Mayor: FEMA review short sighted
By Brent Curtis
Herald Staff | April 20,2007
A federal assessment of storm-related damage in Rutland didn't go far enough for Mayor Chris Louras.
Four days after hurricane-force winds tore down trees and power lines around the city, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in Rutland to estimate how much the storm cost the municipality.
If first the state and then the county qualify for federal aid, Rutland could be reimbursed up to 75 percent of its expenses for municipal overtime for police, fire and public works crews, equipment wear and tear and the costs the city has incurred cutting up and hauling away all the lumber that landed in the city's streets and right of ways.
But that assessment leaves every city resident and business owner who had trees falling in yards — or worse, on houses — out in the cold.
"I'm unhappy about that," Louras said hours after the FEMA representatives had departed. "I thought that when FEMA showed up, it would all be covered soup to nuts, but it turns out you have to go down a different road for individual assistance."
"Individual assistance" is a wing of FEMA that provides financial aid to individuals whose property has been damaged during a disaster and whose losses aren't covered by insurance, according to the FEMA Web site.
Before residents in the city can qualify for individual assistance FEMA officials must go through a process very similar to the assessment conducted on Thursday.
"To get FEMA back here again, we'll have to show them first that we might hit the dollar threshold to qualify, then they'll do an assessment and then once we show that we hit the mark people can apply for aid," Louras said.
But inventorying damage to private property owners is more challenging than assessing the city's costs because of the difficulties inherent with communicating with the more than 6,000 property owners in Rutland.
"How do we inventory the damage? That's a good question," the mayor said.
For now, Louras is asking that property owners hold onto the receipts for any repairs due to the storm.
"How we gather the information after that is still being hammered out," he said.
As for the city's reimbursement requests, only time will tell.
A busload of city officials and FEMA officials took a tour of Rutland on Thursday morning to eyeball some of the hardest hit sites that are still under repair. While a handful of streets in the Holly Street area looked almost as bad Thursday as they did Monday, many of the other messes within the city's rights-of-way have already been spruced up.
But even though the downed trees are gone, the city has kept a running tally of truckloads and overtime hours that could be reimbursable.
Louras said if the city does qualify for FEMA funds, he hopes to make up the 25 percent of damages that FEMA doesn't provide through other state and federal disaster assistance funds.
FEMA officials also toured hard-hit Brandon in Rutland County as well as communities in Bennington, Windsor and Windham counties on Thursday.
Contact Brent Curtis at email@example.com.