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Brandon gets $1.3 million grant to replace downtown culvert ruined during Tropical Storm Irene

BRANDON — The stormwater culvert planned for the Neshobe River in downtown Brandon is on the fast track for completion, thanks to Vermont’s congressional delegation.
In a press release issued Thursday, the offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch announced a $1.3 million Hazard Mitigation Grant to the town from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The new grant will fund the construction phase of a culvert under Route 7 designed to divert floodwater from the Neshobe River.
The new culvert, which will measure 278 feet long, 6 feet high and 12 feet wide, will accept overflow from the river and help prevent overtopping of the existing bridge by the Neshobe River, as happened during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
The goal of the project is not only to protect the downtown from future flooding events, but also to facilitate the planned reconstruction of Route 7 through the town, also known as Segment 6. That road reconstruction will include new sidewalks and streetscaping, as well as undergrounding of utilities.  
“We wanted to get it done before Segment 6 because all of the utilities are going in the ground,” said Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton. “We wanted to have the utilities go around the culvert, instead of the culvert going around the utilities.”
The FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides funding after a declared disaster to help communities to become more resilient. Typical projects include buyouts of homes in flood-prone areas, replacement of undersized stream crossings, and building relocations, as well as planning, outreach and education. 
The program is led by the State of Vermont, which, with the congressional support wielded by Leahy, Sanders and Welch, has been awarded more than $34 million in funding from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program after Irene.  Much of that funding has gone to buy  homes in the most flood-prone areas, to restore flood plains, and to offer homeowners the opportunity to relocate to safer locations. More than $10 million has also been proposed for municipal infrastructure projects, including the work in Brandon.?
“After seeing the devastation caused by Irene in Brandon and in towns throughout Vermont, we know the importance of this project,” Leahy, Sanders and Welch said in a joint statement. “We are pleased that Brandon and the State of Vermont are taking steps to plan ahead and to make the town safer and more resilient in future storms.”??
Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Christopher Herrick said his office has been working with many towns like Brandon in the aftermath of Irene on flood mitigation projects like this one.
“The DEMHS Mitigation Section has been working with Vermont communities since shortly after Irene to navigate the application process,” he said. “Allocations like this one for Brandon help ensure these cities and towns avoid some of the devastation they saw in that, and subsequent storms.”
Atherton said the town is very grateful to the delegation for helping to expedite the grant.
“A safer, more flood-resilient downtown will be attractive to developers and merchants alike,” he said. “We are very grateful for the expeditious manner in which our application was acted upon, thanks to our congressional delegation.” ??
Atherton said now that the funding has been secured, the project can go out to bid. Depending on how the bid process goes, the town manger said he hopes construction can begin in August. He gave a rough estimate of four months for construction, but added the timeline will be clearer once a bid has been awarded.
Atherton also said that he does not expect Route 7 to be closed during construction. He said given the width of the road in that stretch of Route 7, two-way traffic should be maintained through the construction phase.
“We’re fortunate that the area between Green Park and the empty lot is so wide and there aren’t that many parking spaces there,” he said. “It’s a good place to put a culvert.”
Atherton also said the site is ideal because there aren’t many other mitigation options for the town there.
“When we have another Irene, which at some point we will, the water will have someplace to go,” he said. “It’s not like we can build a natural floodplain there, so a culvert is the best way to go.”

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