Vermont Offers Money to Promote Disaster Preparedness

By WILSON RING | August 26, 2014

Vermont is preparing to implement new rules that encourage communities to take steps to reduce future flood damage in exchange for more money to help them recover from the next big flood.

Communities across Vermont have known for almost two years that, under the rules, they must meet four flood-preparedness criteria to continue to have the state pay half of the 25 percent local share of recovery costs after the Federal Emergency Management Agency pays its 75 percent share in federally declared disasters.

Some of the criteria were developed after Tropical Storm Irene hit three years ago but have not been equally enforced by communities. Communities will have to meet the new requirement to continue the even split of local costs. Those that don’t will receive only a 7.5 percent state contribution, along with the federal assistance.

“Part of the concept behind this is that towns that were not doing anything to become more flood resilient would receive exactly the same amount from the state … as a town that’s putting a lot of resources into becoming more flood resilient,” said Milly Archer, water resources coordinator for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, who has been working with town officials.

In the event of a major disaster, the difference can mean thousands of dollars for frequently cash-strapped communities.

FEMA has paid about $208.5 million public assistance to Vermont communities in the aftermath of Irene. Assistance to individuals hurt by the flooding was separate, said Dennis Pinkham, spokesman for FEMA’s Region 1, which covers all of New England.

Since Irene, there have been a number of other flood disasters in Vermont that were subject to the traditional cost split.

Pinkham said he was unaware of the new Vermont rule, but FEMA supports the idea of getting communities prepared for the next disaster, be it a flood or other disaster. There are similar enticements with some federal programs.

“Sometimes you think it’s too bad you have to go to the pocketbook, but ultimately it’s the pocketbook that gets hit when these things happen,” Pinkham said.

The four criteria are:

  • Participate or have applied to the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Adopt 2013 Road and Bridge standards and annually certify adopted standards that meet or exceed the standards designed to encourage road and bridge construction in such a way that it minimizes flood damage.
  • Annually update the Local Emergency Operations Plan.
  • Prepare a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan or draft a plan and submit it for FEMA review.

Flooding has been the most common type of disaster in Vermont. And since Irene, the state has focused a lot of attention on preparing for the next flood in hopes of reducing damage.

Ben Rose, recovery and mitigation chief at Vermont Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials began planning the new rules long before Irene hit the state Aug. 28, 2011. The rules went through 21 drafts.

“It was a long process to get this to the starting line and then Irene made it all seem so preordained,” Rose said.

It’s unclear how many communities have met the requirements, but 90 have met three of the four, the state said in a news release.

Archer said she hadn’t heard many complaints from towns about the rules.

“I think this makes sense to them because it’s dollars and cents,” she said.

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