Area towns report damage after windstorm

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Towns have been reporting incurred costs to the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission following the windstorm late last month, and state and federal teams have been moving from county to county to assess damage.

This joint preliminary damage assessment conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state partners will help determine if Vermont qualifies for federal disaster aid.

Taylor Yeates, the public safety director with the town of Milton, reported a figure of $41,145 with the RPC.

“It includes staff time, equipment and any damages to buildings and to the town,” Yeates said of the report.

At one point during the storm, Milton was completely cut off by downed trees, according to Yeates. He reported no washouts or destruction to town buildings.

“We opened our emergency operations center,” he said. “We had 25 firefighters working an 18 ½ hour day, Sunday to the end of Monday to clear the roads.”

The town of Essex reported $65,000 in costs, a number that is not set in stone.

“The number is only going to get bigger,” Essex town engineer Aaron Martin said Monday. “There’s a crew out there today that wasn’t accounted for.”

Martin said a lot of the initial debris and downed trees were chopped up and thrown aside to get the roads back open, but he estimates two weeks of additional cleanup by town forces and contracted workers.

“We’re doing our best,” Martin said.  “People out there are working hard. They’ve earned their keep here this past storm event.”

Colchester town manager Dawn Francis said her town isn’t reporting damage to the RPC.

“The costs were minimal,” she said. “The costs incurred were to power and utility companies.”

Privately owned power and utility companies like Green Mountain Power are not included in the assessment.

Vermont Electric Cooperative, which is publicly owned, has already estimated its damages at $2.1 million, a large portion of the $4.5 million officials have identified in public infrastructure damage statewide.

Towns are not required to file a damage assessment, though they are encouraged to by Vermont Emergency Management to help determine if a request for federal aid is necessary, and where FEMA and state partners should focus their efforts should an assessment be made.

“Even if [towns] haven’t reported to the planning commission they can come forward at any time and apply for assistance,” said Mark Bosma, spokesman for VEM.

FEMA and town officials were in Essex and Colchester on Monday morning assessing damage. They are expected to be done the ground-work portion of the assessment this week.

To qualify for federal assistance, FEMA must verify at least $1 million in damage to public infrastructure and publicly owned utilities.  In addition, each county must show $3.68 in damage per capita to qualify.

Once the assessment teams reach this threshold in a given county, they move on.

“They don’t need to see all of the damage,” Bosma said. “Even if towns aren’t visited, they will still qualify if the county qualifies.”

The request for aid has to be made within 30 days of the disaster. Once the assessment is complete, Gov. Phil Scott will officially make a disaster declaration request to the president through FEMA.

“FEMA reviews the request, and they will send it back saying not worthy or they will send it to the president with a recommendation that he sign,” Bosma said.

Bosma, who has been with VEM for 12 years, said he can’t remember seeing a storm quite like this one.

“I can’t remember when we’ve had more power outages,” he said. “It was a serious storm.”