bumps. There is no spot you should feel is your work. You've got to dance around," he said, "If you're in one spot, you're not doing much."

I asked Zagar the "vision" question, wondering how it feels to have his design created by others. "There is no vision," he said. "What comes out, comes out. If I had a vision I would be stymied and I'd tell these people 'you can't work with me.' "

This isn't the first mosaic Zagar has made away from his Philadelphia homebase, which has scores of them. His wife, Julia (to whom he has been married for 45 years -- they were in the Peace Corps together in Peru) accompanied him to Racine, and joins him on about a dozen far-flung projects each year. (In January, they created a mural on a cinderblock changing facility by the beach in Maui. "That was nice," she said, reemphasizing "January" in case I missed it.) She was impressed by "the tremendous participation by the mayor," she said. "We've never gotten this anywhere else." She said Becker already has invited the couple back.

"You can see a whole neighborhood change with one of these murals," she said.

Friday night, the couple presented a screening, in the old M&I Bank Building on Washington, for city officials and volunteers, of a new documentary about their life. Called In a Dream, it was made by Jeremiah, one of their two sons, and already has won numerous "best director" and "best new talent" awards on the independent film circuit: in Austin at South by SouthWest, in Philadelphia and at Full Frame in North Carolina. The movie deals with the events that shaped the Zagars' life -- and everyone's -- breakdowns, an almost-divorce, raising children, as well as artistic issues.

"This is what I can get a thrill out of," said Zagar, 69, "manufacturing these large scale mosaics." And then he scooped out another handful of grout and energetically began spreading it between the tiles, smoothing the bumps and edges.

The free festival Saturday runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the municipal parking lot at the corner of Washington Avenue and 13th Street. It features music, clowns, food, projects for kids and, hopefully, completion of th murals. Our earlier schedule of Saturday's event is HERE.

Shhh, that's a coon hound calling you...

Listen closely: Can't you just hear the mournful sound of a coon hound at suppertime, that sweet-sounding Bluetick voice?

Well, if it appeals to you, as it should, then step up and meet Cody, a four-month old Bluetick Coonhound mix. He is white with black spots, full of energy and eager to please. He does have a small malformation -- a bump at the end of his tail -- but, let's face it: are you perfect?

Cody will need someone who likes to take walks, jog or is willing to teach him to play fetch, as his energy level is fairly high.

For more information, visit Countryside Humane Society, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699

Last week's pet looking for a home, Tiny, the playful cross-eyed kitten, got adopted into one where she will be the spoiled addition to her young new family.

This week's concert: No rain, just rock 'n roll

Unlike last week's noontime concert, which was rained out, today's Music on the Monument went off without a hitch. The south side of the square was packed with an audience for Final Approach's classic rock of the '70s and '80s.

Band members Bridget Kristan, lead vocals, and Kevin Grant, Steve Sustachek, Mike (Moon) Harmann and Mark Grant kept it rockin' for an appreciative crowd perched on chairs, the new granite benches and even a bicycle and motorcycle or two.

June 12, 2008

YPR's 'Big Fat Wedding Party' has it all...

The happy couple: Juliana Garcia and Jay Christie

UPDATE: The numbers are in ... the wedding party brought in $5,985 in contributions and gifts to benefit HALO, Safe Haven, the Women's Resource Center and Bethany Apartments, according to Chris Terry of YPR. Once the bills for the party are paid, YPR also expects to kick in an additional $500 for the party being under budget.

"The turnout was wonderful and everyone had a good time," said Terry (see below for proof).

ORIGINAL POST: It wasn't your everyday wedding party.

Oh, there was the lovely bride, and "Tex," the wealthy groom. Dinner, dancing, the garter toss and a wedding cake.

And also the pregnant bridesmaid, the quickly-sloshed best man, the mother of the bride telling everyone within earshot she wished her daughter had married someone else, "someone more like her brother." Ah, yes, the bride's brother: collecting the gifts and dates for later...

