State Begins To Tally Cost Of Damage

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(Host) Preliminary estimates are beginning to come in for the damage to Vermont from this week’s floods.

State officials say the cost will total in the tens of millions of dollars and that early damage estimates are sure to rise.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state says at least 312 homes were destroyed or severely damaged as floodwaters unleashed by Tropical Storm Irene swept through river valleys all over the state.

The state told the federal government this week that local roads, bridges schools and other buildings suffered at least $11.6 million in damage.

But Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says that estimate is very preliminary and was simply used to establish a damage threshold with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

(Spaulding) "There’s no way to extrapolate from those figures as to what the total amount of damage is either for municipalities or individuals. We just don’t know that yet."

(Dillon) Spaulding expects that when the final tally comes, officials will learn that more homes have been destroyed or seriously damaged.

(Spaulding) "For individual assistance for Vermonters it’s really a subjective story: You have to make the case that the assistance is necessary. And they did enough of an assessment in the various counties we’ve filed for already to make that case, and apparently successfully. But that doesn’t mean that’s the extent of the damage there."

(Dillon) And the preliminary figure given to FEMA doesn’t include damage to state highways or state buildings, such as those damaged in Waterbury.

Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said that the state will receive 100 percent federal funding to rebuild roads on the federal aid system that were destroyed by the flood. That system involves much more than the interstate highways. The roads include Routes 4 and 9, major east-west roadways severely damaged by Irene.

Searles said the feds have already provided $5 million to repair Vermont roads.

(Searles) "They will act with us on a reimbursable basis from now on. We’ll do repairs, preliminary, early repairs and then longer-term repairs, over a period of probably years. And if they’re connected with this event, they’ll be reimbursed from the emergency fund at 100 percent federal."

(Dillon) The cost to repair infrastructure is expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars. But Spaulding says a special legislative session is not needed to deal with funding issues caused by the storm.

(Spaulding) "We have an emergency board. That emergency board basically has the authority to re-allocate up to $25 million, if necessary. We’re not sure that will be necessary in state funds in the next little while. But we feel that our state cash flow, our state cash position is very strong and we have the authority without a special session."

(Dillon) Spaulding says officials are re-evaluating the future of the state office complex in Waterbury where the raging Winooski River caused extensive damage. The complex also houses the state hospital. Its patients have been re-located and Spaulding said the flood may speed up plans to close the hospital.


For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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