Windsor, FEMA At Odds Over Irene Costs
Erla Youknot, of Windsor, shovels a snow pile from a portion of Brook Road, which was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Youknot shovels the pile after each snowstorm in order to allow truck access to her basement for wood deliveries. Valley News-Jordan Cuddemi
Windsor — Town officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are trying to iron out a nearly $3.4 million difference over what it will cost to repair Brook Road and an accompanying bridge.
Tropical Storm Irene wiped out major stretches of the road, which parallels Mill Brook and runs from Windsor to West Windsor, leaving the majority of the Windsor side still impassable today. A “scope review” is currently underway between the town and FEMA, which compares the town’s engineering analysis against the damage estimate report compiled by FEMA, according to Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh.
“FEMA is saying ‘we have your plans, explain why you think it will cost this much more.’ (And) we are asking FEMA to review the project. We don’t agree with the scope of the project that FEMA has determined,” Marsh said. “It’s such a mess.”
The town of Windsor hired Eckman Engineering, of Portsmouth, N.H., to complete an analysis of the damaged land, a project that cost the town $35,000, Marsh said. Eckman Engineering estimated Brook Road’s damages, including a mangled bridge located near the West Windsor and Windsor town line, at $5.7 million, while FEMA workers cited damages near $2.3 million.
“I think everyone would agree that our numbers are much more detailed and reflect what it would cost to rebuild,” Marsh said of the results of the assessment completed by Eckman in September.
Marsh said he feels the large gap between the two is due to FEMA only funding what is required “to put back what was there.”
But in the case of Brook Road, he said, “you can’t just do that,” due to the washouts, sand cliffs and Mill Brook now flowing where the road once existed.
“We are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
FEMA spokesman David Mace said the agency’s damage estimate would reflect what is “eligible work” under public assistance guidelines.
“FEMA is working with the town and state to determine what amount of funding the town would be eligible for depending on which option they choose, either rebuilding the road or using the available funds for something else,” Mace wrote in an email. “We will support them in whatever decision they make and provide them with the funding they are eligible for under the law.”
Once the scope review is completed and the town and FEMA square away their differences in damage estimates and settle on what it will cost to undertake the repairs, Marsh said the next step is to determine how much FEMA will cover. Marsh said he expects that process to take “several months.”
Marsh did say $140,000 in FEMA reimbursements were granted shortly after the 2011 storm for “incidental” damages and to repair a short section of Brook Road.
Windsor resident Erla Youknot, whose home sits on the corner of Estey Lane and Brook Road, where the road is closed, said despite lack of access, the road closure hasn’t been burdensome.
“I have chickens and they love it now. There is no traffic,” she said, adding she snow-shoed down the snow-covered road Tuesday morning. She did say shoveling the snow bank that piles in front of the “road closed” sign is grueling and makes accessing her basement difficult.
“I have to move the snow so a truck can back up to the basement so we can bring firewood in,” Youknot said.
In the case of Brook Road, the town was “fortunate” because “all of the washouts occurred right past the last house,“ Marsh said. He noted Brook Road’s closure is an inconvenience to some residents who live on neighboring roads, but not a catastrophe since it runs roughly parallel to Route 44.
As a result, Marsh said once a damage estimate is agreed upon and the FEMA reimbursement rate is established, the town will meet to discuss whether to take the federal dollars to repair Brook Road or take a percentage of the money and use it on other projects in town.
“FEMA offers an alternative project. Say you don’t want to follow through with a project repair, they offer you 90 percent of the value (of that project) to do other things with,” Marsh said. “If we are going to get the money, what is the best way to spend it?”
Marsh said that conversation wouldn’t happen until both parties reached an agreement on the damage estimates and reimbursements.
Mace, the FEMA spokesman, said the agency offers the alternate option because there are cases where local officials determine it’s wiser to apply the funds toward another project.
“If an applicant determines it’s not in the public interest to repair the damaged infrastructure, they can take the value of what FEMA would have paid to replace the infrastructure and get 90 percent of that value to apply to another project, if the project qualifies,” Mace said.
Another Windsor structure in need of repairs, which the town has applied for as an alternative project, is the Ascutney Mill Dam, also known as the Kennedy Pond Dam, seen best from Union Street and Kennedy Pond.
Project engineer GeoDesign, of Windsor, and project contractor, Kingsbury Construction, of Waitsfield, are jointly working on repairing the 178-year-old dam that is structurally unsound and poses a potential hazard to houses downstream.
The project to repair the dam’s base and deteriorated spillway has been underway for 14 months, but more is still to be done, such as silt dredging and gate repairs. The companies are currently working on the design and construction of a cofferdam “that will be used to provide a dry work area at the base of the dam that is necessary to replace the gate,” according to the town’s website.
Marsh said the gate, which can be opened and closed to regulate the water level of the pond, is currently not functioning.
The cofferdam will be built by the end of February, or early March, Marsh said, and will then be installed so work on the gate can commence. The gate project is due to be completed in late May.
The Windsor Selectboard is scheduled to meet Feb. 26 to plan out further repairs to the spillway and overall design of the dam.
The town of Windsor has put more than $500,000 into the dam project since 2011 and the dredging and gate repairs are expected to cost another $999,300, Marsh said.
“By the end of the project we will have spent a million and a half dollars,” he said, noting additional funds would be needed for future design and spillway work. He said the repair costs aren’t higher than expected, though.
“We knew it was in bad shape, we just didn’t know how bad,” he said. “From the beginning we thought that it would cost somewhere around $2.5 to $4 million to complete the entire project.”`
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.