WATERBURY -- Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration misled lawmakers and the public about how much federal aid the state was likely to get for rebuilding after Tropical Storm Irene, Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Randy Brock said Wednesday.
Standing outside the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury, which was closed by flooding from Irene, Brock charged that administration officials provided overly optimistic assessments to lawmakers during the winter and spring about how much Federal Emergency Management Agency aid would be available to Vermont.
He said emails between state and FEMA officials, newly released by the administration in response to public-records requests, indicate Shumlin's aides had information they weren't sharing with lawmakers when they were writing budgets that incorporated hoped-for FEMA funding this past spring.
"I'm saying that based on the information that was released yesterday, there were clear warning signs that funding was in jeopardy, and that that information should have been disclosed to the Legislature at the time we voted, and it wasn't," said Brock, who represents Franklin County.
Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, who attended the news conference and addressed reporters immediately afterward, defended the administration's actions. He said the state was receiving unofficial assurances from FEMA that the agency would supply most of the estimated $120 million needed to replace
In June, a month after the Legislature adjourned, FEMA officials told their state counterparts that the process of applying for and receiving FEMA funds would be far more complicated than earlier thought, Spaulding said, adding that the administration informed the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee when it held a summer meeting in mid-July.
For example, Spaulding said it was only in June that the state learned from FEMA that much of the funding to replace the state hospital might be in jeopardy because the building was heavily damaged, but not destroyed, in the flood.
"Was I confident that FEMA would participate substantially in the state hospital replacement plan? Yes I was," Spaulding said. "Did the information change? Yes it did, and we reported that to the Legislature. We've tried to be transparent through the entire process."
Emails between state and FEMA officials show the state pressing the federal agency during the winter for assurances of funding as the Legislature wrote its general fund and construction budgets for the coming year. As the state asked for assurances, FEMA asked for more information, the emails show.
In a Feb. 22 message to a regional FEMA official, Spaulding wrote that it might take a while to compile some information and said he didn't understand why the state couldn't obtain a "conceptual OK" on federal aid for the proposed replacement hospital.
James Russo, a FEMA federal coordinating officer, replied the next day that the agency "doesn't have the legal authority to make a conceptual OK. We can say that FEMA will participate," but costs would have to be deemed reasonable.