First round of flood grants approved
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | November 08,2012
MONTPELIER — Communities and businesses struck by last year’s flooding disasters could soon see some drastic changes.
On Wednesday, the Vermont Community Development Board recommended approval of four of six projects across the state seeking a new round of disaster relief money — including money for Johnson, which has been without a grocery store since May 2011, and Brattleboro, where an elderly housing facility still remains in an especially risky flooding area.
At the meeting, held at the National Life building in the Montpelier, Waterbury Community Planner Steve Lotspeich stressed the need for the projects to board members. The community also plans to have several other projects go before the same board, including a $1 million request to help with prep work for a municipal office complex.
“We have three large needs in Waterbury,” Lotspeich said of the applications currently before the community development board. “We’ve already lost seven small businesses in Waterbury.”
The board recommends projects to the state secretary of commerce and community development, who approves the grants.
The money comes through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program. The state landed more than $21 million last year.
Of that money, nearly $9.8 million is going toward a commission for buyouts of disaster-damaged properties and a nonprofit for rehabilitation work, down payment assistance and financial counseling for homeowners impacted by flooding.
Aside from administration costs, the rest of the money is going toward projects that the board recommends based on a competitive selection process. State community development workers ranked each application out of 100 as part of the review process.
The two projects that were not approved by the board included a community project seeking to reuse the flood-damaged heat plant at the Waterbury state office complex and a town of Waterbury-sponsored local development corporation to help existing and new businesses.
The district heating network project failed to meet certain minimum requirements needed. The Waterbury Community Energy group, part of the area’s long-term recovery efforts, submitted the application. The project received a score of 29.25, and state officials suggested the project didn’t meet unmet needs connected with Irene.
Board member Sarah Carpenter said the question about funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the delay of rebuilding the Waterbury state office complex also complicated the issue.
Board members rejected the town-sponsored project, a local development corporation, in part because it only served one community and the outreach seemed to overlap another business assistance application, which requested $1 million and presented a regional approach.
Despite the unsuccessful applications, Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Hollar, of the state’s Economic, Housing and Community Development Department, said Waterbury has done a lot more planning than other communities.
Projects can still be received and resubmitted, but priority is given to areas particularly hit by natural disasters.
The $1 million business assistance program involves the Central Vermont Community Action Council, the Central Vermont Economic Development Corp., and the Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. Funds will meet unmet needs of businesses related to last year’s disasters.
The housing project involves the Brattleboro Housing Authority. The money, $100,000, will help fund a study to examine renovations at several sites.
The project affects about 180 units of public, affordable housing for elderly tenants and tenants with disabilities.
Another project hopes to restore a supermarket to Johnson. The funds would benefit Mike Comeau, who owns markets in Waterbury and Richmond.
Josh Hanford, director of the Vermont Community Development Program, said a larger supermarket chain hasn’t stepped in because the operating margins are thin, but the municipality there felt obligated to submit an application because people were driving miles out of town for groceries.
The board approved up to $509,000, but members required that Comeau submit an application to the Vermont Economic Development Authority for $200,000, and money obtained from VEDC would lower his disaster grant accordingly.
Waterbury did receive a $100,000 grant to help develop a new municipal complex. The money will help study Stanley and Wasson halls at the Waterbury state office complex, help review other sites and help with building plan work like permit review, building schematics and site planning.
State officials expect some 10 or 15 more applications are already in the works, and the board will meet again in December.
“We’re excited to have applications and start rolling out the money,” said Hollar, the deputy commissioner. “Even though Tropical Storm Irene was more than a year ago, there are still a lot of needs out there.”