Since Tropical Storm Irene inundated the Vermont State Hospital and the Waterbury State Office Complex, state officials have worked tirelessly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to obtain funding for the damaged structures.
The end of that process is now on the horizon.
FEMA representatives say they will provide concrete dollar figures to the state for funding a new psychiatric hospital in Berlin and four other mental health facilities. Mark Landry, the state’s FEMA coordinating officer, is expected to announce the grant amounts at a Tuesday groundbreaking ceremony for the new state hospital.
By Feb. 8, FEMA representatives hope to provide funding figures for the state office complex. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is also pushing for language in a federal Hurricane Sandy bill that would help shore up extra funding for the complex and other Irene-related projects. But the previous version of that bill died at the end of the 112th Congress. The $9.7 billion bill passed by Congress last week pertains only to FEMA’s increased authority to pay out flood insurance claims to Hurricane Sandy victims.
FEMA’s upcoming determination for Vermont comes more than a month after Gov. Peter Shumlin and his administration learned the state would be ineligible for public assistance to replace the hospital. This determination means that the state is not able to obtain a 90 percent federal match to build the new hospital and some other state facilities damaged in Waterbury.
Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said, the result will be much tighter future capital bills for state construction projects. The administration’s top capital priorities are to complete the state hospital replacement projects and redevelop the Waterbury office complex.
“No matter what happens with insurance and FEMA funding, we are going to have a very, very compressed capital bill for the next couple of years to come up with the state’s share for the state hospital replacement plan and the Waterbury office complex,” Spaulding said. “There’s no question about it. That is the sort of capital budget the Department of Buildings and General Services is putting together. People who are used to getting funds on an annual basis may have to wait a couple of years.”
FEMA and the new psychiatric facilities
Jonathan Hoyes is a FEMA consultant who works for the Virgina-based firm ATCS, P.L.C. He is in charge of overseeing FEMA’s appraisals of the Waterbury facilities that were damaged in Tropical Storm Irene.
According to Hoyes, FEMA will provide grant worksheets to the state by Tuesday afternoon with concrete funding figures for: the new 25-bed Berlin hospital, a 14-bed acute care unit at the Brattleboro Retreat, a six-bed acute-care unit at Rutland Regional Medical Center, an eight-bed temporary facility in Morrsiville and a seven-bed temporary residential facility in Middlesex. All of these facilities are temporary or permanent parts of the state’s mental health overhaul, which was enacted by the Legislature after Irene.
While the state will receive FEMA dollar determinations by Tuesday, it will not receive the actual funds. The state will have time to review the determinations, and Congress must approve the allocations — a process that Hoyes said usually takes 30 to 60 days. Also, if the state gets more assistance from insurance than initially estimated, FEMA will reduce its funding level.
Officials should know on Tuesday what the overall, combined reimbursement amounts from insurance and FEMA will be.
“When the documents are provided to the state on Tuesday, they are official documents and they will be complete estimates of the scope and cost of doing the repairs to the facilities,” said Hoyes. “As far as FEMA is concerned, that process is complete. We just need to go through a final review.”
According to Hoyes, all of the FEMA grants fall under public assistance funding. For the Brattleboro, Rutland, Middlesex and Morrisville projects, FEMA is planning to issue emergency work grants for temporary facilities. For the new state hospital, FEMA will issue two grant documents for the state hospital buildings — Brooks and the Annex — that were heavily damaged. Those grants, which are being applied to the Berlin hospital, are for repairing the original buildings, bringing them up to code and flood mitigation upgrades.
Although the state is breaking ground on the new hospital on Tuesday, it does not yet have all of the necessary permits to begin construction. The state received a conditional use permit from the town of Berlin last week, but it still must obtain a subdivision permit from the town. The final hearing for that permit is scheduled for Jan. 17.
The Buildings Department must also receive two water supply and wastewater disposal permits from the Agency of Natural Resources. Department officials expect to begin building the facility in February, and they hope to complete the project by January 2014.