BENNINGTON — Town officials have one more chance to appeal a federal decision that would leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $1 million of the cost of recovering from Tropical Storm Irene.
The town spent about $3.9 million after Irene, which hit Vermont in August 2011, to remove sediment from the Roaring Branch of the Walloomsac River.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency first told the town there would be no reimbursement. But last year, after town officials appealed the decision, FEMA committed to pay $1.2 million.
That decision was also appealed. In a letter dated July 29, Paul F. Ford, acting regional administrator for FEMA’s Region 1, said the town’s appeal was being granted — in part.
The new decision would increase the reimbursement to about $2 million, said Assistant Town Manager Dan Monks. With the state’s commitment for 5 percent of the cost, that would leave more than $1 million to be picked up by taxpayers.
The numbers are approximate at this stage.
FEMA officials are not denying that Bennington spent money to remove sediment from the river and strengthen its banks, but they say that isn’t eligible for reimbursement under the guidelines.
“They’re saying that what we did does not meet their policies for emergency protective measures,” Monks said. “... We have a plethora of data and evidence to prove otherwise and we don’t believe FEMA officials have looked at that evidence.”
He added, “They’ve just done conclusory statements without any backup to determine that we’re not eligible.”
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said FEMA officials failed to account for the differences between Vermont rivers and those in other states.
“They’re used to rivers like the Mississippi and the Missouri,” Hurd said. “They’re not used to rivers that erode the way the Vermont rivers do .... It’s a matter of educating them and they’re swamped with all the various disasters that they’re trying to work their way through.”
Town officials asked for reimbursement of $3.4 million of the $3.9 million cost, because the town and the state must pay at least 10 percent.
“We’re not going to get to zero. We can’t,” Monks said. “That’s just not the way the funding works, but we’re hoping to get to 10 percent.”
Monks and Hurd said Bennington has been supported by the Shumlin administration and Vermont’s congressional delegation in its attempt to get 90 percent reimbursement.
Hurd said the town’s appeals so far have been to FEMA’s Region 1 office in Boston. The next appeal, which must be submitted within 60 days of the July 29 letter, will be made to FEMA’s main office in Washington, D.C.
Hurd said that would the town’s last opportunity to appeal the case.
The town has received more FEMA support for other work, including more than $250,000 in reimbursement for removing woody debris from the river.
Hurd said the latest letter from FEMA would be discussed by the Select Board at its meeting Monday. He said he “doesn’t have a doubt in his mind” the board will support the appeal.
A call to FEMA’s office Thursday was not returned.
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