Mother of the Bride helps Best Man get ready

It was all in good fun -- and for a good cause. The Young Professionals of Racine staged the wedding party -- "My Big Fat YPR Wedding" -- as a benefit for HALO, the Bethany House Apartments, Safe Haven of Racine and the Women’s Resource Center. All 200 guests brought wedding gifts, many gaily wrapped, and bid on silent auction items donated by three dozen community sponsors.

Bride greets "family members;" what does groom see?

All the wedding gifts -- the crock pots, toasters, glass sets, appliances, blankets, cash and so on -- and all the proceeds from the silent auction will be distributed to the four recipient agencies on Friday. The event was YPR's sixth anniversary party, but the aim was to assist individuals who will soon be out on their own beginning a new life, often without many items typically associated with wedding gifts.

For the record, the bride was portrayed by Juliana Garcia, of Express Professionals; the groom was Jay Christie of the Racine Zoological Society. (He got the better of the deal; "Mom" was right.)

Best man was Chris Terry, of Carpetland USA, next year's YPR president; Maid of Honor was Tabitha Flores, of Express Professionals.

Bridesmaids were Angela Schott and Mandy Boroski, both of Leman USA. Groomsmen were Charlie Petrarch of The Party Company and Philippe Bisson of Bombardier Recreational Products.

Mother of the Bride was Loretta Olson of Express Professionals.

Dana Grueter, wedding planner extraordinaire

Guest J.J. McAuliffe forgot to wear pants

Best Man Chris Terry looked spiffy at first...

...but quickly fell victim to musical chairs and...?

What's a wedding without pictures?

Bride's "brother" taking care of business...

Property Transfers, June 12

Below is a spreadsheet with last week's property transfers.

The Rainbow Hotel in Burlington is the top item. It sold for $1.085 million. The second item is a four bedroom, two bathroom Burlington home that sold for $781,000 - nearly $100,000 less than its initial list price of $879,000.

Click the link below for the full list.

Property Transfers - June 12, 2008

Yellow Rose restaurant in Downtown Racine closing June 28

The Yellow Rose restaurant in Downtown Racine is closing on June 28. The owners decided not to renew their contract with the building at Fourth and Main streets.

Scott and Patrice Sebastian, owner of Sebastian's in Caledonia, opened The Yellow Rose in 2004. The restaurant received great reviews from former Journal-Sentinel critic Dennis Ghetto and a review for Milwaukee Magazine.

After closing Yellow Rose, the Sebastians plan to focus their efforts on Sebastian's, their Caledonia restaurant.

"Being able to focus on just one restaurant will allow us to further our goal to make Sebastian's one of the best restaurants in the state," said Scott Sebastian.

Those of us with longer memories remember the restaurant as Criag and Helen's Bistro. Actually, those with really long memories remember it as the Bistro, then the Pasta Grille, and then Craig and Helen's Bistro again -- all under the same ownership. Far as we know, the building is still owned by Helen Johnson-Leipold and her hockey-team-owning husband Craig. The adjoining building, which has housed the Grotto since October 2007 and shares the Yellow Rose/Bistro kitchen is owned by the Johnson family (yes, that Johnson family) as well. The Grotto is a banquet/conference room space best known to those who haven't been inside for its fiberglass cow on the sidewalk from Chicago's "Cows on Parade" street art display.

Although the menu changed when the Sebastians leased the Bistro's space, the decor did not.

It's a beautiful location for a restaurant, but I suspect parking is an issue. Salute does well, though, so hopefully somebody gives it a shot.

In a few weeks, another restaurant will open on the same corner, directly across the street. Sticky Rice, formerly located on the second floor balcony of the Historic Century Market on Sixth Street, will open on the northeast corner of Fourth and Main in the building most recently occupied by Braun's Wines (and before that by the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau). And, of course, Whey Chai still resides on the southwest corner of the same intersection, so we're unlikely to starve regardless what happens.

CORREX: The Journal Times reported Friday that the Yellow Rose's building is owned by "Design Partners, a commercial graphics company based above the restaurant. Design Partners needs the additional space for its own growth."

June 11, 2008

Where does Unified go? They need a Wiser approach

Dennis Wiser jokingly said Tuesday he was suing the Racine Unified School District for misrepresentation. His job just got a whole lot tougher.

