Friday February 8, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The federal government is now asking the town for additional information before it will decide if the town will be reimbursed for $4.2 million in emergency work completed by the town in the immediate aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

Asked for more information

Federal Emergency Management Spokesman David Mace said Thursday that the disaster response agency asked the state for more information on Tuesday. The state is seeking the reimbursement on behalf of the town.

A town official said Thursday that the request for additional information is just another in a string of delays caused by FEMA.

Flood waters from the storm created a safety hazard by amassing debris under bridges, eroding banks and altering the river channel. As a result, the town began working immediately after the storm on debris removal and other "emergency protective measures."

But FEMA denied the town's request for reimbursement, claiming the work should be funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency backed off that position, however, after the state's congressional delegation intervened, resulting in FEMA acknowledging that NRCS had no authority in the matter.

FEMA then sent a letter to the state dated Nov. 16 to explain how it planned to deal with requests that it had previously rejected.


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Now, more than two months later, FEMA has determined it needs more information before issuing a decision.

"FEMA has requested additional, more empirical information from the town of Bennington. We sent this request for the information to the state of Vermont," FEMA spokesman David Mace said Thursday.

Mace, who works in FEMA's Essex Junction field office, said the agency needs "much more specific" information than has been provided about any properties that were protected from the emergency work performed. Additionally, FEMA needs to know of the conditions along the river, including flooding, bank failure or erosion. The documentation should include photographs, Mace said.

The information previously compiled and submitted by the town is "not at the level of detail that we were looking for."

Bennington Planning Director Daniel Monks said he was informed of FEMA's latest request Thursday and is still waiting to hear what additional information FEMA is seeking. A conference call with local and state officials will then take place to determine how to proceed, he said.

Monks said FEMA continues to ask for information in incremental steps, delaying a decision.

"I think they're, frankly, shocked that we give them everything, and then they say, ‘OK, what else can we ask for?'" Monks said. "It smacks of an effort to try and trip us up. We're going to find out."

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com or @nealgoswami on Twitter.