Familiar flood scene leaves bar owners in despair again

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Bob Atkinson shows the utility pole flood mark where the Aug. 28-30 Kickapoo River crested at a historic 19.84 feet in Steuben. (Photos by Correne Martin)

A hose pumped out the remaining muddy waters from Lou’s R&R bar and restaurant in Steuben Sept. 4, several days after a record flood once again filled Bob and Lou Atkinson’s bar with around 4 feet of river water.

Lou’s R&R dries out and gets cleaned up after another devastating flood hits the bar, which Bob and Lou Atkinson have owned in Steuben for over 31 years.

Thrown out to the curb were some of Lou’s damaged appliances and structural materials.

By Correne Martin

The day after Labor Day, intensely arduous amounts of work continued in the village of Steuben to clean up the ruins the record flooding Aug. 28-30 left behind. 

It was a scene all too familiar to Steuben’s tiny population of residents, vacationers and those who grew up there who returned to help during yet another time of devastation.

Rugs hung out to dry in the refreshing sun. Barn fans stood in doorways. Damaged plywood and insulation wept at the curb. Worn sandbags sat piled together with debris unclogged from the bridge. Muddy foliage hung on community playground equipment. Four-wheelers and loaders navigated their way around dumpsters growing with wreckage. Shovels and wheelbarrows were aplenty.

Utility trucks were parked outside the two bars and few homes that sustained the worst havoc downtown, as providers inspected services and structures.

This was all part of the depressing scene in Steuben as well as at its neighboring Kickapoo River communities. Meanwhile, a resurgence of the flood waters occurred thanks to more heavy rains Sept. 3-5. Water enveloped numerous Crawford County highways and side roads yet again, though not as severe, during the second round.

Inside Lou’s R&R bar and restaurant, Bob Atkinson shoveled  what appeared to be the last layer of mud out of his establishment. 

“At 15.7 (feet), the water stays under my building,” Bob noted. 

Considering the Kickapoo’s record crest hit 19.84 feet in Steuben this time—which was more than half a foot higher than the 2008 height of 19.16—more than 4 feet of water plunged over the sandbags and inside the building, coming up just shy of the bar top. 

“We lost our hot water heater, air conditioner, grill and furnace,” quipped a fed-up Bob, who, with his wife, Lou, has run his Steuben business for more than 31 years. 

Walking around Lou’s R&R, it was clear Bob and Lou had removed the wainscoting and much of the furniture and decor from the interior before the water rose. 

“But you just get to a point where your mind can’t remember everything ahead of time,” Bob said, “and furnaces and air conditioners don’t move.”

Having endured seven floods in 11 years, the Atkinsons, who also reside above their tavern, seemed to be broken in spirit, simply going through the motions last week. 

Companies servicing utilities, such as phone and cable, were coming to inspect the site before resetting functions. A track hoe waded carefully onto their saturated property to flip a propane tank back onto its feet. Their tank was one of three 1,000-gallon tanks downtown that was hoisted up and dumped by the powerful flood waters.

Before and after the crest, friends and volunteers, who had cleanup experience from having helped through a flood or two, have been quick at work to get Bob and Lou going again as soon as possible. 

In addition to replacing major appliances, restoring services and reconstructing portions of the property, Bob explained that the facility’s floor will need rebuilding too before they can reopen. He estimated it would take at least one month before he could open his doors to the public again. 

“We’ll restore the building differently. We’ve changed the structure of our property a little bit with each flood,” Lou added.

But that doesn’t mean they can do so with plenty of finances and no stress. Lou said they still have to pay their mortgage, with no income besides. They believe they’ve lost over $150,000 in income alone thanks to seven floods.

As for flood insurance, Bob said, having it only “means they can really f*** with me giving me my money.” 

“I pay $2,800 a year for flood insurance,” he continued. “It was $250 (a year) when we first opened.” He said federal reimbursement funds for flooding never seem to pay enough to cover losses either. 

When asked if the Steuben business district has ever discussed relocating out of the flood plain, Lou shared that, after the 2007 flood, there was still money available for such an option. But nothing was ever done.

Instead, the couple is left wondering “what the hell are we doing?”

“My dad once told me,” Bob said, “‘You got the water on one side of you and good ski/snowmobile hills on the other side.’ Dad was a visionary but he couldn’t have envisioned this.”

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