When Wiser, the former head of the Racine Education Association, ran for School Board this spring it looked like a new superintendent would be in place before he was elected. Now, the district is bruised, embarrassed and back to the beginning.

"I don't think a lot of people realize the depth of the problem," said Wiser, noting Unified also needs to replace its chief academic officer, the district's No. 2 slot. That means the district is looking at a year of job interviews - and not much progress toward improving Racine's public schools.

"We're not going to see any significant change in test scores over the next year again," he said.

Moving forward, Wiser may be the best person for the School Board - and perhaps the community - to follow when it comes time to select the new superintendent.

The board's current leaders had their chances, first with Hicks and now Barbara Pulliam. Neither worked out well.

Wiser, along with veteran board member Julie McKenna, voted against hiring Pulliam. They both saw something the majority didn't: the community didn't support her. Questions were raised about how she left her old job, the state of her former district and what she was actually going to do to improve Racine's schools (after all, Unified already has an IB program).

"It certainly gives the board an opportunity," Wiser said in a recent interview. "I heard from a lot of community members and elected officials that they weren't happy with the process last time. If the board is really smart, they'll look at a process that makes a larger slice of the community happy with what's going on."

He recommended hiring a different search firm, finding better ways to engage the community and doing everything possible to make the hiring transparent. (It also requires better communication, Wiser said. The board found out at the same time as the public (thanks to Google searches by RacinePost) about problems with one of the finalists.)

However, Wiser didn't want to go back to the way Unified hired Hicks, who came to town with a lot of fanfare - and little scrutiny.

"In retrospect, that process had some flaws too," said Wiser, who was head of the REA at the time. "Specifically, by the time it got down to final selection we were literally looking at one person on a list of one."

Whoever Unified brings in, they'll have to be tough. Hicks entered the district at a relatively good time. Former Superintendent Dennis McGoldrick was well liked and respected, and the business community and School Board clearly backed Hicks.

"The new superintendent is walking into a much, much tougher arena," Wiser said. "Morale is a much tougher issue than it was 7-8 years ago."

The key to turning things around: get as many people involved in the new search process as possible, Wiser said. "The broader the sense of engagement, the more likely it is the superintendent will succeed."

That includes teachers, who were represented by union leaders in the last search process. Wiser wants to see more educators, not just the heads of REA, involved with picking the district's new leader.

No matter how the search unfolds, he added, Unified needs to make profound changes soon.

"We're falling behind the state on just about every test given," he said, referring to standardized test scores. "If the tests are good, bad or indifferent, if you're not keeping up with tests in the state, that's a bad, bad indicator."

June 10, 2008

Floodwaters recede; now the work begins

The Root River's receding (track it HERE). Many streets that were under water Monday are now dry, or almost dry. The air is filled with the sound of generators and pumps.

Homeowners, allowed to return to their homes, meet in small groups to compare and commiserate. Water that was up to the first floor is now only knee high in some basements. One of the questions they ask each other: "Did you have flood insurance?" For many, the answer is "no." It cost too much, they say... $1,200 or so. Now, in retrospect, it seems like a good idea.

For many, the power still isn't on, so there's no electricity, clean water or toilets. The pumps are all running off generators, or gasoline. Police are still stationed around the hardest-hit neighborhoods, both to keep unwary drivers out of danger and also to prevent any looting attempts at vacant homes.

Here are a few pictures taken Tuesday afternoon, from some of the same areas we photographed Monday (See HERE.) Clearly, the water is down. It's most noticeable in the picture at the top of this post, from the intersection of Spring Street and Island Avenue. Yesterday, that retaining wall by the bridge was totally under water.

Breaking News: Dr. Pulliam withdraws application for Unified superintendent

Dr. Pulliam at Golden Rondelle forum in April

Final, final update: The J-S reports the telling detail about Pulliam's decision. The Georgia district -- with just 2,100 students, one-tenth the size of Unified -- is paying her $155,000. Racine Unified started negotiations at $120,000. Could that be why the district is having a hard time attracting candidates? Here's how her hiring was announced in Georgia.

