President Donald Trump has signed a major disaster declaration that could help Colchester get federal funding to fix erosion and damage on the Causeway bike path.

The approval extended to Chittenden, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orange and Orleans counties, all of which sustained damage in a May 4 storm. If Colchester is awarded the aid, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, it may enable the town to continue the work the state began on the Causeway and return the trail to its former condition.

Town manager Aaron Frank said the first step Colchester will take will be to examine what can be done to return the trail to its pre-storm condition. He expressed gratitude for the work VTrans did to reopen the trail but said there are areas where armor rock has gone away and needs to be replaced.

Frank explained how the loss of armor rock, or the large boulders that line the Causeway, has changed the slope of the trail.  He likened the damage to a triangle that loses part of its base, narrowing its foundation and steepening the affected area.  The state has installed cones and markers to alert trail users of these steep areas.

While the town has not yet estimated the cost of the additional repairs, it seeks to figure out “from an engineering perspective” what work remains, Frank said.

According to the town manager, gaining federal aid is a “process.” The town must work with the state to develop specifications and the state must then turn to FEMA to seek eligibility for funding those repairs.

FEMA is a “funder of last resort,” according to Ben Rose, the state’s emergency management recovery and mitigation chief.

“Any time there is another agency that steps in with funds, that renders it ineligible for public assistance reimbursement,” he said, citing the state’s efforts to repair and  reopen the trail for summer 2018. “However, our position is that there’s additional work that should be eligible under public assistance that goes beyond the work that has been done thus far.”

Frank said should the town receive federal aid, it would only fund repairs to return the pathway to its original condition.

“Possibly further down the road we’ll look at resiliency, but we at least want to get it back to where it was before because now it’s more vulnerable lacking that armor rock,” he said.

Applicant briefings were held on Tuesday in the Colchester town office. According to Frank, within the next 40 days the town will submit a notice of request to be eligible for the federal aid.

The town will work with engineers to determine the best time to begin repairs with the least impact to trail users, lowest bids and most schedule availability of contractors to minimize the repair time.

“We’re quite thankful that the state was able to step in and help us make the interim repairs and open it up for use this summer, but we’re also anxious to get it back to at least the state it was before the storm,” Frank said. “[We’re] thankful that the federal government is going to be, hopefully, able to help us with that.”