11.15.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Meeting Vermont's Disaster Recovery Needs

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Mr. President, I would like to take some time now to talk about the positive impact next year’s Transportation-HUD Appropriations Bill will have on my home state of Vermont – particularly as we continue rebuilding from Hurricane Irene’s destructive forces back in August. 

I commend Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray and Ranking Member Susan Collins for their hard work and dedication in ensuring that the final bill filed last night both provides appropriate funding for disaster relief accounts, and moves heavy truck traffic out of historic downtowns in Vermont and Maine. 

As I have recounted here on the Senate Floor many times, Irene was devastating to our small state of Vermont.  Record rains and flash flooding simply washed away homes, farms, businesses, roads, and bridges all over the state.   Of all the body blows we suffered when Irene raked our state from border to border, repairing the damage to our roads, bridges and rail lines is one of our most urgent priorities.  The huge expense of mending our transportation network is well beyond the ability of a small state like ours.  As we tallied the destruction, it quickly became clear that Vermont will need far more federal help than is now in the pipeline.  The same can be said of other states ravaged by Irene.

With many federal aid disaster programs underfunded, I am especially pleased that this bill contains $1.662 billion to replenish the Federal Highway Disaster Relief fund, which will help Vermont and other states rebuild their vital roadways and bridges.  These connections are crucial to distributing aid, rebuilding our economy and serving as the lifelines to small communities. 

In working with Governor Shumlin, Senator Sanders, Congressmen Welch, and community leaders across Vermont, it became clear right away that given the mammoth destruction of this storm, certain waivers were going to be needed to allow states to access these emergency funds without unnecessary burdens or delays.  Adjustments to this cap also have been made after other major natural disasters, like Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew and tornadoes in the South. 

I appreciate the inclusion of those waivers in the final bill.  They are essential to ensuring that Vermont can promptly begin work on emergency and permanent repairs sooner rather than later.  It is now the middle of November, and severe winter weather is right around the corner in Vermont, which will make these rebuilding efforts nearly impossible until the spring thaw next March or April. 

The bill also includes another high priority for Vermont – moving heavy trucks off the state’s secondary roads and onto our Interstate highways.  Overweight truck traffic in our villages and downtowns poses a threat to the state’s infrastructure and an unnecessary safety risk to motorists and pedestrians.  The Leahy-Collins provision in this bill will end the steady parade of overweight trucks in Vermont and Maine from rumbling through our historic downtowns on small, narrow roads that come within a few feet of schools, houses, businesses, and town greens.  This provision also will help Vermont businesses and communities struggling even more right now because of the large number of state and local roads heavily damaged during the recent flooding disaster. 

Vermonters have continued to draw from their deep reservoirs of resiliency and resolve in the wake of Hurricane Irene.  This storm will enter the history books alongside the horrific floods of 1927 in our state.  The national government then also helped our state’s recovery, as it should.  We are the UNITED States of America.  The American people come together in times like this, just as Vermonters have always been among the helping hands extended to other states in their times of need.

The progress this bill makes in helping Vermont and other states meet their urgent needs is a testament to the determination of many in this body who have been willing to set aside ideological tensions and partisan differences to accomplish the work that the American people expect from their Government.  I think we would all agree that we need more of that here in Washington these days. 

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