Final Update:
The Greene County Board of Education voted unanimously tonight in Greenesboro, GA, to hire Barbara Pulliam as its superintendent, thus snatching her from the Racine Unified School District, whose board made a similar vote in April. She will be joining a district in turmoil, one that fired its superintendent last Wednesday, one year into a three-year contract, in a dispute over a plan to implement gender-separate classes.

She starts work there Monday.

According to a story on OnlineAthens, she interviewed with the board the same night it decided to fire Shawn McCollough last week.

Unified has been negotiating a contract with Pulliam since selecting her from a field of three finalists on April 29.

Not everyone in Greensboro is happy to have Pulliam. A Georgia state legislator, familiar with her previous district in Clayton, GA, "the worst school district in the South," he said, was quoted by the owner of the Greensboro newspaper in the Journal Times, saying: "If the captain of the Titanic had survived, and got another ship, would you like to be a passenger on his next voyage?"

And let us be the first to ask out loud: Does this mean we get our $37,000 back from PROACT Inc., the executive search firm that produced our superintendent candidates? Or just a discount on the next search?

Update: Here's an official statement from Tony Baumgardt:
The Racine Unified school board was notified last night, before its closed door session, by a phone call from Dr. Barbara Pulliam's attorney that she was withdrawing her application for the Superintendent position. The Board had every indication from Dr. Pulliam that she was coming to Racine, and her attorney did not give any reason for her withdrawal. The Board is surprised and disappointed that she will not be our next Superintendent.

The district will proceed immediately with a new search for a superintendent. Dr. Jack Parker, who has served as interim superintendent, will continue to provide leadership at least throughout the summer allowing the board time develop a plan for its next steps. We will keep the staff and community apprised of the process and the progress of the search for a new leader for the district.
Original post: Barbara Pulliam will not be Racine Unified School District's next superintendent. Pulliam withdrew her name for the job, according to an email sent to Unified teachers on Tuesday. She and the board had been negotiating a contract for more than a month, and she had been expected to start work here on July 1.

The school board was notified last night, before its closed door session, by a phone call from Pulliam's attorney.

Unified School Board President Tony Baumgardt said in an interview on WRJN this morning: "Every indication that we had from Dr. Pulliam was that she was coming to Racine. Something's happened and we honestly don't know what it is.

"Basically, the message we got from her attorney is that she's not in a position to call us. I don't know how to read into that. I really don't. I'm unsure.

"I'm actually very surprised and disappointed that she won't be coming to be our superintendent."

(Update: The Journal Times this afternoon quoted her attorney saying she found another superintendent's job that she prefers. “She simply found another offer a better fit for her and she took it,” said Joe Flynn, who represented Pulliam in her negotiations with Unified. “It’s unfortunate, but it is not unusual.”)

Baumgardt indicated the district probably would have to proceed with another interim superintendent. Dr. Jack Parker, who has served as interim superintendent since Dr. Tom Hicks' resignation last fall has said he is not interested in staying on longer. His contract ends June 30.

Pulliam was selected by the Racine Unified School Board to replace Hicks, who resigned under fire for his handling of district finances. The board voted 7-2 on April 29 to hire Pulliam. Dennis Wiser and Julie McKenna voted against her.

Pulliam, the former superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, Ga., was one of three finalists for the job. She never reached a contract with the School Board.

Pulliam did not return multiple calls to her cell phone Tuesday morning.

Past stories:

Pulliam's successor making $285,000

Statement by RUSD on hiring Pulliam

Wiser, McKenna: Why we voted 'no'

Grading Unified's superintendent finalists

June 9, 2008

Kohl asks FEMA for State of Emergency declaration

U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, was joined by the Wisconsin congressional delegation in urging Administrator David Paulison of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give immediate consideration to Gov. Jim Doyle’s state of emergency declaration after severe storms and flooding caused massive damage throughout the state.

The delegation's letter says:
Dear Mr. Paulison:

Yesterday Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle declared a state of emergency for 29 counties hard hit by widespread flooding and severe storms. These storms have caused considerable damage to homes, businesses, roads, power lines and trees.

