Dane County is offering more than $1 million in state and local funds to buy property along Fish Lake in northwest Dane County, though some property owners plagued by flooding in recent years would rather stay put.

Dane County recently received a $650,000 Department of Natural Resources grant and, with $362,000 in borrowed funds included in this year's budget, is offering to buy flood-prone properties from willing sellers, County Executive Kathleen Falk said.

Removing homes from areas that frequently flood is the most cost-effective way of ensuring they aren't damaged by future high waters, Falk said. The county anticipates removing all structures from purchased properties and planting native vegetation to help protect the shoreline. The public land would then be available for fishing access.

Tom Kavanaugh, whose parents bought his house on Fish Lake Road in 1962, said while a few of his neighbors' houses are uninhabitable from recent flooding and may sell, he and others still fighting the floodwaters don't plan to move.

"Where can I buy a property on the lake for what they're going to give me? Nowhere," Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh remains frustrated with the bureaucratic process it has taken to pump water out of Fish Lake and nearby Crystal and Mud lakes, which don't naturally drain to any local rivers and have flooded in recent years as the water table has risen.

Local property owners created a special lakes district and installed a pump for $600,000 in 2005, but the permit expired in December 2008 as flood waters continued to rise. An emergency pumping permit that allows more water to be transported was granted in July 2009, but Kavanaugh must still conduct regular testing of the water that gets transported to the Wisconsin River.

DNR spokesman Greg Matthews said it took a long time for the neighborhood to apply for the pumping permit, but once they did the DNR processed it quickly.

"What's unique about it is the hydrogeology out there," Matthews said. "(The high water levels) could last for 10 or 15 years. Then in 2020, they could experience a 10- to 15-year period of very low water."

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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