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FEMA Agreement Means $90 Million For State Office Complex

AP/Toby Talbot

The state office complex in Waterbury has been largely empty since Tropical Storm Irene flooded it two years ago, and the displacement of state workers has hurt many local businesses that depended on them.

Thursday the state announced that FEMA would provide a critical piece of construction funding.

It won’t necessarily speed up the project, but the announcement was an important step on the way to returning state employees to Waterbury. Ever since Irene Albert Caron has been down to just one full time person at his Waterbury village garage – himself. 

“I don’t have any employees right now.  I have a kid that hangs out once in a while, but other than that, just myself.  I had a tech at one time.  I had to let him go because I just couldn’t afford it,” said Caron as he sat in his garage office.

Caron said his expenses keep rising – his insurance has tripled - but his revenue is down more than 50% since 1500 workers were displaced by Irene.  

Like other Waterbury business owners, he’s resigned to waiting it out until a new complex opens in 2015.

A short while later, just down Main Street the mood was more celebratory as a group of dignitaries marked the end of their long wait for word from FEMA about how much the federal government would pay to help build the new complex. 

Speaking at the ceremony, Governor Peter Shumlin said in their place will be a state-of-the-art office complex which, along with the new state hospital that replaces the old Waterbury facility, will usher in a new era of state government facilities.

“They’re going to be back greener, cleaner, cheaper to operate and ready for the next 200 years of service to the people of the great state of Vermont,” Shumlin told the crowd.

The Governor announced that an agreement has been reached that will provide nearly $90 million of the $125 million dollar price tag for the new complex, along with other related costs, from FEMA public assistance and insurance funding.  $53 million will be available for reconstruction and an additional $36 million is being made available for costs already incurred, including cleanup and temporary relocation of workers.

The figure is seen as a victory by the state after long negotiations.  The lesson, in this case at least, is that good things come to those who wait.

FEMA administrator Craig Fugate who attended the Waterbury ceremony said Vermont is the first state to take advantage of new legislation passed after Hurricane Sandy last year.

Fugate said the legislation gave FEMA more latitude to help facilitate a more resilient approach to disaster recovery.

“In previous disasters the way FEMA would be operating is we’d almost have a penalty to look at an alternative project,” he explained. “Basically we said, ‘you have to build back what was there even if it didn’t make sense’.  The legislation says we can move past that and it doesn’t increase the share or cost to the federal taxpayer, but what it does allow is the state to build back better and not be stuck only replacing what was there.”

Rebuilding the complex is the largest expense, but other costs include the construction of a new state hospital and the relocation of state workers to other facilities. FEMA had earlier pledged $30 to be used to build a new psychiatric facility in Berlin that replaces the state hospital.

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says the agreement with FEMA means all are affordable without placing an added burden on Vermont taxpayers.

“We can do all of this easily within the existing capital debt affordability process, not raising taxes.  The funding is in place to allow all of these projects to move forward,” Spaulding said.

The construction and renovation is the largest capital project the state has ever undertaken.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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