FEMA takes new look at Bennington funding request

BENNINGTON - The Federal Emergency Management Agency will take a second look at the town's work to secure the Roaring Branch after Tropical Storm Irene to determine whether Bennington will be reimbursed for the $4.2 million spent in emergency protective measures.

$4.2 million spent

A letter, dated Nov. 16, was sent to state officials Vermont Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding to clarify how FEMA plans to deal with requests for reimbursements that it has denied once. 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 claimed the work should be funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and rejected the town's request for reimbursement.

The offices of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch took up the case on behalf of Bennington, Woodford and Rockingham, and met with FEMA officials in Washington. FEMA has since determined that the NRCS does not have the authority to fund the emergency work completed by the town of Bennington and others. "It is important to recognize, however, that this determination is not a guarantee of Public Assistance eligibility," the letter notes. Still, now that FEMA recognizes it is responsible for funding such projects the door is open for Bennington to recoup some or all of its costs, said Daniel Monks, the town's planning director.

"It's a good step forward. We still have to work with FEMA to revise the (project worksheets). Ideally, they'd just take the zero off and put the full amount in and call it a day, because they're pretty detailed (project worksheets). They may want more information," Monks said on Wednesday.

The letter from FEMA also includes a reminder that the agency will only fund "the minimum effort required to eliminate an immediate threat to life, public health, and safety, or debris that is immediately up/down stream of and in close proximity to improved property."

Monks said the town used a river scientist who had already been studying the river to determine exactly what work was required to ensure safety. No additional work was completed, he said. "Our river scientist looked at this in extreme detail and carefully developed the plan regarding what he considered the minimum effort to protect against the immediate threat," Monks said.

The town will now work with FEMA and the state to review the project worksheets. Monks said he does not believe any new information will be needed.

"We feel confident that we provided adequate evidence that this met the eligibility requirements. We had significant documentation about the river before, during and after that the vast majority of folks that get funding for this type of debris removal don't have," he said. The town still has no time frame for how long it will take FEMA to review and make a decision on funding. Still, the town is now in a much better position, Monks said.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction. This was one just absolute road block that we've been able to overcome. Now, it just comes down to whether or not we meet the requirements for emergency protective measures, which we feel extremely confident we do," he said.


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