Water flows swiftly down Flat Sreet in downtown Brattleboro as the Whetstone Brook surged from its banks Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. (Chris Bertelsen /
Water flows swiftly down Flat Sreet in downtown Brattleboro as the Whetstone Brook surged from its banks Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. (Chris Bertelsen / Reformer)
Friday December 14, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Though for many Windham County residents, Tropical Storm Irene is not much more than a bad memory, local businesses are still struggling to overcome the damage it left in its wake.

Just as difficult as recovering from the effects of the storm has been dealing with the bureaucratic red tape standing between them and financial relief.

Fortunately, businesses have a number of people, agencies and non-governmental organizations on their side.

Two of those helping hands -- Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and Springfield Regional Development Corporation -- announced Thursday they were able to secure more than $1 million to help businesses in Windham and Windsor counties recover from Irene.

"One of the most striking things we have learned since Irene is just how long recovery takes," stated BDCC Executive Director Jeff Lewis in a press release announcing the funds. "While it is discouraging that some businesses are still trying to recover, we're happy to have been able to find another resource to try and help."

The $1 million is part of $4.5 million released in July to the county as part of a $21-million community development block the Department of Housing and Urban Development presented to the state.

"It's not a cure for what happened, but hopefully it's a mechanism to allow people who were and still are impacted by the storm to have the ground under them become more solid," said Bob Flint, executive director of SRDC.


Advertisement

"The BDCC put in an application for both entities," said Laura Sibilia, the BDCC's project director for economic development. "It was a joint collaboration."

The BDCC and the Springfield Regional Development Group are private non-profit economic development organizations tasked with creating and retaining a thriving business climate in the 37 towns they support.

Earlier this year, the BDCC conducted a survey to determine how much help local businesses needed.

"In doing so, we identified $8 million in unmet needs," said Sibilia. "It was pretty staggering."

Unmet disaster recovery needs include repairs to structures, repair or replacement of equipment, the creation or retention of jobs, interest rate buy downs on private loans, rent subsidies and lost rental revenue.

Because the funds are flow-through money from the federal government to the state, applicants will have to meet federal requirements. The regional development organizations will help applicants navigate their way through the thicket of red tape, said Sibilia.

Project coordinators will review applications to determine eligibility and then forward them to a selection committee, which will meet in January.

"There are going to be some pretty tough choices," she said.

Windham County wasn't in line to receive the money because it came in under a $10-million damages threshold established by a HUD algorithm used to determine whether a community qualifies for disaster assistance through a community development block grant.

"We would not have these funds if not for both our federal delegation and the staff at the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development," said Sibilia. "We owe them all a tremendous debt of gratitude."

HUD allocated $21 million to the state, but of that more than $17 million was designated for Washington and Windsor counties alone. The rest was to be distributed to the remaining 10 counties in the state.

HUD was moved by appeals from the Department of Economic Housing and Community Development, the governor's office, letters from local legislators and regional community support agencies and Vermont's congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.

"We made the case to HUD, with the support of our congressional delegation, that Windham County was very hard hit and needed to be included," said Jen Hollar, deputy commissioner of DEHCD. "Our argument was successful."

The regional development corporations are the perfect vessels for disbursement of the funds, she said, for a number of reasons.

"They are stepping up to help businesses because they have local contacts, understand the local economy and can provide technical assistance," said Hollar.

Other money from the block grant includes $100,000 to the Brattleboro Housing Authority for a study on how it might relocate its housing units that are on the banks of the Whetstone Brook and Windham Windsor Housing Trust received some funds to help homeowner who need help with repairs or for down payments to buy new homes, said Hollar.

On Dec. 19, applications will be available at www.brattleborodevelopment.com and www.springfielddevelopment.org.

The Vermont Small Business Development Center will be providing a limited series of technical assistance seminars for businesses that want help with the application. The dates for those sessions will be posted with the application.

For more information on business applications, call April Harkness, BDCC, 802-257-7731, or Paul Kowalski, SRDC, 802-885-3061.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.