Ravaged by spring flooding, Vermont is getting a helping hand from Uncle Sam.
President Barack Obama declared the state a major disaster Wednesday, clearing the way for federal aid to homeowners, businesses and public agencies hit by the worst spring flooding in decades.
The declaration covers Addison, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille and Orleans counties but not Washington, Caledonia and Windham counties, which included some of the hardest-hit areas.
“This is good news for Vermont. While not the full request we sought, this assistance, in combination with other federal and state loan and grant options, will go a long way toward helping Vermont recover from this flooding crisis,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who made the announcement standing at the edge of Lake Champlain, which has been past flood stage for more than a month.
The declaration means “individual assistance” – some of it in grants of up to $30,200 – will be made available to homeowners and renters, while millions more in “public assistance” could go to cities, towns and the state to help pay for road, bridge and infrastructure repairs.
Obama issued the declaration after reviewing Federal Emergency Management Agency reports on the flooding, which has stretched from the shores of Lake Champlain to villages and towns in northern Vermont to the state capital of Montpelier and neighboring Barre. Scores of roads, culverts and bridges were washed out by flash floods caused by thunderstorms May 26-27.
The aid – some in low-interest loans, some in grants – would be made available to those who suffered flood-related losses between April 23 and June 6. Homeowners or renters could get the grants to pay for rebuilding, contents or expenses related to the flooding, such as temporary housing, according to Shumlin.
Homeowners could also get up to $240,000 in low-interest Small Business Administration loans to rebuild. Businesses, meanwhile, could get up to $2 million in low-interest loans to rebuild. Government entities could get 75 percent reimbursement for their expenses repairing public infrastructure.
Al Gobeille, owner of The Shanty and Breakwaters restaurants, whose waterfront offices were ruined by floodwaters, said he hasn’t decided whether to seek the money, but he said it was great that the disaster declaration came through.
“If you’ve ever cleaned up from a flood, it is unbelievably emotional,” he said as he gave Shumlin a tour of the offices Wednesday night. “It’s devastating physically, but it’s a burden emotionally that you cannot imagine.”
Shumlin, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch pledged to continue seeking the declaration for the other three counties.
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