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Officials warn flood victims of possible issues during cleanup

Published On: Jun 26 2013 05:32:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 26 2013 07:05:12 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

The heavy rainfall that has passed through southern Wisconsin may bring two different issues for flood victims to deal with, cleanup scams and well contamination.

Wisconsin can expect a slew of storm chasers to arrive over the next few days, but these are not meteorologists looking to study the science behind severe weather. Instead, they're people consumer experts worry will blindly knock on doors in flooded neighborhoods in an effort to cheat victims who want to fix their home's problems as soon as possible.

"They're scam artists," said Kimberly Hazen, who is the Regional Director of the Southwest Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. "I'm not saying everybody who comes to your door on a cold call is a scam artist, but there's a vast majority of these kinds of people who come through town, fly-by-night agencies, and you just don't know what you're getting. Whether they're licensed, insured, you just don't know."

Hazen understands the desire to get the water out and the fixes going as quickly as possible, but encourages property owners to solicit multiple bids from contractors and research them before making a decision to hire someone.

"Take a step back and think about who you're hiring," Hazen said. "Don't take the first offer. Don't take the lowest offer. Make sure you understand the qualification of who you want to have do the work."

The State's Division of Trade and Consumer Protection is also suggesting consumers flag anyone asking for a large payment up front.

"If you are in a situation where you need an emergency repair, there's a temptation to take the first offer you get, especially if it seems like a reasonable offer money-wise, but if you make a $1,000 payment up front and get nothing in return, obviously it's not that great a deal," said Sandy Chalmers, who runs the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection within the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Other warning signs consumers should be aware of include making sure a contractor has a license to do the work they're promising to do. If they ask consumers to pull the permits for the job for them, that should be a concern. Further, consumer experts said it is imperative to make sure any company you decide to do business with has insurance.

"They're working on your home (and) they might be on your roof, they might be on a big ladder," said Hazen. "If something happens to a worker on your home property and they don't have insurance, you're on the hook and that can be lifetime care, whatever it is."

More tips for homeowners include getting a written contract with no blank spaces and checking with your insurance company to make sure you know what your policy covers and how to file for reimbursement.

To research companies in Wisconsin click here.

State drinking water officials are urging private well owners to take action immediately if their wells become flood, according to a release.

The heavy rains and threat of flooding in southern Wisconsin have spurred conversation around possible contamination, according to the release.

Anyone that sees a well surrounded by floodwaters should stop drinking water from that well and have it tested to make sure it is safe, Steve Ales, private water section chief for the Department of Natural Resources, said in the release.

Ales said as of June 26 he hadn’t received specific reports of contaminated wells but that forecasts calling for more heavy rains and potential flooding should put well owners on alert.

Flood waters contain bacteria and waste contaminants that can threaten water supplies, Ales said. Wells located in pits and basements are especially susceptible to contamination.

Well owners whose wells become flooded should assume their wells are contaminated and stop drinking the water, disinfect the well, and test well after disinfection to assure water is safe, according to the release.

Officials said wells should be disinfected with a chlorine solution and the solution must come in contact with all surfaces of the well.

Alec said well disinfecting is best done by a licensed well driller or pump installer.

Officials say lists of pump installers, and well drillers and laboratories certified to test water for bacteria can be found by searching on the DNR website for “flood,” and clicking on the link for “Recommendations for private wells inundated by flooding.”

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