In the months since Tropical Storm Irene, there's been a lot of talk about what it means to be "Vermont Strong." For Lt. Governor Scott, self-reliance is a huge part of that Vermont spirit. Doing for oneself and one's neighbors, without waiting for a "government program" to save the day, is something Phil Scott has promoted since 2004, when he founded his Wheels for Warmth program.
After Tropical Storm Irene, Lt. Governor Scott's leadership and creative thinking were instrumental in making sure that mobile home residents in central and southern Vermont, whose homes were destroyed in the flood, were able to dispose of their ruined trailer homes in an affordable, sustainable and responsible manner.
After the storm, 14 of the state's mobile home parks reported substantial damage. Flood waters had risen up to 4 feet inside the homes in many cases, and when the water receded, it left waterlogged insulation and moldy walls behind.
In these cases, the best solution was literally to throw the homes away and replace them. However, for most of these homeowners, many of whom are seniors, disabled, or low-income families, the cost to hire a contractor to truck their mobile home unit out of the park, dismantle it, and dispose of the materials exceeded their ability to pay. Cost estimates ranged from $3,500 to upwards of $4,500. Although most flood-impacted mobile home owners received some assistance from FEMA, those disaster grants did not cover removal costs.
Lt. Governor Scott responded by turning to his construction industry experience. He reached out to members of the Associated General Contractors of VT, waste haulers and metals recyclers, and asked them to submit bids for the collective, on-site demolition of 6 to 10 homes in the same mobile home park at the same time -- as opposed to trucking them individually out of the parks. He also assembled a small administrative team, consisting of a non-profit mobile home advocacy group and state housing officials, to handle outreach and assist with other issues such as local property tax abatement and asbestos abatement.
This organization reduced the per-unit cost from the initial $3,500-$4,500 estimates, to $1,500 each. Lt. Governor Scott's leadership inspired the state's philanthropic community to raise more than $300,000 for this effort -- enough so that the group could offer the removal service completely free of charge to mobile home owners in need -- and all without spending any taxpayer dollars. Further, the built-in efficiency made it possible to get all of the destroyed homes removed from the parks before winter, providing a "clean slate" for park owners and homeowners to set new homes on those lots and move forward.
The program removed 68 mobile homes between mid-September and mid-December, 2011. Without this program, the 14 mobile home parks that were hard-hit by the storm would probably still be full of flood-damaged homes today. Those abandoned homes would be a blight on the landscape, a health hazard, and a financial albatross for homeowners, park owners, and local officials in the impacted towns.
Whether you call it "Vermont Strong," self-reliance, or just getting it done, this is the can-do spirit that Lt. Governor Scott wants to put to work more often, and as a standard practice rather than an exception to the rule.