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4 ways state policy changed in Vermont after last July’s floods

The golden dome of the Vermont capitol rises over a flooded street
Mike Dougherty
/
Vermont Public
The golden dome of the Vermont Statehouse rises over a flooded street in downtown Montpelier on Tuesday, July 11, 2024.

Last July’s historic flooding loomed large during the 2024 legislative session starting on day 1. Here’s what lawmakers changed in state policy as a result.

1. Lawmakers pass flood disclosure requirements for home sellers, landlords

Vermont joined a growing number of states that require property sellers to tell buyers whether their building is in a high or moderate-risk flood zone mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. They must also disclose if the property flooded while they owned it, if flood-related issues like erosion or landslides damaged the property and if they had flood insurance on the property. The new requirements also apply to renters and people buying manufactured homes.

2. New regulations on new development in river corridors

The Flood Safety Act calls for the creation of Vermont's first-ever statewide regulations on new development in river corridors. These are the areas where rivers move when they change course over time, sometimes cutting fast and dangerous channels during flood events. Most of the flooding in Vermont happens in river corridors, but building in these vulnerable places is not regulated by FEMA, nor do many people who live there have flood insurance for their properties. The policy also strengthens protections for wetlands, which slow and filter floodwaters, and it creates stricter regulations on private dams as well as a new program to fund removals and repairs.

3. How government responds to future disasters and a new mitigation fund for towns and cities

This bill sets up a new grant program to help Vermont municipalities pay for projects that could reduce future disaster risk, often called mitigation. Projects could include things like improving stormwater systems and restoring watersheds to reduce future flood risk. It also formally recognizes the Department of Public Safety's urban search and rescue team in ways that will allow the unit to seek federal funding, tasks the state with developing a policy around how to use Enhanced 911 and VT-Alerts more effectively in emergencies, and requires each town and city in Vermont to create a local emergency management office.

4. A way to make big oil pay

Vermont’s Climate Superfund Act doesn’t directly or immediately change state policy related to flooding disasters, however, the specter of July’s floods loomed large as lawmakers debated the bill. The legislation, which received tripartisan support in the Legislature, empowers Vermont’s Attorney General to pursue payment from fossil fuel companies for a share of what climate change has cost the state since 1995, based on how much their products contributed to the problem globally. Payments will be funneled into a new state fund that will help finance recovery from climate change fueled disasters and adapt to the already changed climate.Vermont is the first state in the nation to create a so-called “Climate Superfund.”

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