Vermont Town Unhappy with FEMA Partial Aid for Irene Damage

May 10, 2013

The federal government will pay only $1.5 million of the $3.9 million the town spent on emergency work for damages from Tropical Storm Irene, Bennington town officials say.

Town Planning Director Daniel Monks told the Bennington Banner that he learned last Thursday of the preliminary decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The town had been waiting about 21 months to find out if it would be reimbursed for damages in the Roaring Branch after the storm.

Bennington can now accept the decision or appeal, but Monks said an appeal is more likely. He will meet with state officials and Vermont’s congressional delegation to determine how best to proceed.

FEMA initially denied the town’s request for reimbursement last year, claiming the work should be funded by an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency backed off that position in December, but the state’s congressional delegation intervened, keeping the door open for the town to recoup costs.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., met briefly last month with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department oversees FEMA, to push Bennington’s cause. Monks said Leahy called Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd on Thursday night and “assured him that he is going to continue to fight for full funding and that he was not happy with FEMA.”

“Not happy is an understatement,” Monks said. “He did indicate to (Hurd) that he would have another chat with Napolitano.”

The town submitted extensive information about the work it completed after the storm.

FEMA agreed to fully fund removal of woody debris that had collected against bridges, but it did not fund most of the work the town did to remove sediment from the river, or work done to fortify the river bank with rock. FEMA also rejected all funding for repairs to a flood wall that sustained damage, which the town determined at the time of the storm could not wait weeks or months for repairs.

Monks said removing debris and fortifying the banks was determined to be necessary to protect the public and was recommended by a river scientist under contract with the town.

“We didn’t just do this willy nilly,” Monks said. `We weren’t cowboys in the river.”

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