By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Officials in more than a half-dozen Addison County towns breathed a collective sigh of relief this week after learning that extensive road and bridge damage caused by a powerful storm on Aug. 6 will qualify for federal disaster aid.
Federal authorities confirmed the presidential declaration of disaster on Sept. 12. That means that repairs to flood-ravaged bridges and roads will qualify for up to 75 percent federal reimbursement — great news to the locally affected towns of Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Bridport, Leicester, Goshen, Hancock and Brandon.
The federal declaration will also give the Mary Hogan Elementary School board the option of seeking reimbursement for an additional school bus that could be put on the road to serve students on Lower Plains Road in East Middlebury. Families on that road must currently provide their own school transportation because the flood damage closed the Lower Plains Road bridge — the only direct route into the rest of Middlebury. Serena Eddy-Moulton, chairwoman of the ID-4 board, said on Tuesday that she and her colleagues will convene late this week to discuss the federal disaster declaration and the role it can play in restoring bus service to students who must currently be detoured to school via Salisbury and Route 7.
“We will send a letter to parents on Friday (Sept. 19) letting them know the progress,” Eddy-Moulton said.
Federal, state and local emergency management officials were scheduled to meet at Middlebury’s Ilsley Library on Thursday morning to hold a briefing “designed to help local officials understand federal disaster eligibility requirements and the reimbursement process for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the repair, restoration and replacement of public facilities,” according to a memo issued by Vermont Emergency Management.
“We are hopeful that the FEMA meeting will provide us with an opportunity to respond to the transportation needs of Lower Plains,” Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease stated in a recent e-mail to Lower Plains Road residents. “I know this is an inconvenience for many of you and we appreciate your patience.”
Meanwhile, town officials had not been waiting for the federal declaration to begin making repairs. Crews have been hard at work on Routes 125 and 53, as well as other roads that experienced big wash-outs on Aug. 6.
“We always advise (communities) not to hold off on repairs,” said Norman Portalupi, technical services engineer for the operations division of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. “We ask them to document costs and to take pictures.”
Middlebury officials have been following that advice.
Dan Werner, Middlebury’s director of operations, said the town has already installed large boulders to replace a 45-foot stretch of a retaining wall that crumbled into the Middlebury River in East Middlebury during the Aug. 6 storm. That $7,000 project is located east of the Grist Mill Bridge.
Werner also noted that planning is well under way for a replacement span for the Lower Plains Road Bridge. Current estimates call for a $700,000 project.
“We are hoping to get something done before the snow flies,” said Werner, who called the confirmation of federal disaster aid “great news. It just seems like it could have moved a little quicker. But we haven’t stopped planning as a result of that.”
Lower Plains Road residents now concerned about being temporarily cut off from timely response by emergency vehicles may soon rest a little easier.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger reported on Monday “a tentative agreement” with the owners of the old road joining Plains Road with Grist Mill Road could be used for emergency vehicle access. Finger has asked Police Chief Tom Hanley, Fire Chief Rick Cole and Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association President Michelle Perlee to assess the suitability of the old road for use by emergency vehicles only.
“Based on their assessments, the town will determine what improvements will need to be made to make the road as safe as possible,” Finger said to neighbors through a recent e-mail.
Help is also available for homeowners who suffered damage as a result of the Aug. 6 storm. Vermont’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) organization is still offering assistance to those who were affected by those storms and are still struggling to recover.
The state’s VOAD and Vermont Emergency Management Agency are coordinating a working group to assist those in need. Vermont 2-1-1 is ready to take calls from individuals who may be overburdened or overwhelmed by the physical, emotional or financial burden that the storms created. Residents are encouraged to dial 2-1-1 to report their needs. All information will be kept confidential between assisting agencies.
Not all requests will be granted; the VOAD Long Term Recovery Committee will prioritize projects based on need and logistical considerations.
Assistance may Include:
• Financial assistance and/or labor to eligible household to provide a safe living environment.
• Financial assistance to alleviate a disaster caused economic hardship.
Assistance will be provided only to restore or provide essential living space.