On August 1, 2014

FEMA won’t fund rebuilding of culverts

By John Herrick, VTDigger.org

The Obama administration launched an initiative Wednesday, July 16, aimed at helping local communities better prepare for the impacts of climate change, but one of Vermont’s key recommendations to the president was not included.

The state wants to use FEMA public assistance money to help rebuild culverts and bridges so streams pass under the roads instead of washing them out.

But according to FEMA, the state’s engineering plans for these projects do not meet its current uniform “codes and standards” and therefore don’t qualify for public assistance money.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials are part of the president’s task force, which is charged with recommending ways states can better prepare for natural disasters linked to climate change.

The state this year adopted new Stream Alteration General Permit guidelines, which govern how new projects that impact streams – like roads, bridges and culverts – must be built.

FEMA says the state cannot qualify for public assistance money because the guidelines do not apply “uniformly to all bridge and culvert replacement projects,” according to a recent letter to the state.

Ben Rose, the recovery and mitigation section chief for Vermont Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the new state standards include replacing smaller pipe culverts with bottomless ones that allow water to flow through smoothly.

The larger culverts cost more upfront, but Rose said they will save taxpayers money in the long run.

“We want to build stuff that’s going to withstand the next flood,” he said.

ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz is one of several state officials who made recommendations to the Obama administration over the past year and was in Washington last week, along with Shumlin and Sue Minter of the state transportation department. Markowitz said making FEMA funding flexible was “very specifically one of the recommendations.”

When FEMA rejected the state’s request to qualify certain projects for public assistance funding, Markowitz said, “We were frankly very surprised.”

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