MONTPELIER – Thursday it was a tropical storm Irene license plate.
Friday it was tropical storm Irene: the report.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, whose first year in office has virtually been defined by the Aug. 28 flooding disaster, unveiled a 70-page recovery report that he called “a roadmap to how we ensure that we rebuild Vermont better than Irene found us.”
The six part report was released the day after the governor gave an Irene-focused State of the State address where he flashed a new “I am Vermont Strong” fund-raising license plate. The report includes 48 separate actions the state needs to take to continue assisting impacted Vermonters, harness the collaborative effort that worked during recovery, and prepare the state for future disasters.
“This is not a report that will collect dust on the shelf,” the governor vowed, calling it “our bible to assure we succeed in a recovery Vermont will be proud of.”
Download the Irene Recovery Report Jan. 8, 2012
He also said it was essential after the flooding of the past year to “recognize this is a part of our future,” and said the report would be a roadmap to guide the state on how to better adapt to the challenges of devastating weather.
The latest dollar costs on Irene’s devastation put a stark face on the need to adjust, from increasing culvert sizes to floodplain management, agricultural practices, hazardous waste storage and affordable housing, all of which are categories addressed in the report.
Shumlin said the latest estimate for damages to private homes and businesses is $550 million, on top of an estimated $240 million in state roads and infrastructure costs and around $140 million for local town roads and bridges.
Shumlin said the report offered “a clear plan to take the lessons learned and apply them.”
He had extensive praise for Irene Recovery Officer Neale Lunderville, who was appointed by the governor in October to lead the recovery effort. Lunderville and his newly appointed replacement Sue Minter, who will serve for three months, joined Shumlin to discuss the report. Minter has been Deputy secretary at the agency of transportation and was highly visible after Irene struck.
Shumlin said most of the 48 action items in the report do not require legislative changes, but Lunderville explained that some will require money and others are quite complex and will take time. Lunderville cited as an example the upfront costs of resizing bridge culverts, but noted that is far cheaper than rebuilding roads.
Another example Lunderville cited is how to rethink storage of hazardous wastes, fuel and propane tanks, which all were floated away by raging rivers after Irene. That issue involves a wide complex spectrum – homeowners, businesses, legal issues and regulations and property rights – that are “not easily solvable.”
Minter said some Vermonters and towns are still struggling with recovery but others have moved on and she viewed her job as keeping the cooperative spirit of the recovery going and continuing to prove that “government can deliver.”
Lunderville said the report, which drew on the work of numerous state officials, was geared to the needs months and years down the road. Three “cross-cutting” currents ran through his work, he said: The recovery will take a long time, remarkable cooperation occurred in the storm’s aftermath, and “breaking down the silos” in state government and capturing the innovation that occurred should be the goal for the future.
On another issue, Gov. Shumlin said he backed a bill proposed by Rep. Tony Klein in the House that would impose a tax on Vermont Yankee if it continues to store radioactive waste fuel from its power reactor in Vernon.
“I feel very strongly Vermonters should be reimbursed as long as the waste is there,” he said, noting that was never part of the original plan when Yankee was built.
The state and Vermont Yankee are in a legal battle over the state’s effort to close Vermont Yankee when its license expires this year.