Sixteen months after Tropical Storm Irene dumped a foot of rain on Central and Southern Vermont resulting in flooding that caused $733 million in damage to state infrastructure, the federal government and the state are still wrangling over reimbursements for the Waterbury State Office Complex, the Vermont State Hospital, town culvert replacements and home buyouts.
The Shumlin administration based its plans for the state office complex, which once housed about 1,200 workers, on the assumption that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would fully reimburse the state at a 90 percent match rate for a number of buildings at the site that were damaged. Lawmakers approved capital bill funding and plans for the Vermont State Hospital, located on the state office campus, with the hope that FEMA would foot most of the $24 million construction bill. The state hoped to get about $80 million from FEMA for the complex and $50 million and $60 million in insurance coverage. All three reimbursements remain in limbo.
GOP candidate for governor Randy Brock placed a public records request for communication between the administration and FEMA that revealed the state made broad assumptions about the reimbursements even though federal officials had repeatedly indicated the buildings would likely not be eligible for replacement costs.
Last month, FEMA determined the state isn’t eligible for public assistance for the state hospital or parts of the state office complex.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has said the state will go ahead with $170 million in projects, including $45 million for mental health facilities and $125 million for a new state office building for about 927 state employees with the Agency of Human Services.
Meanwhile, state employees have been relocated to permanent and temporary alternative locations. The Agency of Natural Resources is now housed at the National Life office complex in Montpelier, while Agency of Human Services workers are dispersed in rental office space at locations in Chittenden County and Central Vermont.
To cope with the crisis caused by the closure of the state hospital 16 months ago, officials have placed psychiatric patients in local hospitals ill-equipped to deal with influx of Vermonters with acute mental illness and is scrambling to open additional facilities at locations around the state.
At the same time officials are trying to address the thorny issues around the Waterbury State Office Complex, the state is also appealing the federal agency’s decision to deny funding for larger box culverts. The state required that 40 towns install the concrete culverts; FEMA says it won’t reimburse for the more expensive infrastructure. The difference in cost is about $10 million. It could be three to six months before FEMA responds with a determination on the matter.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency obligated or spent $166 million on public assistance and individual aid for Irene recovery costs since August 2011. The agency has given $23.2 million to 5,132 families and individuals for home repair and other needs. FEMA statistics show that 237 individuals received the maximum grant of $30,200. More than $132 million has been obligated in public assistance funding, and more than $10 million in hazard mitigation grants. FEMA has spent $53.4 million on its own operations in Vermont: $17.7 million in wages; $13.7 million on travel; $13.8 million on consultants; $500,000 on transportation.
FEMA recently rejected home buyouts for 13 homeowners whose properties were damaged by Irene. The agency has approved 81 buyouts and will pay 75 percent of the value of the homes.
In the immediate aftermath of Irene, FEMA spent $500 million on emergency road repairs in Vermont.
CORRECTION: FEMA rejected 13 buyouts, not 33, as originally reported by the Shumlin administration. The federal agency has pledged to spend $166 million on Vermont recovery efforts since August 2011, not for 2012 alone.
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