PITTSFIELD — Gov. Phil Scott, while touring storm-damaged back roads in Pittsfield and Bethel on Wednesday, said it’s likely the state has met the damage threshold for federal assistance.
“We’re still trying to do the assessment at this point, but it appears to me, and it appears to our officials that we’ll exceed the declaration amount, so we’ll be applying for that declaration,” he said.
Scott toured Pittsfield in the area of Upper Michigan Road and Hawk Mountain Road, alongside Pittsfield town officials, and Erica Bornemann, director of Vermont Emergency Management. He was shown washed-out roads, blown culverts and silt-covered driveways.
Second Constable Doug Mianulli said there was one spot with a 16-foot deep rut cut into it by water.
Much of Vermont experienced flooding Sunday night and into Monday. Rain mixed with snowmelt, leading to the closures of scores of roadways.
With the National Weather Service forecasting more rain this weekend, starting Friday, many are worried there’s more damage to come.
“My concern is as much about what’s happened thus far, and what may happen this weekend with another storm coming,” Scott said.
Pittsfield Road Commissioner George Deblon said every town road was affected in some way, but the worst hit were Guernsey Hollow Road, Liberty Hill Road, Hawk Mountain Road and Upper Michigan Road.
“All we’re doing now is just opening up the roads so people can get in and out, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “By tomorrow everybody will be able to get in and out.”
Deblon spoke next to a large hole in the ground that he was busy filling in so a resident could leave their driveway. He said it’s a wild guess, but damage to town roads is at least in the $600,000 to $750,000 range, and said he wouldn’t be shocked if it turns out to be higher.
“I would say it’s second to Irene for sure, absolutely,” said Deblon, speaking of Tropical Storm Irene, which devastated Vermont in 2011 with floods.
Scott said that from what he’s seen, Irene’s lessons have been learned well.
“You can see it in this community, you have an emergency management response team right here locally, as well as working with town officials doing the right things, making the right calls, working together, and if there’s any silver lining to all of this, it’s that we’re much more prepared than we were in the past,” he said.
Pittsfield Select Board Chairman Charles Piso said he and other town officials have estimated the damage to be approximately $1.5 million, though it is a rough estimate.
“It’s about 10 times the highway budget,” he said. “It’s more than we have in our whole town budget.”
He said parts of Liberty Hill Road were completely destroyed, as were sections of Upper Michigan Road. Large parts of Guernsey Hollow Road were taken out by the Guernsey Brook.
According to a statement released Wednesday, Bornemann has requested a “Preliminary Damage Assessment” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Rutland, Bennington, Caledonia, Essex, Orange, Washington and Windsor counties. This will determine whether or not Vermont meets the threshold to ask for federal aid.
According to the statement, that threshold must be at least $1 million in “response and public infrastructure recovery costs.” The state has already identified $2 million in damage to public infrastructure.
“These floods were devastating for the small towns in their path,” Bornemann said in the statement. “Washed-out roads, bridges and other infrastructure damage was significant, and several small towns are now facing restoration costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is a serious hardship for taxpayers.”
She told Deblon on Wednesday to document all costs associated with repairs and to keep the documentation in a central location.
Scott said part of what he and Bornemann are doing is making sure the affected towns have up-to-date, accurate information about what they should do.