These storms are particularly challenging to regions of our state which had already experienced above normal rainfall. As of 9:30 A.M. (Eastern Time) today the Red Cross has opened shelters in Columbus, Gays Mills/Soldiers Grove, Spring Green, La Farge, Ontario, Viroqua, Reedsburg, Richland Center, Elroy, Madison, Avoca and Racine,Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has or is preparing to dispatch work crews to Baraboo, Fall River and Columbus. The state Emergency Operations Center continues to receive requests for sandbagging, evacuation and other assistance.

Over the next few days damage assessment reports will be analyzed in more detail. Once that occurs, we anticipate a state appeal for federal disaster assistance. We encourage you to give any appeal submitted by Governor Doyle your immediate and full consideration.

Are you on the dry side of the street ... or under water?

No picnics in this backyard on Island View

The bridge at Kinzie and Horlick

In many cases, it came down to something very simple: for example, what side of the street your house is on.

On one side: dry basements, few problems. On the other -- closest to the Root River -- disaster. Water up to the ceiling in the basement, rooms and possessions ruined, the furnace gone forever.

Lucy Chaffee, who has lived on Park View for seven years, has a line of sandbags, three deep, on the river side of her house, put there by a Public Works crew about 8:30 this morning. So far, the Root River hasn't risen beyond them. Not that it really matters: she has six feet of water in her basement anyway.

"Our house is at the highest point on the street," she says wryly. "It's never been like this before." Her basement flooded, apparently, due to runoff and ground water. She has no sump pump -- "I wish I did," she said -- not that it would have done any good once the power on her street was turned off by We Energies.

Still, she says she's one of the "lucky" ones, who has flood insurance. "I've complained about paying it for the last seven years, but now it's OK!"

While we spoke, Norb Rolfers of We Energies was high overhead in a crane, cutting powerlines to this house and that -- making sure that when the power was restored to the neighborhood as a whole it would not come on to those homes still flooded. Electricity and gas crews were walking up and down the riverside, on Park View, Domanik and other flooded areas, asking homeowners whether they had water in their basement. The answer, on the river-side of the street, was usually yes, and those houses lost power -- to be restored who-knows-when.

Over in Island Park, there were places you just couldn't go. The streets were knee-high in water and police were routing traffic as best they could.

Jennifer Doyle said, "It was like a carnival atmosphere last night; people with cameras were out at Spring Street, watching the rushing water." Normally the Root is 6 inches to two-feet deep there -- too shallow for canoes even. But that was then, this is now. "They had sandbags stacked up on the wall at the bridge. We were watching and it was amazing how fast the water was rising. We drove on Spring Street at 10:30 p.m., but by midnight the water was too high," she said.

The city has a wastewater pumping station on Spring Street, which pumps sewage toward the treatment plant. This morning, a hose from the building was pumping water into already-flooded Spring Street ... but it wasn't sewage, only rainwater from inside the building. Sam Hoffmann, wearing hip waders, ran up with a spare pair of boots for a co-worker.

Waiting for the next batch of sandbags at Lutheran

At Lutheran High School, hope was palpable. A line of more than 1,000 sandbags ringed the school, courtesy of the Department of Public Works. Around noon, there was no water in the school ... although predictions that the river would rise another nine inches made workers nervous. Across the street, sump pumps were trying to keep up with basement seepage.

On Domanik, the United Way -- located on the first floor of Lincoln Lutheran's four-story headquarters -- was fighting the rising water. You couldn't get to the building without wading through it, and by about 9 a.m. this morning, the place was "waterlogged," with about three inches of water on the floor. Computers had been relocated to the second floor. "We're closed for the week, I'm sure," said Dave Maurer, United Way's executive director. Staff and volunteers will meet off-site as necessary.

Horlick Dam was a maelstrom. Water was rushing over the top creating a whirling rapids below. More problematic, water was pouring through the dam's retaining wall on the north side, next to the Day's Inn Riverside.

Horlick Dam, not holding back much water.

...and here's the dam's leaking retaining wall.

Meanwhile, more rain is predicted.