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March 31 Is Deadline to Seek Irene Assistance

Hartford — The long-term recovery committee formed to help victims of Tropical Storm Irene will stop accepting new cases at the end of the month, beginning the process of closing the book on a natural disaster that left unprecedented damage around the Green Mountain State.

The deadline is March 31 for property owners to apply for assistance from Upper Valley Strong, which receives funding from the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund, a nonprofit that has raised and allocated money to nine committees around Vermont.

“What we would like to do is to get people to let us know they need help while there are still resources available,” said Anne Duncan Cooley, the committee’s chairwoman. “We just now think that, in order to get help for people for the summer, we have to send out that message that it’s kind of last call.”

Vermont Disaster Relief Fund officials said yesterday that the plan is to finish the majority of Irene recovery work by the storm’s second anniversary in late August, even though work won’t stop entirely at that point.

In the Upper Valley, case managers assigned by the relief fund will stay on until the end of August, Cooley said.

Some of the other committees around Vermont have set similar application deadlines. One, ReBuild Waterbury, wrapped up work entirely at the end of January.

However, the halting of new applications shouldn’t be seen as a negative, according to officials.

“I think it’s a way for them to say, ‘We’ve made great progress,’ ” said Betsy Ide, the executive director for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. “Let’s set this date and make sure we’ve got everyone out there.”

Since its inception, Upper Valley Strong has whittled its case load from about 500 to slightly less than 100, Cooley said. She said she expected a small influx of cases to come in this month, primarily from property owners experiencing mold.

Chris Graff, a board member for the Vermont Disaster Relief fund, said that about $2.8 million has been distributed statewide to the nine committees for dissemination out of a total of roughly $7.6 million raised. That remaining money will be used to fund about 300 open cases that remain around the state.

“The unsung heroes of the Irene recovery are these local groups like Upper Valley Strong,” he said. “(They’ve done) incredible jobs on the ground, really holding people’s hands and walking them through what is a very, very complicated process.”

Work, though, continues at the federal level as well: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to buy out 90 properties across Vermont that were damaged by 2011 flooding, most from Irene. For those, FEMA has committed $12.8 million.

Eight structures were deemed ineligible for the federal hazard mitigation program and 24 applications are still pending. The pending acquisitions total $6.1 million.

Earlier this week, state officials agreed to help buy out five of the properties that were rejected by FEMA.

FEMA’s hazardous mitigation program pays a portion of the pre-flood value of structures in areas likely to be hit again by future flooding. The structures are then torn down so they can’t be damaged again.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248. The Associated Press contributed to this report.