NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The town is moving forward with an appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, hoping help from state and federal officials will reverse a decision issued by the federal government last month that could leave local taxpayers responsible for $4 million in river work following Tropical Storm Irene.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd, Planning Director Daniel Monks and Select Board Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr. met with Democratic Rep. Peter Welch on Sunday to discuss the town's appeal.
Monks and Hurd announced last month that work completed on the Roaring Branch, known as emergency protective work, has been deemed to be ineligible for reimbursement. The rejection came as a shock, they said, because FEMA regulations given to the town, and FEMA officials themselves, had led the town to believe the work would be at least partially reimbursed.
The town is using the state's consultant, Washington-based Witt Associates, to appeal the decision. But exactly how to appeal FEMA's rejection of the $4 million in work completed by the town remains murky because no reason for the rejection was included. The consultants are "are a bit baffled" by FEMA's process, according to Monks.
"We are learning more and more about what seems like a procedural abnormality about the way we were notified of this. We weren't ever given any detailed reasoning of why the project worksheets were denied. Witt and Associates believes that's inappropriate, if not a violation of due process, so they're trying to figure out how to handle that issue. That may be our first route of appeal," Monks said on Monday.
"The issue is now very clouded by the fact that it's not a typical appeal. Typically you would appeal a decision with reasoning why you weren't being funded. And so, Witt and Associates is struggling with this very odd way of notifying us that we weren't eligible," he added.
Vermont's Congressional Delegation is also seeking a positive outcome for the town, according to Hurd and Monks. Welch and the state's two senators -- Democrat Patrick Leahy and independent Bernie Sanders -- recently met with FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate.
"The congressman and the two senators and their staffs have been working pretty hard on our behalf to try to secure funding for us," Hurd said. "The congressman and the two senators met with the head of FEMA in Washington, D.C. a week-and-a-half-ago and pushed the two major issues for Vermont -- The Waterbury hospital situation and Bennington."
Still, Fugate was only committed for reviewing the projects in Bennington and ensuring that Bennington would "get everything that we were legally entitled to," Monks said.
Both Hurd and Monk said the assistance from state officials and the congressional delegation bodes well for the town's case, however.
"I take great comfort in knowing that the state and our congressional delegation are working very, very closely with us," Hurd said.
"If we were out there alone in this it would be a very, very, very difficult road for us," Monk said.