FEMA offers to pay less than half of Bennington’s Irene costs
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | May 04,2013
BENNINGTON — The town is expected to get almost $1.6 million in federal reimbursement for damages caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, but town officials aren’t happy because the amount is less than half of the almost $4 million spent to repair the Roaring Branch of the Walloomsac River in hopes of preventing future flood damage.
Vermont’s congressional delegation, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernard Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch, announced Friday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, had agreed to reimburse the town for $1,579,952.
In letters sent to the Vermont Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding, Mark Landry, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said that the agency had found that Bennington’s efforts to remove woody debris from the Walloomsac would qualify for a reimbursement of about $250,700 and work to remove sediment would qualify for a reimbursement of about $1,330,800.
The latter category was based on a request the town made based on other work done in the river which a river scientist had determined was needed to prevent further risk to people and property. FEMA rejected the argument.
“(Bennington) is ineligible, however, for the other channel excavation, bank armoring, floodplain shaping and channel realignment activities as these went beyond activities required to eliminate or lessen immediate threats to life, public health or safety or eliminate or lessen immediate threats of significant additional damage to improved public or private property,” Landry said.
FEMA also found Bennington was ineligible to receive reimbursement for about $214,260 that had been spent to repair its levee.
Using a line of credit, the town has already done the work of making repairs to the Roaring Branch of the Walloomsac, which nearly jumped its banks during Irene. The Roaring Branch was the site where a widely seen video, showing a car which had fallen into the river rushing downstream, was recorded.
Dan Monks, Bennington’s planning director and zoning director, said Friday the town would appeal the decision made by FEMA in the hopes that the agency’s officials could be convinced that the costs were necessary and should be reimbursed.
Monks, who has taken the lead on the town’s lengthy effort to obtain federal aid, said he was hopeful Bennington would prevail for several reasons. He said he believed the support from the state and Vermont’s congressional delegation would be helpful and the town had the “science” to support its claims that the money spent was necessary to protecting residents and their homes.
A statement sent by the congressional delegation called the amount of the reimbursement “disappointing” and said Leahy, Sanders and Welch would “continue to advocate with the town of Bennington and the state of Vermont to assure the town receives all the support for which it is eligible.”
Monks said FEMA’s decision “isn’t a surprise.” Last year, the agency determined the reimbursement should come from the National Resources Conservation Service until officials with the service were able to convince FEMA that it didn’t have the statutory authority to pay the reimbursement.
Now Monks said he’s hoping the Select Board will support his plan to make an appeal which must be made in 60 days. The letters from FEMA say Landry’s decision is “not a final agency action,” so it’s not clear when the appeal must be filed.
Monks said he believed FEMA has subjected Bennington to “unusual, extraordinary and intense scrutiny . . . well beyond that normally required of a community struggling to recover from a disaster” and he hoped the town would get a more normal review of its request as it made an appeal to FEMA’s national office. The rejection of much of the reimbursement was made by the Region 1 office based in Boston.
A call to FEMA’s press office Friday afternoon was not returned.