Oconto County Sheriff's Department Squad Car Damaged.
Oconto County Hard Hit By High WatersIssue Date: May 18, 2022
No Injuries Due to Flooding
Flash floods from spring runoff and heavy rains throughout the night of Thursday, May 12 caused some major damage to roads in parts of Oconto County, particularly the mid-central area including the towns of Lena, Brazeau, Spruce, Oconto, Maple Valley and more. Roads were closed, many of them washed out, and at least three school districts cancelled classes on Friday due to hazardous driving conditions.
By Monday, May 16 most of the roads had been re-opened. The County Emergency Management Office said three of the road closings will remain in effect until further notice. They are Brock Road in the Town of Maple Valley; County B from west County A to west County M in the Town of Spruce, and County A from Buseman Road to County G in the Town of Maple Valley.
The closures of County B and County A will be extended closures, estimating to take longer than a few weeks to reopen at a minimum. Damage and cost estimates are still being completed as water levels recede.
The public is advised to continue to avoid water-hazard flooded areas, and cautioned not to drive into flooded roadways or around barricades.
Oconto County has issued a Flood Emergency due to flooding and high water until further notice. Multiple municipalities also issued disaster proclamations.
Residents in flood areas were cautioned not to drink their well water until it is tested for safety.
"As we continue to work through this emergency event, the Public Health Division of the Oconto County Health and Human Services Department will distribute free well water test kits to residents affected by flooding," Emergency Management Director Jon Spice said. Test kits were distributed at the Spruce Town Hall on Tuesday, May 17 and on Wednesday, May 18 at the Oconto County Courthouse.
"Oconto County is committed to keeping you informed and safe. Please follow our Facebook page, the Oconto County website for continued information, as well as the State travel website, or by calling 511," the news release stated.
Reports were that five inches or more of rain fell on Thursday alone. Road washouts and treacherous conditions led the Oconto County Sheriff's Office to close numerous roads and to recommend cancellation of school classes on Friday, May 13 in the hardest hit areas of the county.
"We came out in full force, the highway department came out and did their best, and we had several local fire departments come out and assist as well," Spice said. "We try to put flashing lights, barrels, barricades all those types of things out to warn people it's not safe to travel through certain areas."
Theme of the National Weather Service in flood areas is, "Turn around, don't drown," and signs to that effect were posted in danger areas, but there were not enough of those signs to put them everywhere they were needed. The Town of Lena ran out of hazard signs and asked motorists to stay off roads there.
In numerous places roads were undermined from beneath, but from the top you couldn't tell, so it looked like it was good road to drive on, Spice told reporters. He said in multiple places vehicles had fallen through the blacktop due to the flash floods, and one of those was an Oconto County Sheriff's Department squad car.
Sheriff Todd Skarban said a deputy and his K-9 partner were driving on County A in Maple Valley, responding to a call about a tree that had fallen on a vehicle on Sleeter Road, when a section of County A collapsed under them and water came roaring through. The squad car crashed in head first, with a jolt hard enough to set off the air bags. Neither of the officers was hurt, and they escaped from the vehicle with the help of a nearby highway department employee.
A four-foot wide section of pavement that spanned the entire width of the roadway had washed away and water continued to pour through at significant force.
Roads closed on Friday included County B from Yatso Road to Steffel Road, not passable at all, with part of the road gone; County A between Hwy. 32 to County G; County K and I were passable for emergency vehicles only, but not the general public; County A from County I to Sunshine Road was closed, with most of it under water; Belgian Road and Alsteen Road were closed because the intersection was too deep and not passable; County K from County A to Valley Line was closed, as were Burg Road, Sunshine Road, and Goatsville Road, which were all under water. The Sheriff's Office news release noted that the Town of Lena was out of signs and so the Town Chair recommended that there be no travel in the town until conditions improved.
Parts of County M had been closed, but the entire length had been re-opened by the time the news update was issued on Friday morning.
Other roads that had been closed but were already re-opened included Lee Lake Road, Brazeau Town Hall Lane, Section 8 Church Road, Goldhorn Road by County Q; County G and Hwy. 22/32; Benz Lane and Prausa Lane.
At noon on Friday County J near Sprise Road south of County A and east of Lena was reported under water, but a number of other roads had been re-opened.
Sheriff Skarban thanked the Oconto County team and the entire community for their ongoing efforts during the flood emergency.
He praised citizens, churches, schools and small businesses for stepping up to help their neighbors, and highway crews, dispatchers, deputies, police departments, fire departments, EMS, county officials and our administration for great teamwork and for working so hard behind the scenes to remedy another catastrophic weather event.
He gave special thanks to County Administrator Erik Pritzl, County Clerk Kim Pytleski, Emergency Government Director Spice, Highway Commissioner Brandon Hytinen, Oconto Fire Department Chief Bostedt and Deputy Chief Pecha "for burning the midnight oil with me in our Emergency Operations Center the night of the flood event," and added, "Your commitment to our community is admirable."
Skarban also praised the Oconto County Highway Department workers for working so hard on the road system over the weekend. "We are not out of the woods yet, but things are looking much brighter," he concluded.
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