MONTPELIER -- A decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to authorize full payment of the cost of replacing a culvert destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene flooding could mean up to $6 million for other Vermont communities that had to do similar replacement projects, the state’s top recovery officer said Monday.
FEMA has agreed to upgrade damaged culverts -- of which there are several dozen across the state -- from their pre-Irene condition, but not for the full costs sought by many communities that are seeking to use improved designs that will better enable streams and rivers to flow more easily beneath roads and other obstacles. FEMA has said the state’s rules before Irene hit in August 2011 weren’t adequate to warrant paying for the full upgrades.
But Vermont’s Chief Irene Recovery Officer Dave Rapaport said the agency’s decision Friday to help Townshend with the cost of replacing a corrugated metal culvert with a concrete arch is reason for the state to hope more money will be flowing soon.
"While we do believe this will apply to a number of other projects, they will each have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis," Rapaport said.
On Friday, FEMA agreed to pay about $100,000 more than the $440,230 it previously approved for Townshend.
The decision only affected that particular case, but Rapaport said Townshend and the state hope the same rationale used there can be applied more broadly.
"It is important to note that the facts and circumstances of each project are unique and that this decision was specific to only this one project in Townshend," said FEMA spokesman David Mace. He declined to speculate whether other projects could get the same approval.
FEMA’s public assistance program is designed to bring damaged infrastructure back to pre-disaster conditions. They will pay for upgrades if those upgrades are mandated by a clearly delineated code or standard by a government entity, but FEMA didn’t believe Vermont’s standards in place before Irene hit were applied uniformly, Rapaport said.
"What they have said is that the state’s stream alteration standards do not fit that criteria because it relies on the discretion of our river engineers to determine what needs to go in place. We’ve said that’s not correct," Rapaport said.
The standard is ensuring the natural flow of water and sediment, making it possible for fish and other organisms to pass easily through the structure and there are several ways to meet the same goal, Rapaport said.