By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Addison County officials are anxiously awaiting word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the White House on whether Ripton, Middlebury and Lincoln will be awarded aid for repairs to roads, culverts and other public infrastructure damaged by a major storm last month.
Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, formally requested the federal disaster declaration from the FEMA on July 1. The request is for declarations in Addison and Franklin Counties.
Tim Bouton, a senior emergency planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, was one of several state and local officials who gathered in Middlebury on July 2 to go over a final tally of storm-related damage. Bouton said Vermont’s total estimated damage from the June 14-16 storm is $960,000.
That $960,000 means that Vermont falls $40,000 short of the $1 million threshold required to qualify for a “federal disaster declaration” from FEMA, a declaration that would funnel in grant money from the nation’s capital to cover up to 75 percent of the storm-related damage.
Still, Bouton and other officials said Vermont could qualify for aid based on a per-capita calculation of the damage. On that score, Vermont would qualify, with a per capita damage assessment of $1.24.
In essence, the declaration hangs in the balance at a time when dollars are tight and the feds are processing massive aid requests from the Midwest (major flooding) and California (fires).
“It’s unknown what the response will be from Washington,” said Bouton, who added the all-important verdict is likely to be handed down within the next two or three weeks. “We are hoping that with help from our congressional delegation, we will be successful.”
Of the $960,000 in total statewide storm damage, $269,244 is associated with Middlebury; $228,542 is related to Ripton; and $2,500 pertains to Lincoln, according to Peter Coffey, deputy director of operations and logistics with Vermont Emergency Management (VEM). The storm caused major damage to Route 125, the North Branch Road and many of its connectors. Some residents spent weeks unable to get to their homes by vehicle.
Montgomery, Rutland City, Mendon, Benson and Richford also incurred substantial damage as a result of the storm.
If federal funds are forthcoming, affected communities and their taxpayers could expect to pay for around 12.5 percent of their storm damage.
Without FEMA money, the state and the affected communities would have to go it alone.
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) does maintain an emergency fund for natural disasters. But that fund is simply not ample enough to take a $960,000 hit, according to VTrans spokesman John Ziconni.
“The calls that we get right now are exceeding the capacity of the budget,” Ziconni said. “We have more requests than funds at this time.”
Ziconni added that Vermont lawmakers could appropriate some disaster aid for the storm-ravaged communities as part of the annual Budget Adjustment Act that is hammered out in January. In this manner, communities could be retroactively reimbursed for some of the repairs they are currently making to public infrastructure.
Affected towns in Addison and Rutland counties have already been declared eligible for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) for storm damage to private property.