Townshend, state prepare to appeal to FEMA

Success in freeing displaced funds for culvert repair can set precedent for the state

TOWNSHEND — The Selectboard has voted to work with the state attorney general's office on a second formal appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the Dam Road culvert.

Board members signed the appeal at their Dec. 3 meeting.

FEMA first told the town that approximately 75 percent of the $550,000 cost of installing a new, larger, box-style concrete culvert would be covered, but more recently said it would be unable to provide assistance, as the culvert represented a significant and more expensive upgrade from the one lost to Tropical Storm Irene.

At the board's Nov. 19 meeting, Selectboard member David Dezendorf explained that the state's Assistant Attorney General Daniel Dutcher is in charge of filing the appeal.

Using this appeal as leverage, the state - which is covering the costs associated with the process - hopes to set a precedent with FEMA for aid money for Irene relief projects around the state, Dezendorf said.

“It does appear that the state is on top of this and will do everything they can to get us the money and make it work,” Town Bookkeeper Kim Ellison said.

The culvert quickly became a popular example of FEMA's unwillingness to provide aid without clear proof that the aid money is absolutely required.

Since March, both the town and the state have repeatedly contested FEMA's decision, and continue to advocate for the money. Other town projects, including another culvert repair on East Hill Road, also have been bottlenecked at FEMA.

The board first discussed filing an appeal at its April 16 meeting, after learning that FEMA was prepared to fund the Dam Road project, but at some $100,000 less than it had initially indicated.

On June 4, board members discussed getting detailed plans of the project from Beck Engineering, the company that designed the Dam Road culvert.

A reversal of the decision could also allow the state to actively pursue the appeals of hundreds of similar FEMA rejections of Irene repairs all over Vermont. The outcome of the decision could have a huge impact, according to a state spokesperson on Irene recovery efforts.

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