FEMA agrees to funding for flood-resistant culverts

Vermont’s Congressional Delegation and Gov. Shumlin say decision will help flood-prone towns

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin and Vermont’s Congressional Delegation announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to funding eligibility of the full cost to replace a large culvert on Townshend’s Dam Road that was destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene. This ruling could be a precedent that would allow dozens of Vermont towns to qualify for funds to receive full reimbursement—at 90 percent of project costs—from FEMA for similar projects. 

“This is critical for Townshend and the dozens of other small Vermont communities that rebuilt culverts strong enough to withstand future flooding,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin. “Several have similar projects that have been contested by FEMA and could now be funded thanks to Townshend’s successful appeal.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch said in a joint statement, “This is a welcome change of heart from FEMA, as many towns are hard-pressed to rebuild their bridges and culverts without FEMA’s full support.  We have been pushing hard for this change and discussed it at length when we met with FEMA Administrator Fugate.  As a matter of federal policy, it makes no sense to use federal tax dollars to put back in place the same size culverts that just blew out.  If they didn’t survive the last flood, they aren’t likely to survive the next.  Rebuilding to these higher standards now will save lives, and lots of money in the long run.  We appreciate Secretary Napolitano and Administrator Fugate for heeding our repeated calls to help these towns that have been caught in limbo between state law, which says they must install more resilient bridges and culverts, and FEMA, which until now would only pay to replace what was there before.” 

“Even though the decision upheld FEMA’s position that this standard was not an eligible one, the ruling grants us a waiver to move forward with mitigation funding for this project and that’s a good step,” said Mark Landry, FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer for Vermont.

“This is great news for the town and for taxpayers,” agreed Kim Ellison, Bookkeeper for the town of Townshend.

The old 14-foot diameter corrugated metal culvert had been completely washed out by the August 2011 storm.  Townshend replaced the destroyed culvert with a new open bottom, concrete arch box culvert that spans the full width of the stream, in compliance with Vermont's Stream Alteration Permit requirements and modern rivers engineering practices. The new box culvert will be much more likely to withstand future extreme flooding events, and will maintain stream equilibrium—essentially the flow of sediment through the culvert—as well as the passage of aquatic organisms. 

Initially, FEMA had ruled that the costs of upgrading from the smaller corrugated pipe to the box culvert were not eligible for Public Assistance Funding, which would have forced the town of Townsend to cover the $100,000 funding gap created by the upgrade. The State of Vermont’s Public Assistance Office, within the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, coordinated with legal staff in the Agency of Transportation to support Townshend’s appeal.

According to FEMA’s four-page ruling, the box culvert upgrade is deemed to be an eligible hazard mitigation measure, and the costs are eligible for funding through the federal Public Assistance Program.

"This ruling is an affirmation that common sense and reason is rewarded,” Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Joe Flynn said.  “In the end, town of Townshend and the state were able to come together with FEMA to find a way to fund this project.” 

Irene Recovery Officer Dave Rapaport lauded the decision as confirmation that the state and town understood the recovery process and made a compelling argument to FEMA officials.

“Give credit to the persistence of the town officials, and to the state employees at Emergency Management and Homeland Security who have stepped up in the past 18 months to support and advocate for FEMA eligibility”  Rappaport said.  “This is a sensible decision and a good outcome for federal taxpayers in that it will minimize the cost of future flood damage – which is the goal of the federal Hazard Mitigation program.

The State’s Public Assistance Team will work with FEMA personnel in coming weeks to review other culvert projects around the state which may have additional funding eligibility as a result of this decision.

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