State Officials Begin To Appeal FEMA’s Denials

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State officials say they’re planning to appeal dozens of cases where the Federal Emergency Management Agency has refused to cover all the costs of town flood recovery projects. 

The cases represent a small percentage of the total number of FEMA projects, but officials say they’re concerned about how the decisions will affect future flood related coverage.

Not long ago, Vermont officials were downplaying their disagreements with FEMA.  They called it "creative tension." 

But in the wake of questions over how much FEMA will help with state projects like the Waterbury office complex and the state hospital, officials are now using words like deceived and frustrated. 

The state is also going to bat for towns that have been denied the FEMA funding they sought.  Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter says the state plans to file appeals for 40 town projects and more are expected.

Minter says many of the appeals involve replacing older culverts and bridges with structures that meet current codes.

"We are concerned about a fundamental pattern that we are finding where state codes that require towns to build to a high standard, to upsize our bridges and culverts, to do exactly what we believe we need to be doing to build back stronger, some of those costs are not being deemed eligible  by FEMA," says Minter.

In Grafton, the town was required to follow state codes and rebuild two culverts to withstand a 50-year flood. 

Bill Kearns is Grafton’s emergency management director.  Kearns says FEMA has agreed to pay for repairs designed to withstand a 25 year flood, which wouldn’t provide adequate protection.

 "We have 25 year storms all the time.  So we would be losing roads all the time," Kearns adds.

The 40 projects being appealed represent a very small percentage of the roughly 3,000 projects submitted to FEMA. 

Irene Recovery Officer Minter says the significance lies not in the number but the impact similar decisions in the future, "Because it’s not only Irene and how we respond and how we build back stronger, but it will set a precedent for us going forward."

FEMA officials declined to answer questions about the appeals.  A spokesman told VPR last month that the agency is working to maximize federal funding available for flood recovery projects.

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