House Bill Would Require Towns to Plan for Flooding

Houses on the river side of Water Street are seen in Northfield, Vt. Sixteen months after Tropical Storm Irene, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved buyouts of 81 flood-damaged properties in Vermont. But none has received any money yet. (AP/Toby Talbot)

Houses on the river side of Water Street are seen in Northfield. More than 17 months after Tropical Storm Irene, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved buyouts of 96 flood-damaged properties in Vermont. But none has received any money yet. (AP/Toby Talbot)

By Kirk Carapezza

As cities and towns debate whether to rebuild in a smarter, safer way or buyback properties and leave them undeveloped in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, a bill moving through the Vermont House would require that local governments plan for future flood resiliency.

Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, is the lead sponsor of the House bill that, if passed, would require towns to include mitigation measures in their municipal plans. Since Irene, many towns have put together hazard mitigation plans in order to be eligible for federal funding.

Deen said his legislation would allow those strategies to be referenced or incorporated into their resiliency preparation.

“As part of our work on Irene and the response to Irene, we determined that there are no provisions for asking towns to think about being flood resilient in terms of infrastructure such as culverts, roads and personal property – in terms of how they plan for their town’s future,” Deen said.

He said dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency – and its complicated home buyout program – would have gone more smoothly in the months after Irene had towns already developed plans that recognized areas prone to flooding.

“It would have been easier and quicker and more efficient for homeowners if towns had had in place the hazard mitigation plans and the town plan included provisions for thinking about flood events, particularly erosion flood events not necessarily inundation,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday it has now given the green light for towns to buyout 96 of the 118 homes that were damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and were then considered for FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program.

Four homes are still awaiting town mitigation plans in their application to the FEMA program, which buys properties in danger of future flooding and puts them off limits to redevelopment. More than 17 months after the devastating storm, though, no one has received any money yet as towns continue to appraise property damage.

The House will hearing testimony Wednesday on how FEMA has responded to the state of Vermont and cities and towns. Lawmakers expect to hear from Irene Recovery Officer David Rapaport, representatives of the congressional delegation and town officials from Sharon, Mendon and Grafton, all towns hit hard by Irene. They hope the testimony will help them lay out a legislative response to the possibility of more intense and more frequent storms.

Earlier: Vermonters Still Awaiting FEMA Money