The state is appealing a ruling by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that denied full funding for a culvert destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene.
The state says millions of dollars are at stake, since the appeal is a test case that could set a precedent for FEMA reimbursements to towns.
The culvert in question was located under Dam Road in the town of Townshend. Flood waters from Irene swept it downstream, damaging it beyond repair.
So the town replaced it with a larger concrete arch structure that’s big enough to withstand future floods.
But FEMA officials have said the agency won’t pay for the bigger culvert. The difference between what FEMA says it would pay for and what the culvert cost the town is about $100,000.
Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter says the FEMA ruling affects many towns, and could prove costly for municipalities.
"It could be in the vicinity of $8-$10 million spread out among many towns and many projects. But we feel strongly that FEMA should be considering our state standards for bridge and culvert repair as eligible for public assistance," she says. "And that’s why we’re taking this so seriously and supporting the town of Townshend in this second appeal to Washington."
FEMA has twice ruled that it won’t pay for the larger culverts.
David Mace is a spokesman for the agency. He says the state standards are not consistently applied.
"The reason that FEMA has declined to pay the full cost of this and other upgraded structures is because FEMA has determined that the Agency of Natural Resources stream alteration permit system is discretionary and therefore it’s not an eligible standard for reimbursement," he says.
The state’s appeal says FEMA is not following its own regulations. FEMA will reimburse towns to re-build culverts to withstand a 25-year flood. But Irene Recovery Officer Minter says FEMA is supposed to help towns build better infrastructure after a disaster.
"FEMA’s mission is to reduce future hazards and to mitigate against those. And that’s precisely the same mission and standards that our state codes also aspire to reach," she says. "And that’s why we believe they are the right standards of course for us in the future, to protect public safety in the future, and to prevent roads and bridges from being washed out in future storms."
The state lost an earlier appeal at the regional level of FEMA, and has now challenged the funding decision at the agency’s Washington headquarters. Minter says Vermont will also continue to work with the congressional delegation to get FEMA to change its mind.