The town of Essex will receive $54,000 in federal funds to help offset repair costs from last October’s windstorm that downed trees and left hundreds of residents without power.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement covers 75 percent of the town’s $70,000 bill in response to last year’s storm, a price tag that includes staff labor and subcontracting costs.
However, a portion of that reimbursement ¬– $17,000 – has already been earmarked to replace a cut from the town’s operating fund vehicle budget for fiscal year 2019, leaving about $37,000 left to offset the town’s repair costs.
Public works director Dennis Lutz shared the final calculation in a memo to the selectboard.
Lutz explained staff has needed to learn how to use FEMA’s computer-driven reporting system, but good record keeping and photographic documentation moved the process along. He said the key in this storm, as in the past, was mobilizing resources and finishing as much work as possible in the first three days.
That’s because work completed during that key timeframe doesn’t require the town to use FEMA cost reimbursement codes or competitive bids, allowing the town to complete the repairs quickly while avoiding any nit-picking from FEMA, Lutz wrote.
The risk is that FEMA declarations are often made weeks or months after an event, so the town may have to absorb early costs if a FEMA disaster isn’t declared.
FEMA’s reimbursement announcement comes nine months after hurricane-force winds topping 75 mph tore through the state, downing trees and causing widespread power outages in nearly every region. Locally, crews began their response in the early hours of Oct. 30, 2017 and continued for the next week, while Essex schools were closed hours after the storm.
About a third of Vermont lost power, Green Mountain Power officials said, and the storm is one of the biggest in recent history: All told, 115,000 homes and businesses were affected, including Gov. Phil Scott’s.
The storm damaged several parks and cemeteries here in town, including Indian Brook, forcing its closure for weeks as the town cleared more than 60 trees from the main trail. Other trails in the park remained impassable for nearly a month after the storm.
Scott requested FEMA assistance a month after the storm, citing the agency’s assessment that Vermont suffered $3.7 million in public infrastructure damage, far beyond the state’s $1 million requirement for consideration.
Public assistance disaster declarations allow impacted communities to receive 75 percent reimbursement for storm response and recovery, including repairs to public roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged.