Gov. Peter Shumlin today announced that the State of Vermont is appealing FEMA's decision to deny public assistance for the full cost of replacing a culvert demolished during Tropical Storm Irene. The original culvert, which was located under Dam Road in the Town of Townshend, was a steel, corrugated pipe that was washed downstream during the Irene flooding and was damaged beyond repair. Noting that many other Vermont towns have been denied FEMA reimbursement on similar grounds, the Governor said that the state would support the towns' appeals to FEMA officials in Washington, D.C.
Following the flood, Townshend replaced the culvert with an open arch concrete structure in accordance with state and federal permit requirements. The new structure is designed to withstand future flood events and, while more expensive to build than simply replacing the old steel pipe, will save public funds over the long-term.
"We have to make smart choices with public funds, consistent with the law. In this case the Town of Townshend has done both," Gov. Shumlin said. "We are committed to rebuilding stronger post-Irene, and Vermont's towns should not be denied FEMA reimbursement for meeting state infrastructure repair standards designed to withstand future storms."
The appeal explains that the denial of public assistance for the installed structure by FEMA's regional office in Boston violates both FEMA law and regulation. The State's appeal also notes that FEMA's regional officials are taking an unnecessarily stringent view of the law and are ignoring the fact that Townsend has chosen the least cost means of complying with state and federal standards. The State further describes FEMA's approach to sizing stream crossing structures as outmoded and without consideration of modern understanding of river dynamics. The appeal concludes that the culvert replacement that FEMA favors would not comply with state or federal requirements, would jeopardize the natural and built environments, and would be a poor use of public funds.
Sue Minter, Vermont's Irene Recovery Officer, summarized Vermont's concerns by noting that "we must not ignore the lessons of Irene, past flood events and predicted changes to weather patterns in Vermont to replace the old culvert with one that will just wash away in the next major flood event. Vermonters expect frugality from their public officials, not resistance to modern standards for repairing our transportation assets."