Shumlin says the state can’t wait for answers from FEMA, his administration will go ahead with $170 million in projects

Gov. Peter Shumlin, left, and Jeb Spaulding, secretary of the Agency of Administration, meet with reporters at the Waterbury State Office Complex on Sept. 12, 2012.

The state is no closer to determining just how much money FEMA will make available for the reconstruction of the Waterbury State Office Complex and the Vermont State Hospital.

Gov. Peter Shumlin met with FEMA officials newly assigned to Vermont on Wednesday and he said he was told the federal agency is not ready to give the state a dollar amount for reimbursements for the two construction projects more than a year after Tropical Storm Irene heavily damaged the buildings in Waterbury.

“I expressed to them my extreme frustration with the slow pace, with the extraordinary bureaucracy and with a lack of answers after a year of plenty of pain on behalf of Vermonters,” Shumlin said. “In addition to the frustration, I think we made some progress with the new team in understanding how badly we need answers now. We are going to continue to work closely with FEMA and get Vermont what it deserves to rebuild communities, to rebuild the state office complex and to rebuild the state hospital and a mental health delivery system as quickly as we know how.”

Shumlin said the state can wait no longer. State employees are traveling too far to offices that are inadequate; the town of Waterbury is losing businesses because fewer workers are in town to buy goods and services; and the state’s most acutely ill mental health patients continue to turn to emergency rooms for help.

Shumlin told the state’s press corps that his administration will go ahead with $170 million worth of projects: $125 million for a new state office building and $45 million for mental health facilities.

He is hoping FEMA will give the state $80 million to $90 million for the Waterbury complex and $15 million to $20 million for a new Vermont State Hospital in Berlin and smaller mental health expansion projects at four community facilities around the state. The state set aside $29 million in the capital bill for the projects. In addition, officials are still wrangling with the insurance company over a reimbursement figure.

Shumlin said he had made the decision to break ground for the state hospital this fall. The expansion of facilities at the Brattleboro Retreat and Rutland Regional Medical Center are under way.

The state may have to scale back its plans for the office complex, he said, if FEMA funding is less than expected, but the governor said Plan B, which entails building a new structure that would accommodate about 900 employees is his preference. In the worst case scenario, the new office building would be constructed for about 800 workers. He said he would not consider reusing the existing buildings damaged by the storm for state workers.

The state is looking to form public/private partnerships for reuse of the old structures. It’s possible, for example, that the Waterbury town offices, ruined in the flood, may be located in one of the buildings. An affordable housing group is interested in another.

One reporter asked if the timing of the press conference was related to the governor’s campaign efforts.

Shumlin said Irene shouldn’t be a political issue. He compared the impact of Irene on the state to the effect of a war on the national psyche. Vermonters, he said, should rally around the people who are still suffering in the aftermath of the storm. “One thing we can agree on is we are all united on Irene. Irene isn’t about the election,” Shumlin said.

When asked whether or not he had made any mistakes, Shumlin replied, “I don’t believe we’ve made mistakes. We’re going ahead, and this is an example of our determination to move ahead.”

“Anyone who politicizes Irene does so at his own peril,” he said, making an oblique reference to his Republican rival, Randy Brock.

Brock, as it turns out, was waiting nearby, standing behind reporters as the governor finished the presser.

The Franklin County senator told reporters that he thought the Shumlin administration had make mistakes with regard to the handling of the post-Irene crisis. He said Shumlin didn’t have contingency plans in place this spring, even though in February FEMA officials said they would not guarantee funding for the state’s plans for the office complex and state hospital.

When asked, Brock did not offer contingency plans of his own. As a challenger, he has said he doesn’t have the resources to do so.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:16 a.m. Sept. 13, 2012.

Correction: We originally reported that the Waterbury state office complex plan would cost $145 million; the accurate figure is $125 million.

Anne Galloway

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  • Kelly Stettner

    Governor Shumlin, your encouragement of individuals and contractors to “dig deep” in the beds of Vermont’s river was a monumental mistake! Your comments were in complete opposition to everything your own Agency of Natural Resources was telling you, and other agencies. That ‘mistake’ is going to cost Vermonters dearly when the next flood comes. Your budget (containing millions of tax-payer dollars) should be focused on rebuilding Vermont’s infrastructure much more wisely — using wider culverts and bridge crossings, relocating development away from floodplains, and establishing wetlands to absorb and slow storm water. But that would require the Governor to own up and admit that he made a foolish comment. Like THAT’S ever going to happen.

  • Ron Avery

    Actually the so-called fisheries biologists are saying fish might be using those diggings. Yes, we should allow the streams to continue to flood out homes as long as YOU don’t have any problems down the road right? God forbid. Oops used the “G” word in Vermont sorry.

    Shumlin is doing what every good communist/democrat/socialist dreams of doing: spending like there is no tomorrow and doing it without discussions.

  • krister adams

    Ron: If we don’t help make Waterbury whole again with 1,000+ State workers, and soon, say goodbye to Waterbury, it’s economy, and many of it’s residents. If we don’t properly and securely house mental health patients say goodbye to our so-called humane society.

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