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Every week, Vermont Public's politics team provides a succinct breakdown of some of the biggest issues at the Statehouse.

Capitol Recap: Vermont lawmakers pursue flood aid package as governor seeks a tighter budget

Two people in parkas standing in front of a podium with the granite pillars of the Vermont Statehouse behind them
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Montpelier homeowners Katie Swick, left, and Mary Zentara are among the flood survivors asking lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott to provide state assistance for recovery efforts. Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill this week that would allocate $85.5 million in aid for individuals, businesses and municipalities.

It’s becoming very clear very quickly that disaster recovery and climate adaptation will be at the top of lawmakers’ agendas for the 2024 legislative session.

It’s also evident that Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Phil Scott may be at odds over how much state funding should be allocated for the recovery effort.

Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with reporters Abagael Giles and Peter Hirschfeld to learn more about the flood recovery initiatives that lawmakers hope to pass this year. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: We’re coming up on the six-month anniversary of the July floods. What’s the state of the recovery effort at this late stage in the process?

Peter Hirschfeld: It is a pretty dire situation still for many residents of the communities that were hit hardest by the summer floods.

Montpelier resident Mary Zentara was at the Statehouse on Wednesday to try to bring some awareness to lawmakers about what homeowners like her are still dealing with:

Mary Zentara: My home is destroyed on the inside. I don’t have electricity, water, heat. The house is down to studs on the first floor. I don’t have a kitchen. I don’t have a bathroom. The floor is down to dirt in most of the kitchen.

Peter Hirschfeld: We know there are still hundreds of residents like Zentara who are either still displaced from the floods, or are existing in substandard living conditions as a result of flood damage.

We also know there are businesses that haven’t recovered from their flood losses, and that many municipalities are dealing with massive budget deficits due to revenue losses.

More from Brave Little State: ‘I just thought we’d have it figured out by winter’: Vermont still cleaning up from summer floods

Mitch Wertlieb: We’re talking about the summer floods here. But let’s not forget we had another round of significant flooding in late December. What have lawmakers had to say about Vermont’s susceptibility to these kinds of natural disasters?

Abagael Giles: The state climatologist, Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, told House lawmakers this week that Vermont’s geography makes us extra vulnerable to flooding.

Already Vermont is on average 3 degrees warmer than it was 100 years ago. Basically, warmer air holds more moisture and that makes for more powerful storms.

And Dr. Dupigny-Giroux says the way the Green Mountain spine runs along the state means those storms can get stuck over Vermont, juicing out rain along the way. That’s kind of what happened in July.

Mitch Wertlieb: What are lawmakers proposing when it comes to preparing for the next flood?

Abagael Giles: There are a lot of ideas on the table — from using conservation to more strictly protect places that slow down and filter flood waters, like wetlands and forests, to changing the way we build in areas that are prone to flooding. Lawmakers also want to make sure dams don’t fail.

The Scott administration has signaled support for policies that help communities along the same river collaborate on flood resilience. I think there will be hard conversations about where it doesn’t make sense to rebuild. Because as we saw this July, what happens upstream affects flooding outcomes downstream.

 A photo of a flooded town.
Town of Coventry
Coventry was among the Vermont towns to experience historic flooding in July 2023.

Mitch Wertlieb: So it sounds like lawmakers have identified the problem. What are they going to do to address it?

Peter Hirschfeld: I was at a rally on the Statehouse lawn on Wednesday Mitch, where people who’ve been working on long-term recovery efforts in their communities pleaded with lawmakers and the governor to help them.

And here’s how Shawna Trader, with a recovery group in Barre City, framed the situation:

Shawna Trader: We stand in front of this grand building that our leaders call a house. And we say, "Where are our houses? Where are the homes for our people? Where’s the care for our people?" And that’s what we’re asking for.

Peter Hirschfeld: There’s growing consensus among Democratic lawmakers that Shawna Trader is right — that the state needs to play a bigger financial role in recovery adaptation, and that federal assistance from agencies like FEMA just isn’t going to cut it.

And we saw the introduction this week of legislation that calls for $85.5 million in state funding to provide direct financial support to households, businesses, nonprofits and municipalities.

And that bill would also provide significant funding for mitigation projects — like the ones that Abagael mentioned — to protect communities against the most severe effects of future disasters.

"We stand in front of this grand building that our leaders call a house. And we say, 'Where are our houses? Where are the homes for our people?'"
Shawna Trader, Barre City flood recovery advocate

Mitch Wertlieb: $85.5 million is a big price tag. How are lawmakers going to pay for that? And what does Republican Gov. Phil Scott have to say about their plan?

Abagael Giles: Lawmakers think existing revenues will be enough to pay for part of their spending plan. And they’ve identified a few potential new revenue sources — including a tax on insurance policies — to generate the money needed to pay for everything.

But Phil Scott has made it very clear that he won’t support any tax or fee increases on Vermonters. And he poured some cold water on lawmakers’ flood recovery proposal this week by saying Vermont just doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to pay for the scale of recovery aid that lawmakers are contemplating.

We didn’t hear much about recovery aid for individuals and businesses in the governor’s State of the State address. And we didn’t see a single line item for individual flood survivors in the $140 million mid-year budget proposal that Scott unveiled on Friday.

And the question of how to support flood survivors now, and into the future, is going to be one of the many points of financial tension in Montpelier over the next few months.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message, or contact reporter Abagael Giles:


Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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